An interview with Mai Shbeta on the International Day of Peace by Charles Falajiki
Can you please introduce yourself?
My name is Mai Shbeta and I am Social Entrepreneur, Human Rights Lawyer, and Mediator. I was born and raised in Wahat Al Salam-Neve Shalom, the only community where Israelis and Palestinians choose to live together with mutual respect. My father is Palestinian Muslim and my mother is Jewish, originally from Switzerland.
Growing up in Wahat al Salam-Neve Shalom, peacemaking was not a new concept to me. Since I was young, I’d been active in programs that promote peace, leadership, and human rights in different organizations around the world, and worked with several NGO's in a variety of fields to this end.
I graduated law school a few years ago and did my internship at a Human Rights Law Office. In the last two years, I’ve been working with an initiative together with the academic sponsorship of the Harvard Negotiation Project, aiming to bring negotiation skills to leadership in the Middle East.
Why do you do what you do? What motivates you?
Starting out, working for peace was something that I fell into almost automatically. I felt that the place where I was born, and the makeup of my family made me the “peace girl”. That working for peace is what I have to do and that would be a waste and a shame if I didn’t. A lot of my motivation came from the feeling that I was perfectly placed to do it and that people were expecting it from me.
In the last few years however, I have been thinking about what my real motivation is. What is it that gives me the joy of doing what I do? In this process I actually stopped working for peace for a while and I went into film making and theater just to try to find out what I really want to do. Though this I realized that what gives me joy is helping other people become happier, live a better life, have equality of opportunity and to help there to be more justice in the world.
From that point my work shifted to a place of real care for people and interest in other conflicts, not just my own conflict in Israel/Palestine. I now work on other international conflicts and what makes other people feel better about themselves; whether at a personal or national level - anything that brings more peace to this world, makes people happier and makes the world a better place.
What is the impact of your work?
In the early days of my peace work I worked with an organization that facilitated meetings between Israeli and Palestinian girls to create understanding and support the peace process. I am still in touch with some of them today and act as their mentor. The peace village where I am from is also doing impactful work every day and I see myself as an ambassador of the village.
Today I work for an educational organization that is operating under the wing of the Harvard Negotiation Project which works to develop the negotiation and leadership skills of leaders in the Middle East. Through this we hope to strengthen peace processes at an international level.
What is your interpretation of a peaceful world?
To me, a peaceful world is a world where our leaders and the people are not just worried about how to gain more power or how to gain more money but actually care about everyone’s best interest, thinking of how to enable people to live their normal life without fearing violence or not having money to feed their children. A world that is led by care and by equality rather than money and power. A world where you think of the other the way you think of yourself. A world where we don’t do wrong towards others. A world where our leaders make decisions for the good of all, not just themselves.
Why should the international day of peace be celebrated?
I see many reasons why the International Day of Peace should be celebrated.
First of all, I believe that in every journey, including peace building, there are so many steps and each step, as small as it may be, should be celebrated. Even though we are far from having world peace, there are people and organizations that are working day and night to bring us even one step closer together and these people and those actions should be celebrated.
Secondly, I believe that celebrating the International Day of Peace is about giving hope and inspiring people. It is an opportunity to hear about people and causes that are working for peace and to support them, giving people the inspiration and hope that peace is possible.
Thirdly, it is also a reminder that we are still far from international p