Unification News for December 2004
Global Peace-Makers in Israel and Palestine
by Norbert Szolnoky
21 students from 8 countries - including Jews and Arabs from Israel - participated in this Service for Peace pilot project in Israel from July 30 and August 11, 2004. The program aimed to understand the Arab-Jewish conflict first-hand, engage in community service, and become leaders capable of helping to solve this conflict. The group visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Beit Shemesh, Haifa , and also had the chance to experience the Dead Sea and the Negev Desert .
Participants worked with children in summer camps and in an orphanage, visited with the elderly in a senior home, planted vegetables, cleaned up archeological sites, a beach and a park on Mt. Carmel. The project combined service and learning in a unique way through community service and visits to various local neighborhoods and ethnic groups to experience life as the locals do.
The Service for Peace approach of conflict resolution and transformation, already proven in the US, was brought to Israel and tested with our four Israeli Jewish and four Palestinian Arab participants, who came with very different viewpoints and a lot of skepticism, but also with an open mind that helped to change their hearts and look at service as a way of healing relationships and bringing peace to this troubled land. They could also see their situation differently through the eyes of the international participants.
We managed to break some new ground. We were officially hosted by the cities of Beit Shemesh and Haifa , who arranged many of the programs for us. Beit Shemesh organized home stays for our group, and this was the first time residents welcomed Palestinian youth into their own houses in this very conservative Jewish city.
We also had our share of difficulties starting from the cultural differences between the United States and Israel. Volunteer service is viewed differently here and quite often we had a hard time convincing our hosts that we really wanted to get our hands dirty and not just do traditional tours! The logistics were also more difficult to organize here.
But in the end, we learned a lot and managed to finish the project successfully. The participants started out as strangers and became a family by the end. Many of the local students wanted to continue similar projects and started to create an action plan to engage Arab and Jewish students together in service activities creating more Peacemakers. We have agreed to hold the next project early next year.
Zvi Raviv - Israel
Each and every culture has its own moral system. What Christians regard as moral might not be seen as that by Muslims, and we are well aware of the basic differences between religions. But some values are universal, and shared by all people: we all want the best for our siblings, maintain our way of life and live in a clean environment.
Now I'm 25 years old. In the army I served in an infantry unit, and since I finished my army service my social involvement has been growing constantly. The subjects that interested me the most are those concerning peace between people, and peace between people and their environment.
When I first saw the advertisement for the program, I thought it's going to be some sort of summer camp for grown-up people from all over the world; but when the lectures and the activities begun, I understood how the principles of the program are closely related to the subjects I find interesting.
The first day in Beit-Shemesh included work with children. Usually children don't internalize prejudices - while working with them I felt how I left the world of grown-ups, in which I have to constantly care about things as image, and cover myself with cynicism. Working with the children helped me. Later on that day, when we went to the holocaust museum, "Yad Vashem", I tried to explain to the participants of my group that the Nazis weren't only against Jewish people, but against universal values as civil and religious rights- if we believe in those values, we should act together against prejudice and intolerance.
While working with children I noticed how curious they are about other cultures - they showed great interest in the Japanese culture, and since there is a great influence of the Latin-American culture in Israel , seeing how much the Arab and Jewish children wanted to learn Spanish was fascinating.
During the following days I met very special people: Gil, a local environment teacher in Beit-Shemesh, who works with his students in order to preserve archeological sites around Beit-Shemesh. We can see how the students are committed to the things he teaches them by the fact that even during the summer holiday they came, and helped him to protect the sites, and organize the meal he made for the visiting groups. While we were visiting the desert, a monk called Jaques joined us - he works for humanitarian causes in Palestine . He showed us what real commitment to a goal is, and explained us the philosophical meaning of life in the desert. In the desert we had a presentation of the main characteristics of the monotheistic religions which started in the Middle East , and it made me feel great respect towards other religions. My university is located near Mount Carmel . As a biology student, who has great concern regarding my environment, seeing the condition of the park in the Carmelite Monastery makes me furious. I felt as if someone came to my backyard and threw there his garbage. When we decided that the last activity of the group would be to clean-up the park, I felt as if I were cleaning my own house. Seeing the group working for a common goal, and the way the place looked when we finished made me very proud.
