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TEDxRamallah – My first TED event and visit to Bethlehem April 20, 2011

Posted by GuySoft in Crictor, Hamakor, IGF, ITU.
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Holding the x in TEDxRamallah

Holding the x in TEDx

Hey all,

Last Saturday I was at my first TEDx event at TEDxRamallah, which took place in Bethlehem. As a TED lecture lover this was a fantastic experience for me. Moreover, this is also the first time I classified as a “Jewish” Israeli citizen (As an atheist its somewhat confusing to refer to myself as such). This does put me in an unusual position slightly different from most people there. I will try and summarize my own experience in this special event. I feel its important to for me to relay what I see to both sides that rarely see eye to eye.

I shall summarize the talks that I found interesting to me:

Salome Heusel – How TED’s strategy made TED what it is

It was interesting to hear the explanation of how TED grew to the size it is today. How the “radical openness”, even though this talk is of course not the first of its kind. strategic model adopted by TED let them grow by letting others take the TEDx logo and format to reach the huge number of conferences viewers and participants they have today. Things like opening the on-site video subtitle program that let others translate the videos and reach all literate people no matter the language.

Gisel Kordestani – “The Internet amplifies voices, some are heard for the first time.”

Gisel, director of business development in Google, talked about how the Internet amplifies people’s voices, and brings about change in the community. This talk touched me, as a technological-oriented person, I see daily how the Internet as a tool helps us build conversation and understanding bottom up. Unlike Gisel, I actually started on the technological side and reached the world changing thoughts from the opposite side.

I find it profound, that thanks to the level of communication that the Internet has given us a vast majority of people living in many countries view themselves as citizens of the world.This fact is backed up with statistics in the lecture. As citizens of the world,  it seems to me much easier to engage in conversations with our neighbors and collaborate with them.

Muhammad Khatib – Don’t listen to your Mom

One of the highlights for me in the event was meeting my friend Muhammad Khatib, who I originally met in ITU TELECOM 2008 in Thailand, indirectly setting off the chain of events that lead me to TEDxRamallah. His talk was about why there are so few Palestinian entrepreneurs, and that one of their defining characteristics is that they are obligated not to listen to their mothers, who want them to have steady jobs.

Now that I am home safe, reaching TEDxRamalla was far easier than I expected it to be; the hardest thing yet was indeed not listening to my mother, who was worried sick about me going there.

Julia Bracha – A story can re-wire your mind, and the psychology behind it

This is for me probably the best lecture in the conference, mainly because it explained in to me what I am doing today out in the A territories – I am learning new things.

Julia spoke about the movie she made called Budrus the movie is about a non-violent demonstration that occurred in the Palestinian village 7 years prior to the making of the movie. She explained why this kind of film was missed in the mainstream media at the time because it didn’t fit “the narrative at the time”, being that at this time during the second intifada Palestinians were viewed as suicide bombers, not peaceful protesters. But this was the start, she borrowed psychological terms to explain why this is happening. Our minds are wired to prefer information that supports narratives that we already know. This term is known as “confirmation bias“, the tendency to favor information that confirms their preconceptions regardless of whether the information is true or not. When this tendency is overcome, we get a situation called “cognitive dissonance“, where we actually experience physical pain caused by holding two conflicting ideas. To relief this pain we ether ignore the information, or fit it in to our logical narrative of our world view. However this did make me realize I am a sort of a masochist, coming to Bethlehem where I am likely to have new information clashing with many of the narratives I hear back home. Nonetheless, I urge myself and others not to look away from such a narrative, even though cognitive dissonance can truly be discomforting. Sadly though, due to the fact that the lecture does favor the Palestinian side, when I tried to show it to a few friends here, they mostly dismiss it at once saying it’s one sided, not reaching the cognitive dissonance that one would want. I am not sure what to do about this just yet.

Slightly too political for me – The non-soldier non-settler Israeli

This TEDx was slightly too political. Although this is expected in such a place, I do find it hard to show all of the lectures to my fellow Israelis. There seem to have not been a single lecture by a Palestinian that was purely Technological, Entertainment or Design without politics embedded in to it in some way.

At first I thought it was only me, but it seemed like quite a few people from abroad approached me saying the same thing. I would like to hear from the Palestinians in the conference what they think. .I have a feeling a lot of the one-sidedness was done unintentionally. Plus it seemed like most speakers didn’t seem to know that there were two Israeli people in the crowd.

