Look at the youth -- from pre-teens
into their 20s -- if you want some signs of maturity about the Middle East.
Here are four examples for you.
In Jerusalem, Kids4Peace began in 2002 to respond to concerns about the future of children in Israel and Palestine, in response to increased violence. It brings together children aged 10-12, from Jewish, Christian and Muslim families, and includes meetings between Israeli and Palestinian families from both sides of the cultural and political divide. Last summer the youth traveled to Housteon, Texas for a summer camp experience. The children returned home to continue faithfully in inter-cultural and interfaith learning and relating. Photos and information are on the Web at:
The Jerusalem Circus continues to bring together Palestinian and Israeli youth through the arts. You can learn more from its founder, Israeli Elisheva Tobiass ( Tobiass@israsrv.net.il ) or from Californian Nathan Livni ( Nathan@JerusalemCircus.org ) who created its Web site, at:
You can download a short video of the Jerusalem Circus for educational use, at:
And in California are Muslim, Jewish, and Christian CHUMS -- Children United Morally and Spiritually -- on the Web at:
New York University Israel-Palestine Dialogue that meets every other
Thursday was launched by American Jew Shana Kirsch (
firstname.lastname@example.org ), along with with Sarah Hoffman
(Arab Student Union), Kellen Kaiser (Jewish), and Liz Aakhus (Lutheran from
The NYU "Washington Square News" reported: "If their first meeting was any indication of the future, Kirsch shouldn't have to worry about attendance, at least."
"Nearly 40 people - males, females, Arabs, Israelis, Americans, Muslims, Christians and Jews - showed up, voicing curiosity and a readiness to talk."
The article describes how "...with opposing campus groups staging heated demonstrations, Kirsch felt sidelined, 'not comfortable going to the pro-Israeli protests or the Students for Palestine ones. They weren't accomplishing anything, just yelling at each other.'"
"Kirsch quickly found she was not alone in her confusion. Across the country, several friends of hers said they felt the same way, impotent to create change within the confines of a black-and-white argument."
Pastor Rhonda Hoehn, of NYU's Protestant ministry agreed to monitor their meetings.
Shana Kirsch sees that "people on both sides of this issue are incredibly passionate, and we're not trying to diminish their passion."
"We want to create a place where people can talk about their passions but also learn to listen, to accept that we all have our own truths and learn to respect them."
Kellen Kaiser says: "I want girls in headscarves, boys in kippas and everyone in the middle, I want them all to sit down and listen."
These are the youth of the emerging "We Generation," re-directing history for the good and inclusion of all.
The Washington Square News -- 24 February 2003 -- New York
We Can Talk it Out:
NYU Students Broach Middle East Conflict Through Dialogue
Hours before hosting her first "dialogue" session for a group of NYU students, Shana Kirsch was harboring paranoid thoughts.
"I'm just afraid people are going to come intentionally to sabotage it," she said, smiling, still bundled in her coat indoors. "You know, 'spoilers.'"
Kirsch has reason to worry. It's an Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue group she and three other NYU students put together - just the title gives off sparks - and NYU's history of student debate on the topic has been anything but peaceful.
"We want to make it very very clear, from the beginning, that this is meant to be a sustained dialogue," Kirsch said, stressing the last two words. "People are not going to be welcome if they come to preach their own opinions."
If their first meeting was any indication of the future, Kirsch shouldn't have to worry about attendance, at least. Nearly 40 people - males, females, Arabs, Israelis, Americans, Muslims, Christians and Jews - showed up, voicing curiosity and a readiness to talk.
The organizers' trepidation was evident - the two hours were spent mainly padding the issues, creating a long list of guidelines for discussion -("We should strive for acceptance as well as tolerance." "No no, cross out acceptance and put understanding" "Is that ok? Is everyone ok with that?") It wasn't until the last few minutes that topics for discussion were broached, a harbinger for what future meetings may entail, as students called out "settlements," "terrorism," and "religious freedom fighting."
"This is only the beginning," said Kirsch, who envisions the project extending throughout the semester. "It's going to require a little bit of commitment to build relationships with people."
