Tell Me Your Stories by Sarah Perle Benazera
What is the story your parents used to read to you?
What is the story you always tell at parties?
What is the new story that made you cry?
Storytelling is about who we are, where we are from, and how we can relate to one another. It is one of the oldest and most efficient tools humans have been using for communication. Storytelling helps us process what happens around us, share messages with various audiences, and introduce ourselves.
Growing up I was “the other “. In France, I was the Israeli Jew whose parents were from Algeria. In Israel, I was the girl with a French accent. I was never from “here”, and I had to answer the question “what are you”? from a very early age. My way to connect was through stories; Through the stories of my family, the stories of my grandparents, the stories of my parents. It was through the chapters of their lives in Eastern Europe, in Algeria, or in Israel, that people started to see me.
In Israel and Palestine, like anywhere else, we are defined by our stories, only here, our stories tear us apart. Our local media teaches us to be scared, the international media teaches the world to be scared of us, our History books teach us to either ignore one another or fear one another, and our politicians tell us to fight.
The other is never a person, it is a threat. The only way to fight this institutionalized division is to meet, look each other in the eyes, and share our stories. Our personal stories. To do so we need the right tools, we need to be ready to listen to stories that go against everything we were taught and make our own accessible to the “other side”. We need to create a space where all our stories can not only exist together, but be equally valued and acknowledged.
The first time I met Palestinians I was 22. It took me 22 years to actually meet and speak to my neighbors… and it took me 3 full months before I realized that stories could once again help me connect to the people around me. I began with the stories of my grandmother in Algeria. I began with a story of struggle for freedom, a story of a lost home. A story that helped us connect.
Since then I have never stopped sharing not only my stories, but the ones of the people I met. I became a story-collector, a story-sharer.
Even when people speak the same language, they often speak right past one another. Every word we use resonates differently depending on where we come from.
“Soldier”. “Freedom fighter”. “Home”. “Safety”. “Peace”.
All these words have different meanings and can trigger us differently. Sharing our stories means that we need to hear and explore all these meanings. In the past 10 years, I have worked with hundreds of teenagers and young adults from all over the region. With them, I uncovered multiple layers of human history and emotion. I saw how their stories help us heal and empower us.
Through storytelling, we understand that our past and present are intertwined, and we can craft a common future, one word at a time.
Sarah Perle Benazera is a storyteller and dialogue facilitator who has worked with multiple organizations such as Jerusalem Peacebuilders, the Arava Institute, YaLa Young Leaders.