Avia Hirshfeld is a 23 years old Israeli who was raised in a settlement in the West Bank called Anatot. She went to school in Jerusalem and was part of a youth movement there. She spent two years as a combat soldier in the West Bank and on the border with Egypt.
When you are in the army, she said, you don’t see the situation as an Occupation. You see the conflict and do what you have to do. It wasn’t until she attended the Freedom School that she was able to address her military experience and better understand the conflict and the Occupation. Avia said she then began to reexamine her service and the methods that were used to contain the conflict.
The Freedom School is a project of Combatants For Peace. It is a young adult learning program for Israelis aged 20-25. It is a 6-week educational program that empowers youth to be activists and educators, working to end the Occupation and build an equal and just society for all people in Palestine and Israel. Their goal is to train the next generation of activists and leaders.
At the Freedom School, Avia learned Arabic. She joined the language exchange group and taught Hebrew to Palestinian women from East Jerusalem. At the language exchange she met other activists, both Jewish and Palestinian, and developed close friendships.
By learning Arabic and teaching Hebrew to Palestinian women, Avia is meeting women who generally don’t work or leave their homes. This opportunity allowed her to learn more about their lives. Avia hopes that by teaching them Hebrew, she is giving Palestinian women more opportunities to find work and move about more easily outside their own neighborhoods. She hopes she is making a difference.
Avia now lives in West Jerusalem. Her activism encourages her to look at who she is and the reality around them that she had not seen before. She said we see the Palestinians but we don’t see their community. Avia grew up Zionist and loves her country. The Freedom School has allowed her to ask questions about Zionism and accept a Palestinian narrative. She better understands the gap between their narratives.
Avia sees hope in the little things. She sees hope in the resistance for the things you think are wrong. She thinks their work is making a difference in the lives of people.
Avia plays on a soccer team that is comprised of both Jewish and Arab players. She is currently an Educational Assistant in a school and is planning on going to the Arava Institute, a multinational academic and research program for environmental studies in Israel. There she will work alongside Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis.
Avia’s experience has broken down some walls of fear and separation. Her activism allows her to ask questions more freely and she is more open to hearing challenging answers. Avia hopes she will continue to participate in projects that helps her come into contact with Palestinian women. Her identity as a Zionist has more complexity now while she embraces new Palestinian narratives.
Avia is seeking a more expansive experience in meeting, working and connecting to the various multi-cultural groups in Israel. It doesn’t have to be divisive. There are opportunities in Israel for these kinds of exploratory and transformational experiences because there are people who can envision them.
To learn more about The Freedom School and Combatants for Peace, go to their website, https://afcfp.org/the-freedom-school/#:~:text=A%20young%20adult%20learning%20program,people%20in%20Palestine%20and%20Israel.