The Seattle Times editorial
headline flashed: "Middle East peace, one child at a time."
The first Middle East Peace Camp for Children -- Arab, Jewish, and other -- in Seattle,Washington (and the West Coast) had succeeded and created another hopeful model of change.
The week of August 12-16, 2002 children aged six to 12, and their teenage counselors, built bridges toward peace through friendship and understanding.
The camp was born from cooperation between the Arab Center of Washington, the Kadima Jewish community, and the new Beyond Borders Arab-Jewish Dialogue in Seattle. The Dialogue is convened by Yaffa Maritz (YaffaM@imvumbu.com).
It convened on the spacious residential grounds of Kay Bullitt, an exceptionally generous Seattle woman who is neither Arab nor Jewish, but a supportive "other."
The children created mosaics and henna designs, and even a model Peace City. They did theater performance and combinations of Middle Eastern folk dances, as well cooperative sports. And even an archeological dig for Arabic and Hebrew words.
Snacks were Middle Eastern, of course.
The week culminated with a performance of a Middle Eastern folk tale -- about war, about hope, and in the end about peace.
"We believe that the road to peace begins with opening our hearts to each others' humanity," said Maha Gebara (Gebara@attglobal.net; 206-533-0152).
Beth Mahmoud-Howell (BMahmoudH_@hotmail.com) added: "And, through our children and us as active partners, peace can be achieved."
Gebara and Mahmoud-Howell are board members and co-chairs of the Culture Committee of the Arab Center of Washington (ACW), a local organization that supports and promotes Arab culture and heritage while building bridges with other communities.
Susan Davis (SDavis@kadima.org, 206-547-3914) is Executive Director of Kadima, a progressive Jewish community serving Seattle. She said: "Since its inception, Kadima has supported the idea of a peaceful coexistence for Israel and Palestine. Through our school, we have already raised a generation of children with the belief that peace in the Middle East is possible. Creating the camp seemed like the logical next step."
As the week progressed, a Jewish parent, Lori Markowitz (LoriM22@msn.com) realized camp experience was "wonderful." She sent e-mail: "Today on the way home form camp both my children were happily singing our peace song, "Salaam and Shalom", and they really like their new Arab and Jewish friends. I am now more determined than ever to carry on ..."
(Fit this long URL together to see The Seattle Times Editorial online)
Published in The Seattle Times Editorials and Opinion -- Thursday, August 22, 2002
Middle East peace, one child at a time
The architects of the planned City of Peace know what a successful city should include.
Spending a sweltering morning drawing plans with colored pencils and markers, they shout out the necessities: Religious freedom. Mutual respect. Kindness. Jobs and food for all. Skate board parks.
The last item might be the only tip-off that the city's planners are children. They make up the 30 or so Jewish, Palestinian and Arab children ages 6 to 12 who attended Seattle's first Middle East Peace Camp. They spent a recent week designing and building their model-sized city. They also created mosaics and henna designs and sang songs in Hebrew and Arabic. They avoided rehashing history or politics and avoided the tensions typically found in meetings of Palestinian and Jew.
Not that they for a moment forgot why they were at Peace Camp.
Daily news bulletins from the Middle East were a reminder that the place of their heritage is far from being a home where different religions, ethnic groups and cultural heritages can co-exist.
But the point of Peace Camp, say its organizers, the Arab Center of Washington and Kadima, a local progressive Jewish community, was to learn how to create such a place through one's actions. The thinking went something like this: If these children got to know and like each other, it would be easier for them to see other Jews, Palestinians and Arabs not as strangers but as neighbors.
It sounded a tad naive. The Middle East is closer to combustion than the cool calm of peace. Besides the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are tensions in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Smaller rumblings in other countries are ripe to develop into tomorrow's conflicts.
But the participation of Barbara Lahav made for a convincing counter-argument. Lahav created a model-sized City of Peace for the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem. Perhaps a whimsical undertaking in the beginning, it developed and caught on. Many are now talking about what peace should look like not only in the Middle East but other countries where decades of war has spawned similar camps.
Children are often more open to change than adults. The children playing architect today may grow up to become the future leaders of their people. The Middle East Peace Camp's bid for peaceful coexistence through the hearts and minds of children makes sense when thought of that way.