'Enemies are people who haven’t met the other side’
Jewish-Muslim law student who grew up in coexistence village, is part of the Bar Ilan mediation team discusses her outlook on peace.
MAI SHBETA Photo: Yonah Jeremy Bob
“My motto is enemies are only people who haven’t yet had the chance to meet the
other side,” said Mai Shbeta, a Bar-Ilan University law student, regarding her
involvement in an international mediation competition that took place in Paris
The Bar-Ilan team achieved mixed success, on the one hand
winning a special prize for the best mediation plan, while on the other not
finishing nearly as well as last year’s unprecedented second place.
while Shbeta’s skills as a mediator, and her value to the team in the
competition were obvious, who she is personally is even more
Shbeta is no ordinary Bar-Ilan student.
She grew up
in Wahat al-Salam-Neve Shalom, a small coexistence village of 50 Arab and Jewish
families living together in the center of the country near Latrun.
young woman like Shbeta, coming from a coexistence village would be part of a
Bar-Ilan team, essentially representing what is often viewed as a highly
religious Jewish and right-wing university, is a story in and of
But Shbeta’s story goes even deeper. Of all of the 57 families in
Wahat al-Salam-Neve Shalom, Shbeta’s family is the only interfaith one. Her
father is Muslim, her mother is Jewish and she is half-and-half, what she calls,
“both 100 percent Jewish and 100 percent Muslim.”
Reflecting more on the
issue of identity, Shbeta said that the bottom-line is “I am a person, a human
She continued, “I was born and raised in Wahat al-Salam-Neve
Shalom. I want everyone to have a country and live in peace.”
she would ever live anywhere else, she said that “only here can you live and be
who we are.” In a “mixed family in a Jewish city, or [in] an Arab city, you need
to take a side.”
On the subject of representing Bar-Ilan and the State of
Israel at an international competition, she looked a bit uncomfortable, but then
with resoluteness responded, “I am a Bar-Ilan student. It might have a
reputation for being very right-wing and religious, but three of the four
students on the mediation team are not religious.”
Shbeta continued, “The
university itself has no agenda or politics. It’s not an issue. I don’t
represent Israel. I am an Israeli and I am only representing myself.”
law student added that she found this perspective of focusing on the individual
was also crucial to coexistence and peace-centered mediation, which she also
participates in outside of the competition.
Shbeta implied that when
people see the conflict in terms of nations, it is hard to “understand the other
But she said she has seen “Israelis living in the South thrown out
of their houses [by rocket fire] and Palestinians living in the West Bank with
family members killed,” during rounds of fighting, later come together, such as
during the Creativity for Peace [summer] camp [for Jewish and Palestinian
adolescent girls], and have a completely different “creative” approach to peace
“as soon as they meet” on a personal level.
Shbeta said that one reason
she joined the mediation competition was her focus on conflict resolution as
opposed to litigation.
“I want to solve problems by dialogue and talking,
not litigating in court,” she said.
She also strongly believes in
people’s power to change, noting that when her Jewish mother made aliya to
Israel from Switzerland decades ago, she “did not even know there was an Arab
minority in Israel.” Later, she became a peace activist and married Shbeta’s
Shbeta said that she did feel extra tension during the
recent Gaza War, but that she tries to explain to Jewish Israelis that “not
everyone in Gaza wants to kill,” and to distinguish between “extremists,” and
what she considers the larger mass of people in Gaza.
She concluded by
saying that most people “just want an end to bombs falling and buses blowing up.
I believe in peace. I don’t know if it will come anytime soon, but I’m doing my
best to make it happen.”