I live in a supposedly united city that in reality is fragmented. The average Jewish teenager in Jerusalem would not be able to name a major street in Palestinian East Jerusalem. The average Palestinian teen knows Israelis as Border Policemen in dark green uniforms. Arabic, supposedly a required third language in Jewish schools, somehow gets left out of the curriculum in many. Even where it’s taught, only a small number of kids take it long enough to be able to puzzle out a headline. Language is only a metaphor for the real chasm. Our children grow up in separate worlds.
Now for some hope:
Three years ago, my son went off to a summer camp called Face-to-Face in America. The delegation from Jerusalem included six Jewish and six Palestinian teens. There was also a delegation from Northern Ireland and one from South Africa, and a host group of American kids. They learned how to listen, how to understand that every date and every place in their history means something entirely different to people who live very near them.
There are a number of such camps (links below) that bring together Israelis and Palestinians on neutral ground. The people who run them are blessed with amazing faith: in an age of quarterly returns, they make the long-term investment of educating. If you’re young, I recommend applying. (Yes, adults have left you a broken world. Fix it.) If you have kids, get them interested. If you can, send some money – every such program is very heavily subsidized by donations.
Actually, maybe faith is the wrong word. Last year I interviewed the Israeli and Palestinian coordinators of Seeds of Peace for an article I wrote. Eyal Ronder, the Israeli, described himself as “realistic”:
Already, early Seeds graduates are approaching the age of 30. One is working for the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department. At least one has been an Israeli parliamentary staffer. “I’m realistic,” says Ronder. “If in five years, in a political or business negotiation, two ‘seeds’ meet, with better skills and knowledge, it’s enough to change the world.”
That would be the jackpot, but their are smaller payoffs, also important. During the school year after my son went to Face-to-Face, he brought one of his Palestinian friends to meet his class in his religious high school. This does not happen every day. It normally doesn’t happen any day.
I’ve recently received an email from Peace It Together in Vancouver, which is looking for 16-18 year-olds:
After meeting and greeting each other in Vancouver, we will gather at a rustic location on Bowen Island (near Vancouver). Activities will focus on communication and leadership training, outdoor and wilderness experiences, and filmmaking.
In small multi-cultural groups, you will collaborate on creating drama, documentary or animated short films about how the conflict impacts your lives, hopes and fears. The films will be publicly screened in Vancouver at the end of the two-week session, and then broadcast and screened throughout the world after that.
Do not hesitate. Click here. People do not often offer you opportunities like this.
Here’s a listing of more programs. If readers know of others, please let me know.
- Building Bridges: Israeli, Palestinian and Americans in Colorado.
- Creativity for Peace: Israeli and Palestinian girls in New Mexico, with emphasis on art.
- Face to Face–Faith to Faith: Israeli, Palestinian, Northern Irish, South African and American teens in New York.
- Hands of Peace: Israeli, Palestinian and American teens hosted in Chicago suburbs.
- JITLI: Israelis and Palestinians with American and Mexican Jewish teens. Summer trip beginning in San Diego, travels to Spain and on to Israel.
- Middle East Peace Camp for Children: day camp for Arab- and Jewish-Americans and Israelis ages 5-12 living in Seattle area.
- Peace Camp Canada: Israeli, Palestinian and Canadian teens in Ottawa.
- Peace It Together: Israeli, Palestinian and Canadian youth near Vancouver, focus on filmmaking.
- Seeds of Peace: Israeli, Palestinian and other Middle Eastern teens with American, Balkan, Cypriot and South Asian youth in Maine.