In Gear | Rotary in Southern New Zealand In Gear - Issue 3 - Page 13

“In the end, I made quite a controversial decision, actually, to go to Tel Aviv University, in Israel, to do a Master’s in International Conflict Resolution and Mediation.” Far from being repelled by the polarising nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, those very complex dynamics and perspectives were the drawcards. “It was the fact that all the Abrahamic religions were centred in Israel: Christianity, Judaism and Islam, which is what I’ve studied … and I was interested in the inter-faith dialogues and peace-building between religions.” One of the abiding role models that peace and understanding was possible in one of the world’s most conflict-torn regions came from the Rotarians who took her under their wing – members of the Rotary Club of Jaffa, and her Rotary ‘mum’, president Rogette Hinawi. “She was so kind to me – Rogette was actually Israeli-Arab … she was Palestinian, and Christian, so that’s unusual and in the minority,” Robbie says. “Rotary was fantastic. My host club was one of the only ones at the time which had Israelis, Arab Israelis, Christians and Jews. They were just lovely. There were business people – very successful people – within Israel and had ties all around the place.” Expansive views For Robbie, then 21, the 2010-11 academic year proved ‘incredible’, her class a melting pot of professions, backgrounds, ideas and perspectives. “I was the youngest in my class by far. In my year, people had come from all different faculties, all types of disciplines. I was studying with doctors, lawyers, city planners, and I had a dancer in my class – all there to bring what they knew to the table and learn about peace building.” ... I could choose to listen to the divisive opinions on the conflict, or I could choose to remember, and reflect on, the people I’d met – like the Rotarians who were co-existing in harmony, who were peace- building, doing it every day.” Robbie Francis, Dunedin NRG Even as a Kiwi from a world away, though, she was not immune to the rawness of the conflict. “For me, I was able to travel freely between the West Bank and Israel, and half my friends were from Palestine, and half of my friends were from Israel,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong – it was challenging. I often felt under pressure to take a side, whereas, I am pro- humanity. I am very much into: I’m human and you’re human, and we’re, actually, both just human. “I was confronted with a lot of ethical questions like racism, peace building, conflict, religion, and, sometimes, it did hurt and I did question my faith in humanity at certain points.” In fact, so intense was the experience, she took a year to decompress on graduating, au pairing in France. “I needed to clear my head … conflict and peace building is hard, and this was particularly hard, especially for a 21-year-old mind. “There is always going to be conflict in the world; there is always going to be work to be done, and I had to really make a choice – was this something I wanted to continue, or did I want to pursue something else? “What I decided on, and what I had thought about in my time in Paris, was that I could choose to listen to the divisive opinions on the conflict, or I could choose to remember, and reflect on, the people I’d met – like the Rotarians who were co-existing in harmony, who were peace-building, doing it every day. Israeli Rotarian Rogette Hinawi and Robbie at her graduation from Tel Aviv University +qЁ݅́ѡݡ$хѕѡ)ѡѡЁɕɹt)A