WATCH: First TED Talk of 2024 is a conversation between Israeli and Palestinian activists: 'Hope is an action'

An Israeli peace activists sits in a chair across from a Palestinian peace activist, in front of the TED logo on a red stage

In line with TED’s new approach to include more diverging perspectives in its iconic TED Talks, the annual conference kicked off with what Head of TED Chris Anderson called “eavesdropping on a human conversation.”

Sitting across from one another — and facing each other, rather than the audience — Aziz Abu Sarah and Maoz Inon took the stage for the first Talk of the week.

Maoz Inon and Aziz Abu Sarah sit across from each other, with their faces on a large screen, at TED
Maoz Inon and Aziz Abu Sarah speak at SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

Abu Sarah is a Palestinian peacemaker, author, and tourism entrepreneur with a background in conflict resolution, implementing education and peace initiatives across over 65 countries. 

His brother was killed by Israeli soldiers when he was 19 years old.

Similarly, Inon is an Israeli social entrepreneur and peace activist who has founded several tourism initiatives within Israel and the Middle East. 

His parents were killed by Hamas in the October 7 attacks in Israel.

Both of these men — who are so often reduced to the actions of their government or the historical conflict of their people — are friends.

Maoz Inon and Aziz Abu Sarah sit across from each other
Maoz Inon and Aziz Abu Sarah speak at SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

“We met only once before October 7, but you were among the first to reach out, to send your condolences,” Inon told Abu Sarah, about the loss of his parents. “I will always love you for being there for me.”

Abu Sarah nodded solemnly, saying he was surprised by Inon’s response to his condolences after the October 7 attacks.

“You said you’re not only crying for your parents, you’re also crying for the people in Gaza who are losing their lives. And that you do not want what happened to you to be justifying anyone taking revenge,” Abu Sarah summarized. 

“It’s so hard to do that; it’s so much easier to want revenge, to be angry. But you are a brave man.”

Aziz Abu Sarah on stage at TED
Maoz Inon and Aziz Abu Sarah speak at SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

The two took turns sharing their stories, including photos of beloved friends and family who have lost their lives, or have lost dozens of family members in the months since October 2023. 

They also spoke about their respective histories in bridge-building in the region. Having both created tourism businesses in the area, they wanted to invite context into the lives of Israelis and Palestinians who have long been blinded by the inherited conflict of their people.

“We cannot talk, we cannot meet, we cannot have a conversation,” Abu Sarah said. “There are roadblocks, there are checkpoints, there are walls that divide us, there are societal pressure[s] that makes us not being able to talk to each other.”

Prior to the escalated violence in October of last year, they organized Palestinian trips to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust — and Israeli tours of a town that was destroyed in the 1948 Nakba. 

“We give a context, a place, where we can build a movement of citizen diplomats,” Abu Sarah said. “We can have a framework. We can say ‘how can I learn from you?’”

But clearly — learning from one another sounds nearly impossible in the midst of such unfathomable tragedy.

Maoz Inon and Aziz Abu Sarah speak at TED
Maoz Inon and Aziz Abu Sarah speak at SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

“I learned that we must forgive the past. We must forgive the present. But we cannot forgive the future,” Inon said. 

“For many centuries, our stories were parallel,” he said of Israel and Palestine. “And the gap between them became wider and wider. But there is a miracle. Our stories meet. They meet in the future. We meet in the future that is based on reconciliation and recognition.” 

That future is not free of anger and rage, Abu Sarah clarified. In fact, it’s rage that will fuel the fight for peace.

“I am very angry. Every time I read the newspaper, I’m angry. Every time I talk to one of my friends in Gaza, I am angry,” Abu Sarah said. “But the thing is… we do not let anger drown us in hate and wanting vengeance.”

“Instead, I think of anger like nuclear power. It can lead to destruction and it can make light. My hope is that we continue to use anger as a way to bring people together and ask ourselves, ‘what can I do to make things better?’”

Maoz Inan at TED
Maoz Inon and Aziz Abu Sarah speak at SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

This better-world-inspiring anger, Inon said, is called hope. He said that this feeling — along with the legacy of his parents and everything they instilled in him — are what keep him going. 

“Hope is an action,” he said. “It’s not something you find, something you can lose. It’s something you are making.”

His formula to continue making hope in the Middle East? Creating a shared vision for peace.

While it’s unclear what exactly that vision looks — especially a vision that is equitable to both Israelis and Palestinians — these two men believe that it must start with a new approach.

“People look at us and think we are divided because you’re Israeli and I’m Palestinian,” Abu Sarah said to Inon.

“But if you must divide us, people should divide us as those who believe in justice, peace, and equality — and those who don’t yet.” 

Aziz Abu Sarah and Maoz Inon embrace in a hug on stage at TED
Aziz Abu Sarah and Maoz Inon speak at SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

TED Talks are presented at TED’s annual week-long conference in Vancouver for an audience of approximately 2000 attendees. The Talks are later published on the TED website, YouTube, and TED podcasts — with some Talks being published within days or weeks and others being published months later. This TED Talk was published on Wednesday, April 17 — only 2 days after it was presented live. This article has been updated to include the embedded video.

Header image: Maoz Inon and Aziz Abu Sarah speak at SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

Article Details

April 16, 2024 5:32 PM
April 17, 2024
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