At 21 years old, Jiries Elias is an impressive young man. He is in his second year of law school at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He was a JPB camper when he was 15 years old and then returned twice as a counselor after turning 18. And though he had very different experiences in his three summers, he credits Jerusalem Peacebuilders with helping to shape his personality.
JPB was his first encounter with peace and leadership programs, his first attempt at discussing politics in a formal way with people from different backgrounds. And he came back with stories from both sides, from the Jewish-Israeli side and from the Arab narrative. It helped him shape his ideas, his personality, and who he wanted to be in the future.
"JPB was the first time that I felt like I have something to offer to
my community, to society. It gave me a lot of self-confidence. Self-confidence is one of the main things that I now use everyday in my life: in my studies, work, volunteering, and other activities."
When asked what unique skills the JPB experience has left him with, he says:
"JPB was the first time that I felt like I have something to offer to my community, to society. It gave me a lot of self-confidence. Self-confidence is one of the main things that I now use everyday in my life: in my studies, work, volunteering, and other activities. That's the first time where I spoke to a crowd of people, and where I got a lot of compliments, which helped strengthen my personality as a whole and embrace who I am. I don't have to run away anymore from being an Arab, or being a Christian, being afraid to say this or that, because this might hurt that person or something. I think that's the main skill that I'm very thankful for JPB for: self-confidence. I don't know where I would have acquired it, but I know that if I didn't acquire it in the peace camp and wouldn't acquire it later on, then I would not be where I am today, in law school, participating in a thousand other activities.... At JPB, I learned how to speak, how to stand and it helped me at MUN, I was the manager of the Model United Nations in all of the country. And if I didn't learn the skill of being a leader, of leading from behind and from the front... then maybe I wouldn't have gotten elected.... And third is the...moderate-ness, not being an extremist. I think that also helped me later on to be involved in student unions, student councils, so I try to bring both sides, both ideas, the middle ground. And that's something I also practiced for the first time at JPB when we did conflict resolution sessions."
He also came to terms with big parts of his identity as an Arab Christian in a predominately Muslim minority community within Israel:
"I am Arab for Jewish people and I'm Christian for the Arab people, so I'm always a minority in my group. And when I got to camp and everybody was equal, it sort of gave me the feeling that I shouldn't look at the people around me and let my identity as an Arab keep me silent, I should actually express my ideas. I can be friends with both sides, no problem, but I can express my ideas to both sides. My ideas should not be curved in a way that would conform with society's, I can have my own ideas, I can think... for example, hypothetically that I can justify the existence of the state of Israel or I can not justify the state of Israel, and it shouldn't have to do with me being an Arab or Christian, but it has more to do with my moral values and my principle and my sense of belonging after all. I find a way, a middle ground, in order to bring myself to the best level of integration in both societies, which is the optimal solution for me, which is also a way for me to bring peace. If I'm at the center of both societies, then [I can] bridge them together. That's what I pray to do."
Jiries' experiences with JPB pushed him out of his comfort zone, allowed him to test out the confines and the flexibility of his identity and highlighted his natural abilities as a captivating public speaker. He has utilized the skills he learned to become an exceptional leader in his community and we, at JPB, are so excited to keep following his impressive path.