It is my opinion that if eventually we are to reach a dialog talking about the conflict, Israelis should first see Palestinians who are not talking only about politics. We need to shake the stereotype of savage terrorists first, and only then get in to the hard talks. Similar to what I was doing in TEDxRamallah myself, where some Palestinians I met said it’s the first time they saw an Israeli who is not a soldier or a settler. I was introduced a few times with the phrase “Meet Guy, he is proof that not all Israelis are bad soldiers or settlers”. Many Israelis here might find this odd, since most Israelis are indeed not in either of those categories. This made me feel how important it is for people to see that in ether side there are normal people.

Sadly people that are not allowed to enter Israel would never see this. The same goes for Israelis who think that Palestinian are savages, especially now, when I have conversations with Israelis after the recent massacre in Itamar. it’s extremely hard to convince Israelis that most Palestinians are horrified by this as any other human being would be.

Summary

The conference was indeed engaging on many levels. Politically it was an important lesson yet an uneasy one. As time passes here in Israel it becomes harder for me to grasp where I was, and how I can explain to others how it is to be there.
The psychological barrier in our minds is unimaginably higher than the physical one. Tearing it down is far more challenging than simply going against the wall separating us, going against the pain we feel when we hear an opinion we don’t like.

This blog post is radically different than the things I usually post here. However I felt I must write this down and share, if you don’t like it, please, flame responsibly.

Shy, Guy and Muhammad

Shy on the left, myself next to him and and Mohammad Khatib at the far right

Bethlehem Convention Palace reception

Bethlehem Convention Palace reception

From outside the Convention Palace, one can see Efrat settlement on top of the hill

From outside the Convention Palace, one can see Efrat settlement on top of the hill

Comments»

1. Amr Tamimi - April 20, 2011

“Shy on the left, myself next to home and and Mohammad Khatib at the far left” and on the extreme left ;)

GuySoft - April 20, 2011

Hehe, I noticed that just a minute or two after getting the comment alert. Fixed!
BTW who is in the middle? I think the tag says Aref Massadha

2. Dima - April 20, 2011

Great post, Guy!
Thank you very much for sharing this!

You wrote: “this is also the first time I classified as a “Jewish” Israeli citizen (As an atheist its somewhat confusing to refer to myself as such).” There is actually quite a lot written on this subject and I personally find this terminology confusing. In Russian, for example, there are different words for Jewish religious identity and Jewish ethno-cultural identity. In English and Hebrew, however, the two are described the same term and I find this problematic.

I also found your comment on the “openness” of TED as a key to its success interesting. I am not Salome Heusel, but it seems to me that the model is a bit more complex. From an outsider’s perspective, at its core, TED is very closed. Just think how hard it is to get in a TED or even a TEDx event – all are invitation only as far as I know. What open is the final product and they did a great job of building a community around it. I actually think that the fundamental “exclusivity” of TED is crucial to its success as it allows the organizers both quality control and a marketing spin. Does it make sense?

Finally, I am always glad to see people observing social and psychological theories in action. Makes me feel less in an ivory tower :)

GuySoft - April 20, 2011

Yes I suppose you have a point about TED. The invitations to TEDx are somewhat closed. My registration to TEDxTelAviv, TEDxHolyLand and even TEDxTalpiot (small neighborhood in my own city) were not approved, which naturally I’d have to say was a mistake on their behalf ;) . It seems like the only way to get in to TED convention is to know the organizer. Its radically closed compared to most Open source conventions or IGF. We should be able to change this, since TEDx are run by the community for the community. If I were to organize a TEDx I’d push it to be more open. I guess Salome was referring to giving their lectures and translation platform for free.

Dima - April 20, 2011

“I guess Salome was referring to giving their lectures and translation platform for free.” – Sorry for being a cynic, but I think this is more about smart marketing, rather than openness. But I am glad they are doing this nevertheless :) And I am not sure TED would work as a completely open model in terms of participation; its exclusivity is part of its appeal.

3. Hiba Reziq - April 20, 2011

More power to you

4. Plum - April 20, 2011

WOW…. I can not believe I read all this long article, But it so interesting!
I always knew that you have great skills and I think that when you actually being there it shows a lot about you.
Good luck dude :D

5. Susan Macaulay - April 21, 2011

Good post. As you have rightly pointed out, when people aren’t exposed to “others” their fear and misunderstanding grows rather than lessens. And that’s the problem with building walls and creating more barriers – it only makes the situation worse.

6. aadildesai - April 22, 2011

WOW!!! Great to read this wonderful article and your good thoughts about the two sides not knowing about each other since they do not get to see the real people on either side and have notions about a evil personality for people from the other side. Great to see the way you think and wish a lot more people from both sides saw it that way, then the world would be a more peaceful place. May your tribe increase!!! BTW, Have you heard the song “Imagine” by John Lennon. Wish everyone emulated it, there would be no wars and only peace everywhere!!! It’s easy if you try!!!


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