As an actor and storyteller, I always felt that I was an extremely sympathetic person. That was a source of pride. But a couple of years ago I realised my sympathy was, in fact, pointless. It was devoid of any value whatsoever. My sympathy allowed me to merely sit as a spectator in the arena of human struggles. It achieved little for others. What I needed was to re-engage with something I had forgotten how to do: empathise.
In 2014 I found myself travelling along the West Bank on a coach with about 30 young Palestinians. This journey was full of music and dance. Darbukas and dabkes. And I was involved. It was impossible not to be. That is what empathy is. Feeling with others and not for them. But along this journey, that empathy turned quite suddenly to sympathy. Our bus had to pass a roadblock guarded by Israel Defence Forces soldiers. Guns were pointed at our driver and he was forced to halt the bus, throwing the younger members of the group 10 feet down the aisle. As we all scrambled to our seats, I immediately sat next to a young Palestinian boy of 13.
One of the IDF soldiers entered the bus and shouted at us for paperwork, permits and identification. As we sat silently, staring down the barrel of his gun, the 13-year-old boy sitting next to me turned and asked if I was all right. I simply nodded. He smiled at me and said: “Don’t worry, it will all be fine.” I suddenly felt rather embarrassed. Embarrassed that a 30-year-old man was being comforted by a child.