From Middle East war zones, Palestinian and Israeli youth and adults from 26 Holy Land towns will join American counterparts to live together four days and nights in the California mountains. This is the Bay Area-initiated Oseh Shalom~Sanea al-Salam, the nation's and probably world's only resident Palestinian-Jewish Family Peacemakers Camp September 1-4, 2006. Then Septempter 5 in San Francisco, in public they will describe their lives in violence and despair, and newfound change and hope.
Over 200 adults and teens -- Muslims, Christians, and Jews – include 50 women and men, equally, from 29 towns in the Holy Land. They include Combatants for Peace -- Israeli and Palestinian former armed fighters now turning their faces away from violence and toward one another. The Arabs and Jews will return for their powerful San Francisco report-out from intense living together at camp near Yosemite National Park, part of a rapidly growing family of North American camp programs for the Middle East public peace process.
Ten other independent sister youth camp programs have names like Seeds of Peace -- the first, established in 1993 -- Building Bridges for Peace, Creativity for Peace, Peace It Together, Hands for Peace, and Middle East Peace Camp for Children. The Peacemakers Camp provides the only family program.
In safe, natural environments, campers come to realize "an enemy is one whose story we have not heard."
"This is a new breed of Arab and Jewish citizens who refuse to be enemies," says Palestinian-American organizer Melek Nasr-Totah. "It is amazing to see their strong national identities, yet being able to have a new quality of listening that brings them together, step by cautious step, even in the face of sometimes-clashing narratives."
These camps intend to help end war and increase cooperation. They create leaders -- Palestinian and Jewish citizens who have themselves are changing from "enemies" into partners and are prepared to help others.
This "public peace process" was first defined by Dr. Harold Saunders, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, facilitator of the Camp David Accords and four other successful Israeli-Arab treaties. Saunders says that “this is The Citizens’ Century” and implores people to participate fully in partnership with governments. Saunders says, “There are some things that only governments can do, such as negotiating binding agreements. But there are some things that only citizens outside government can do, such as changing human relationships."
"These camp participants and facilitators together can reveal to us perhaps the single greatest source of new social intelligence for the Middle East public peace process," says Len Traubman, retired San Francisco pediatric dentist, and co-founder of partner camp organizer, the 14-year-old Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue in the Bay Area -- the oldest of its kind. The the Family Camp idea sprang from the imagination of a single Dialogue participant in February, 2001. By Fall, 2003, the first Peacemakers Camp Family Weekend was a reality. This year is the fourth, largest and by far most important to impact thought and life in America and the Middle East.