Making the children part of the activities in the program, and presenting the daily cause showed the best in the people of the group.
I believe that the group should learn some language together, even if it's only a few words. For example, we could have learned some words and phrases in Arabic, in order to break the ice between the Israelis who have different native tongues, and people of the international community.
The Service for Peace organization made this program in a way that enabled everyone, regardless of culture and religion, to make a contribution - if you would like to see the seashore clean, the side roads free of garbage, or see a smiling child, and you are willing to work hard in order to achieve it, we would like your help.
Tareq Ghaith - Palestine
I will try to express my feelings about this camp because it's important for me to tell my feelings, and what happened to me in 10 days to my friends and to the world.
It's very necessary to change the situation in this land - the holy land, and try to find the solution and fix the complications between the Palestinians and Israelis, and try to change the bloody-way, killing-way to a peace-way and love-way. All of this encouraged me to participate and to be peacemaker in this Global PeaceMakers Camp, and to help myself and everyone around me to get out from the pains and suffering, which all of us are living in, and to live in freedom, equality and peace like other people.
On the first day of camp, I felt it is my responsibility to show this group the Palestinian and Arabic side. This feeling came after a lesson was presented to me when a doctor came to the hotel in Jerusalem and told us about the situation between Israel and Palestine. Then I said to myself, "Where is the Arabic side, where is the Palestinians vision?" He was talking about many things, but I didn't agree with him and I think many Palestinians people like me feel the same way. Here I've said to myself, I must talk and show this group our side, our vision for peace and the future.
Now I want to write just one special experience. In the first night in Beit-Shemesh, when the families - we were about to stay with - were talking about themselves, a mother mentioned that her son was a soldier in the army. I said to myself: "Please God not with this family, not with this mother." But against my wishes, I was chosen to stay with this family. In the same night, I talked with this family all night about the occupation in Palestine, the wall, bombs and many things, and then I felt better. We grew very close to each other and this mother called me "my son" at the farewell party.
Finally, I left Beit-Shemesh with love for this family, and hope to see them again.
Darka Antlova - Czech Republic
First of all I`d like to express my deepest gratitude that I was given a chance to participate in this Global PeaceMakers project in Israel. I most appreciated meeting the local people because this helped me to understand their situation which I would never be able to grasp just by watching TV and listening to the news. Still there are so many things to learn about this country, its people, culture and historical background but definitely my stay in Israel made me closer to this country and more aware of the Middle East issue of Israel and Palestine . I'm grateful that we had a chance to meet many different people such as a hotel manager, waiters, a film director, a member of the parliament, students, representatives of local authorities, businessmen, shopkeepers, soldiers, security guards, a previous adviser of the Israeli ex-prime minister, a political science professor and a priest, father Jaques, who was our guide in the Negev desert, people in the streets etc. We even had the opportunity to stay at the homes of Israeli families for a few days.
I'm sure that it's very good that we made something substantial for the country e.g. cleaning the sea shore in Haifa, visiting an orphanage in Bethlehem and performing a cultural program for them, playing with kids at camp, making sandwiches for them, farming and gardening at one ecological farm at Emilio's, cleaning the park near Druze village or visiting a house for elderly people and spending time with them. Somebody might say we haven't done that much, but I think just to be such a colorful group of 4 continents counting 24 people of different culture, language, color, religious background (Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, Buddhists...), mentality; being able to become friends and overcome all this diversity, and being able to overcome these differences together for two weeks was a great victory we all experienced at the end of the project. We hadn't known each other at the beginning but at the end it was so difficult to say goodbye. We made new friends, with some more, with some less, but in the end we became one big family knowing that we are going to miss each other hoping to meet again at another opportunity of serving this country which became my new home. I really gained the desire in my heart to help this country and its people- bringing peace through serving and I strongly believe that people who are in charge of important political decisions will feel inspired to really serve this country by having a deep desire to find a good compromise to live together in peace. Because I realized very strongly that if Israeli people will keep their policy of resentment, pain and emotional involvement there is no solution at all. I'm looking forward to other projects in Israel hoping that I'll be able to take part. In the end I'm honored that I've become a small ambassador for Israel promoting the country, how beautiful and attractive it is. I think that everybody in the world should visit this very special country because it has so much to offer.