If the project succeeds, it will entail six more meetings throughout the semester, aiming to bring together students of all beliefs and backgrounds together and to organize projects like film screenings and panel discussions. It could also mean a big step towards bridging the communication gap between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups on campus.
It's been a long road to fruition for Kirsch, who created the project as part of an independent study. But the idea for the project has been in the works for over two years, so for Kirsch this is a personal as well as academic achievement.
Raised in a conservative Jewish household in California, Kirsch said she grew up with a one-sided understanding of the conflict. That changed when she saw a film called "Peace of Mind" at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in the summer of 2000 that documented the lives of seven Israelis and Palestinian teenagers who took part in a program called Seeds of Peace.
"It opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn't been aware of." Until then, she said, she had no real understanding of "what a Palestinian was."
The film got her thinking. Coming from a strong Jewish identity, Kirsch said she felt an inherent contradiction in the religious values with which she had been raised - "tolerance, healing the world," - and what was going on in Palestine. "The more I researched, the more I was finding out what was going on there, I felt like I was just butting my head up against a wall - like, how can this be?
The second intifada started that fall when Kirsch returned to NYU for her sophomore year, and she felt impelled to become involved. But with opposing campus groups staging heated demonstrations, Kirsch felt sidelined, "not comfortable going to the pro-Israeli protests or the Students for Palestine ones. They weren't accomplishing anything, just yelling at each other."
Kirsch quickly found she was not alone in her confusion. Across the country, several friends of hers said they felt the same way, impotent to create change within the confines of a black-and-white argument.
"The argument becomes so polarized," she said. "People aren't willing to deal with the grey areas. Why don't we just try to deal with the grey issues?"
It isn't an entirely new concept. Len and Libby Traubman, a couple living in San Mateo, California, began a Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue in their living room in 1992, inviting people from all backgrounds to take part in a weekly discussion. The meetings became hugely popular; articles were written on the couple, and several groups sprouted in imitation across the country. The idea was to create a respectful atmosphere in which people could discuss their fears and concerns without threat of violent reactions.
Using the Traubmans as a model, Kirsch began to formulate the concept for the project that year. Friends of hers in other universities have done likewise, in what may become a network of campus dialogue groups.
"There is potential in conflict," said Pastor Rhonda Hoehn, of NYU's Protestant ministry and an expert in conflict resolution who agreed to monitor the meetings. "It's not that competition negotiations are bad, but when you compete, you don't really care about the relationship. In a collaborative approach, you want to get to know the other, you want to come back, you want to build a relationship and grow from exchange.
"If more of our national leaders were collaborative we wouldn't be in the state we are now," she said.
Aside from the pastor, Kirsch enlisted three NYU women to help organize the project, all of whom hail from vastly different backgrounds and political stances: Sarah Hoffman, a senior and the secretary for the Arab Student Union at NYU, Liz Aakhus, a junior who is Lutheran and grew up in Damascus, Syria, and Kellen Kaiser, a left-wing pro-Israeli activist and senior at Tisch.
"As a left-wing Zionist, I am almost constantly frustrated," said Kaiser. "Mostly I feel like no one is listening, like I might as well be screaming at the heavens. I also recognize that I am not alone in my feelings, that in this conflict and in general, people feel unheard. I find dialogue to be the solution to that dilemma. It is a structured form for people to calm down and listen to each other, with guidelines to maintain a safe space."
Kaiser, who has been hired by the Bronfman Center to help reorganize the pro-Israeli student group now known as Gesher, hopes that the dialogue group will help fuel a campus-wide effort to communicate. "[I want] everyone represented. I want girls in headscarves, boys in kippas and everyone in the middle, I want them all to sit down and listen."
Those who ventured into the basement room for the first discussion seemed eager to both listen and talk. Many echoed the organizers' own motives, saying they came to see "what's being said outside of the campus rallies."
Kirsch is aware that meetings might not always be so peaceful and is prepared.
"People on both sides of this issue are incredibly passionate, and we're not trying to diminish their passion," she said. "We want to create a place where people can talk about their passions but also learn to listen, to accept that we all have our own truths and learn to respect them.
"I understand that it's personal for people. People have families there and religious beliefs. But we're privileged to live in this open society which is supposedly tolerant, especially in an academic setting. We should be able to talk."