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TED2014

Aziz Abu Sarah: For more tolerance, we need more ... tourism?

March 19, 2014

Aziz Abu Sarah is a Palestinian activist with an unusual approach to peace-keeping: Be a tourist. The TED Fellow shows how simple interactions with people in different cultures can erode decades of hate. He starts with Palestinians visiting Israelis and moves beyond ...

Aziz Abu Sarah - Entrepreneur + educator
Aziz Abu Sarah helps people break down cultural and historical barriers through tourism. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I'm a tourism entrepreneur
and a peacebuilder,
00:12
but this is not how I started.
00:15
When I was seven years old,
I remember watching television
00:18
and seeing people throwing rocks,
00:21
and thinking, this must be
a fun thing to do.
00:24
So I got out to the street
and threw rocks,
00:27
not realizing I was supposed
to throw rocks at Israeli cars.
00:30
Instead, I ended up stoning
my neighbors' cars. (Laughter)
00:34
They were not enthusiastic
about my patriotism.
00:38
This is my picture with my brother.
00:42
This is me, the little one,
and I know what you're thinking:
00:44
"You used to look cute,
what the heck happened to you?"
00:47
But my brother, who is older than me,
00:50
was arrested when he was 18,
00:52
taken to prison on charges
of throwing stones.
00:54
He was beaten up when he refused
to confess that he threw stones,
00:57
and as a result, had internal injuries
01:01
that caused his death soon after
he was released from prison.
01:03
I was angry, I was bitter,
01:08
and all I wanted was revenge.
01:12
But that changed when I was 18.
01:15
I decided that I needed
Hebrew to get a job,
01:18
and going to study Hebrew
in that classroom
01:21
was the first time I ever met Jews
who were not soldiers.
01:24
And we connected over really small things,
like the fact that I love country music,
01:29
which is really strange
for Palestinians.
01:34
But it was then that I realized also
that we have a wall of anger,
01:38
of hatred and of ignorance
that separates us.
01:43
I decided that it doesn't matter
what happens to me.
01:48
What really matters is how I deal with it.
01:53
And therefore, I decided
to dedicate my life
01:55
to bringing down the walls
that separate people.
01:59
I do so through many ways.
02:03
Tourism is one of them,
but also media and education,
02:05
and you might be wondering,
really, can tourism change things?
02:08
Can it bring down walls? Yes.
02:12
Tourism is the best sustainable way
to bring down those walls
02:14
and to create a sustainable way
of connecting with each other
02:18
and creating friendships.
02:23
In 2009, I cofounded Mejdi Tours,
02:25
a social enterprise that
aims to connect people,
02:29
with two Jewish friends, by the way,
02:33
and what we'll do, the model we did,
02:35
for example, in Jerusalem,
we would have two tour guides,
02:37
one Israeli and one Palestinian,
guiding the trips together,
02:41
telling history and narrative
and archaeology and conflict
02:44
from totally different perspectives.
02:48
I remember running a trip together
with a friend named Kobi --
02:50
Jewish congregation from Chicago,
the trip was in Jerusalem --
02:54
and we took them to a refugee camp,
a Palestinian refugee camp,
02:57
and there we had this amazing food.
03:00
By the way, this is my mother. She's cool.
03:02
And that's the Palestinian
food called maqluba.
03:05
It means "upside-down."
03:08
You cook it with rice and chicken,
and you flip it upside-down.
03:09
It's the best meal ever.
03:12
And we'll eat together.
03:14
Then we had a joint band,
Israeli and Palestinian musicians,
03:15
and we did some belly-dancing.
03:18
If you don't know any,
I'll teach you later.
03:20
But when we left, both sides,
03:23
they were crying because
they did not want to leave.
03:26
Three years later, those
relationships still exist.
03:29
Imagine with me
if the one billion people
03:32
who travel internationally
every year travel like this,
03:35
not being taken in the bus
from one side to another,
03:39
from one hotel to another,
03:42
taking pictures from the windows
of their buses of people and cultures,
03:44
but actually connecting with people.
03:48
You know, I remember having
a Muslim group from the U.K.
03:51
going to the house
of an Orthodox Jewish family,
03:55
and having their first Friday night
dinners, that Sabbath dinner,
03:58
and eating together hamin,
which is a Jewish food, a stew,
04:03
just having the connection
of realizing, after a while,
04:06
that a hundred years ago,
their families came out
04:09
of the same place in Northern Africa.
04:12
This is not a photo profile
for your Facebook.
04:15
This is not disaster tourism.
04:18
This is the future of travel,
04:20
and I invite you to join me to do that,
to change your travel.
04:22
We're doing it all over the world now,
04:25
from Ireland to Iran to Turkey,
04:27
and we see ourselves going
everywhere to change the world.
04:30
Thank you.
04:33
(Applause)
04:34

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Aziz Abu Sarah - Entrepreneur + educator
Aziz Abu Sarah helps people break down cultural and historical barriers through tourism.

Why you should listen

When Aziz Abu Sarah was a boy, his older brother was arrested on charges of throwing stones. He was taken to prison and beaten — and died of his injuries. Sarah grew up angry, bitter and wanting revenge. But when later in life he met, for the first time, Jews who were not soldiers, Sarah had an epiphany: Not only did they share his love of small things, namely country music, but coming face to face with the “enemy” compelled him to find ways to overcome hatred, anger and fear.

Sarah founded MEJDI Tours to send tourists to Jerusalem with two guides, one Jewish and one Palestinian, each offering a different history and narrative of the city. Sarah tells success stories of tourists from the US visiting a Palestinian refugee camp and listening to joint Arab and Jewish bands play music, and of a Muslim family from the UK sharing Sabbath dinner with a Jewish family and realizing that 100 years ago, their people came from the same town in Northern Africa. MEJDI is expanding its service to Iran, Turkey, Ireland and other regions suffering from cultural conflict. If more of the world’s 1 billion tourists were to engage with real people living real lives, argues Sarah, it would be a powerful force for shattering sterotypes and promoting understanding, friendship and peace.

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