Katherine Andrews - United States
The Global PeaceMakers Camp in Israel and Palestine did not aim to find a solution to the complicated political problems of the region. We participants did not spend time delineating new borders that could be acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians; we did not try to stage negotiations between the two sides; and we never spoke with extremists from either side to discuss ways of compromising on key issues. This was not the purpose of the camp.
The camp was working for a different kind of peace. Each of us who came to the camp got to know somebody different from anyone else we had ever met. We each learned about one another's culture and heritage and returned home with new friends from all parts of the world. This all may seem rather clichéd and trivial compared to the problems plaguing Israel and Palestine. But I can tell you why this kind of cross-cultural exchange matters.
Because the camp included both Arabs and Jews, it brought together people who had had little interaction with one another despite the fact that they are virtually neighbors. Several of the participants attended universities in which both Arabs and Jews studied together, but the level of contact each group had with the other prior to the camp was generally low. Through their shared experiences in touring, performing service, and enduring long bus rides, Arab and Jewish participants had deep conversations, developed friendships, and exchanged email addresses at the end of the camp in order to stay in touch in the future.
I saw the most poignant example of new relationships established between one Arab camp member and the Jewish household in which he home-stayed for four nights in Beit Shemesh. His Jewish "mother" introduced herself to the group the first night and mentioned that she had a son in the Israeli army, a fact that made this young Arab male visibly distressed. He told me how uncomfortable he was to be going to a house where one of its members, under different circumstances, could possibly be pointing a gun in his direction. On our last night in Beit Shemesh, I could see how well the Arab had managed to bond with his Jewish family despite their underlying political differences. I stood next to the Arab in a circle in the community center as we prepared to learn traditional local dances. As his host mother approached us and motioned for me to let her stand beside him, she pointed toward him as said, "My son," as the two reached for one another's hand. This friendship epitomizes how personal attachments among humans can supersede divisions along ideological lines.
The camp also helped to break down common stereotypes regarding Arabs and non-Arabs, particularly Americans. There was frustration from Arab participants about the way Arabs and Middle Easterners are often portrayed in Western media-either as violent terrorists, or as "towel-headed", camel-herding misogynists. This is unfair to Arabs and demonstrates how irresponsible the media can be in what it promotes as entertainment. The Arab camp members were proud, and possibly relieved, that they could share with the rest of us the depth and multiplicity of their culture.
To complement this cultural diffusion, Arab participants, and other non-American participants for that matter, came to know some individual Americans and could see us as separate entities from the U.S. policies for which they may have disapproval. It was valuable to hear Arabs say, "The Arab world is not against Americans as a people," and to hear their sympathies expressed over 9/11. I was particularly comforted to hear one Arab participant say that getting to know us had shattered his perception of all Americans as living spoiled, extravagant lives and as being uninterested and unaware of the world outside America.
Being a part of the Global PeaceMakers Camp was a lesson in history and international politics that could never be rivaled in any classroom or newspaper article. Most people outside of Israel and Palestine are aware of the ongoing conflict there and may have basic understanding of the facts and events related to that conflict. By hearing firsthand perspectives on the situation from the people whose lives are most affected by it, however, we foreigners had our eyes opened to the complexity and emotional connectedness that underlies this decades-old dispute.
The Israeli-Palestine conflict can never feel as distant to us camp members as it might have before visiting the region and getting to know its people. We have memories of real conversations, real accounts, and real images from which to draw upon in any future discussion of the Middle East struggle for peace. And the increased understanding we gained about this particular conflict is valuable towards grasping other global conflicts. If those of us who have never before been close to such conflict can recognize how political problems in Israel and Palestine impact the lives of real individuals, we may be more likely to remember that problems in seemingly far-away places are also have consequences for the real people who live there.
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