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