Participants at a Tomorrow's Women event. (Photo/Joshua Sage)
Participants at a Tomorrow's Women event. (Photo/Joshua Sage)

‘I was really angry, and I wanted change’: Palestinian and Israeli girls in leadership program visit Bay Area

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

When Farah S. was 9 years old, her father was killed by Israeli soldiers at their home in the West Bank. Omri Dinur, an Israeli originally from the border town of Sderot, spent her childhood under constant threat of attack.

Next week, both will be speaking in temples, schools and private homes in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, including the University of San Francisco, to promote a message of peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Farah S.
Farah S.

Farah S., who has asked J. not to use her full name because of safety concerns, is a graduate of the Young Leader Program, a summer camp run by Tomorrow’s Women, an organization that bridges the gap between Israelis and Palestinians by engaging young women as leaders, and peacemakers, in their communities. Farah S. attended the program in 2009 because she wanted to share her story with people on the other side of the conflict.

“I wanted to share my story about my dad; I wanted them to see that I’m an average girl,” she said.

Each summer, the Young Leader program brings 16 Israeli and Palestinian young women between the ages of 15 and 18 to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a three-week intensive where participants live, cook and work together while attending group dialogue and therapeutic art sessions. The goal is to give the young women a safe, neutral place to connect across borders, away from the conflict of their home regions.

Omri Dinur
Omri Dinur

The Young Leader speaking tour brings graduates of the camp back to the U.S. to share their stories and raise awareness for both the program and the continuing conflict in their home regions and to fundraise for Tomorrow’s Women. On the tour this month with Farah S. are Omri Dinur, Yara Abu Al Hija and Tomorrow’s Women executive director Tarrie Burnett.

Dinur, 19, attended the Young Leader camp in 2019. After her time with Tomorrow’s Women, Dinur decided to complete her required military service by opting to do national service instead; it has her working with disabled children in schools. She joined the current speaking tour because she wanted to educate Americans on the situation in Israel.

“It’s very important to me to show that there are Jewish Israelis that want change and don’t believe in [many of the things] that go on in Israel … because of our government, because of our army,” Dinur said. “This is the way to make change, through women, and through young people.”

Activism is vital to Yara Abu Al Hija, 21, a Palestinian living and working in Israel. It was while attending the Young Leader camp in 2016 that she decided to be a lawyer.

Yara Abu Al Hija
Yara Abu Al Hija

“I was really angry, and I wanted to change,” she said.

Abu Al Hija is in her second year studying law and psychology at Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel, where she plans to major in human rights.

Executive director Tarrie Burnett said that the Young Leader program is often “life-changing” for the girls involved.

“Parents will say to us, there was my daughter before, and then there was my daughter after,” Burnett said.

The goal of the speaking tour is to offer an additional leadership opportunity for participants as well as to raise funds and awareness for Tomorrow’s Women’s other programs.

Besides the Young Leader camp, the organization runs the Peace Ambassador Program, geared toward young women in Santa Fe, and Gaza Girls, which connects and supports young Palestinian women in memory of 2004 Young Leader Bessan Abuelaish, who was killed during an Israeli strike in Gaza in 2009.

“Our mission is truly about engaging young women, both in Israel and the occupied territories,” Burnett said, “bringing them together to learn how to be compassionate leaders, to learn leadership skills, and then to put those into practice by working together across borders and within borders.”

The Young Leader speaking tour will be at the BrewVino on 2706 24th St from noon to 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 24, courtesy of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El. Tickets are $5, and registration is required.

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene was a staff writer at J. from 2022-2023.