Tomorrow’s Women: Q&A with Yaara Tal and Deema Yusuf

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SEATTLE, Washington — Palestinian and Israeli women come together to make peace each year at Tomorrow’s Women’s summer camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The organization hosts 16 girls, half Israeli Jewish and half Palestinians from Israel and the West Bank, ages 15-17, for three weeks in the summer. During that time, the girls get 40 hours of facilitated group dialogue where speakers share their experiences growing up with conflict. After camp, the girls undergo Young Leader training, where they have workshops throughout the year practicing leadership and facilitation skills back at home.

Yaara Tal (Israeli Jewish, first attended the summer camp in 2008)

The Borgen Project: How did you find out about Tomorrow’s Women, and what did you think about the conflict before attending the summer camp in Santa Fe?

Yaara Tal: I grew up in a Kibbutz, 10 minutes from the border. [As a result,] the conflict was very prevalent in my life. I got used to rockets falling from the sky. I learned when to run, where to run and how to deal [with the conflict]from a young age. My parents told me all the time not to panic too much.

I learned about Tomorrow’s Women because they came to my school to recruit. I really wanted to meet girls from Gaza because I lived so close to them, but I had never met any. I was curious to hear their thoughts. I was very open-minded, which helped me. I didn’t have hate; I had fears. I was scared about what they would say or what I would say to them.

TBP: Can you explain your experience in the Israeli military?

Tal: I joined when I was 19. I took the pre-tests and I ended up being an observer, where my job was to watch the Gaza Border. I had to report any suspicious activity. For the two years I served, I wasn’t in touch with Tomorrow’s Women. It was easier for me to separate what I had learned through Tomorrow’s Women and what I needed to do [for the military].

When I went back to Tomorrow’s Women as a counselor in 2013, it was difficult for the Palestinian girls to understand my role in the military. It was hard for them to understand that I didn’t kill anyone or even hold a gun. I protected my home, and I am proud of myself for that.

TBP: Can you explain Tomorrow’s Women’s Young Leader training and what you have done to continue peacemaking after the summer camp?

Tal: I decided I wanted to keep in touch with Tomorrow’s Women. For Young Leaders, there are a couple of sessions throughout the year in a neutral place. There you have multiple workshops such as group dialogue facilitation and leadership. I went back to Tomorrow’s Women’s summer camp in 2013 as a counselor and then as an intern in 2017.

In 2013, Deema Yusuf and I received scholarships to the Lane Community College in Oregon and then transferred to the University of Oregon in 2015. In exchange for our schooling, we gave speeches about our experiences in Israel and Palestine. I am so lucky to have been Yusuf’s college roommate for four years. [Since] she is Palestinian, I enjoyed seeing the way she changed and how I grew up as well throughout our years together. I will forever be grateful for our friendship. I know I am different for good.

Deema Yusuf (Palestinian, first attended the summer camp in 2012)

TBP: How did you find out about Tomorrow’s Women, and what were your feelings regarding the conflict before attending the summer camp in Santa Fe?

Deema Yusuf: I grew up in the West Bank, and I actually heard about Tomorrow’s Women through a friend who joined in 2011. She told me to apply. But, I had strong opinions about the conflict, and I [honestly]was not interested in meeting any Israelis. I [then]heard Tomorrow’s Women needed a girl from specifically the West Bank, so I decided to apply. At first, when I went to Santa Fe, [I planned] to go to the dialogue room and fight with the other girls. I prepared all these numbers and statistics from the Palestine side and encouraged the other Palestinian girls to do the same. I didn’t want to listen.

My change happened slowly. One day, an Israeli girl talked about her grandmother, who was killed in Jerusalem. I felt I could connect with her because my grandmother had to leave her neighborhood in 1948 from Jerusalem. Since then, I have been reading about the conflict on the other side and trying not to generalize [Israelis].

TBP: Since you grew up with strong opinions about the conflict but have changed, do you think there will ever be peace?

Yusuf: Yes, I do believe. I’m not sure how that will look like, though. I feel Palestinians are hurt, and Israelis are hurt. They both want independent states. They both feel they can’t trust the other. In the next 100 years, I don’t think they will be friends. I think that will take a long time. [However,] even though it is difficult [to make peace], you have to try. It is very important to listen to the other side and talk with them. You don’t have to agree with the other side all the time. I understand my history and how Palestinians have suffered. But we can’t give up. We have to keep trying.

TBP: Can you explain Tomorrow’s Women’s Young Leader training and what you have done to continue peacemaking after the summer camp?

Yusuf: When I was a Young Leader for Tomorrow’s Women, I joined the girls during their dialogue sessions. I was there to support the girls since I had gone through what they are going through. I experienced Tomorrow’s Women’s summer camp, and I had also gone back home and experienced the conflict again. As a Young Leader, I would tell the girls to “trust the process, give it some time, and to open [their]minds.”

Then when Yaara Tal and I went to college together, well, that’s actually a funny story. We traveled together from Israel to Oregon, and I did not want to speak to her because it was still so hard for me to speak to new Israelis. But I changed. I started viewing her as a friend rather than placing all these labels on her. I realized we loved the same music, food and doing things together, like traveling. It felt very natural to become friends with her.

Tal and Yusuf’s Future Endeavors

After attending Tomorrow’s Women’s summer camps, Tal and Yusuf received scholarships at the University of Oregon for international relations and conflict resolution. During their time together at the university, they gave talks about their peacemaking efforts in New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington. After college, Tal was a fellow at J Street in Washington, D.C., and then worked with OneVoice in New York City. Most recently, Tal worked for an educational start-up that offers alternative MBAs in Tel Aviv.

Yusuf graduated with majors in Middle Eastern and Arabic studies and is currently working as a political analyst in Ramallah for a security analyst company. At her job, Yusuf manages political and security matters in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine for politicians, non-governmental organizations and embassies.

For those interested in getting more involved in their work, Tomorrow’s Women’s website provides multiple options.

—Kacie Frederick
Photo: Flickr

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