As you read this surprising story, 115
Jewish Israeli and 115 Palestinian Muslim and Christian pre-teen youth are at
camp together in
Yes, organizers, youth participants, and parents of faith are transcending the daunting physical and emotional walls, fences, and taboos that sadly separate their two equally fine peoples.
In fact, participants will cross the Green Line every one of the four days of camp sessions this week.
The press photo caption reads:
CHANGING CHILDRENS LIVES:
Israeli and Palestinian youth learn to live together
through the joint Children Create Peace summer camp.
A collaboration between the US-based Kabbalah Center ( http://www.kabbalah.com/k/index.php/p=locations/i
) and the Palestinian Abu Assukar Center for Peace
and Dialogue (Soulimana@yahoo.com & Pace_and_freedom@yahoo.com) , the camp
was conceived as part of the Kabbalah Center's wider
"Spirituality for Kids" program, begun in the ghettos of Los Angeles
to help underprivileged children rise above their physical and practical
So, yes, there a place and great need for even-handed international help for the
Even now, in North America over a dozen camp vibrant programs are in session -- http://traubman.igc.org/camps.htm -- and the only Palestinian-Jewish Family Peacemakers Camp (Oseh Shalom~Sanea al-Salam) -- http://traubman.igc.org/camp2005.htm -- is preparing to bring to its September session an unprecedented number of Palestinian and Israeli youth and parents.
Read below how the pre-camp
excitement kept the youth awake all the night before their first meeting.
See how Palestinian and Jewish adults with vision can help youth discover the equal dignity of all human beings.
After one hour of playing together, it was already impossible to pick out which of the children was Israeli and which was Palestinian.
Organizer Osnat Youdkevitch:
". . .life is stronger than any political
decision. If people believe they can live together, it will happen,
regardless of the political situation."
She adds: " If people believe they can live together, it will happen, regardless of the political situation."
Savor the social intelligence in this story of exactly what life will soon look like when a greater circle of youth and families are finally relating.
Wherever you live, do what you can, with what you are and have, to help these people see that they can live successfully meet and live together.
Published in The Middle East Times -- Tuesday 02 August 2005 -- Nicosia, Cyprus
Israeli and Palestinian children participate in peace camp
Ramat Gan, ISRAEL -- At 9.30 am on a blazing summer morning, a convoy of buses pulls up at Ramat Gan Safari Park near Tel Aviv, the largest such park in the Middle East. Out of the buses pour 115 excited children between the ages of 8 and 12, all Palestinians from villages, towns and refugee camps across the
Most of the children have never left their hometown before, let alone crossed into 'enemy' Israeli territory. Many, too, have never seen animals as various as the park's hippos, pride of lions and family of giraffes. Only one zoo remains in the entire occupied territories, in Qalqilya, and access to it is severely restricted for Palestinians from elsewhere, so most of the children have only ever encountered farm animals and domestic pets. For them, it is a big, somewhat daunting adventure; for the organizers, it is a triumph of determination over bureaucracy and prejudice.
For four days this mixture of Muslim and Christian children from Ramallah, Jenin,
A collaboration between the US-based
The program, says joint-organizer Osnat Youdkevitch (TelAviv@kabbalah.com), is based on simple principles that can help profoundly change children's lives.
"Our message," she explains, "is that of dignity for all human beings. It's harder for adults to fully understand, since so much has already been built up around us, but kids have the chance to grow up thinking in a healthier way. If you play, eat and sweat for four days with a group of other kids who are supposed to be the 'enemy', it will stay in your heart forever."
Indeed, after just one hour playing together beneath the trees in a shady clearing in a quiet corner of the safari park, it is already impossible to pick out which of the children is Israeli and which is Palestinian.
Palestinian and Israeli group leaders head activities, including songs, dancing, games and crafts, in which participants work side-by-side, laughing and joking in a mixture of Arabic, Hebrew, English and elaborate sign-language. No one from the outside could guess that the kids cooperating with each other so effectively saw themselves, until this morning, as enemies.
"But what's maybe even more amazing than this," says co-organizer Suleiman Khateeb, secretary of the
While all the children will be traveling each day from their homes to the safari park, those from Jenin - a particularly difficult area to access - will sleep overnight in a hotel in Ramallah.
"They were so excited last night," confides Osnat, "that they couldn't sleep at all. So Suleiman stayed up with them the whole night, to make sure they were ok." Suleiman stifles a yawn: it has been an exhausting process for both organizers but the results are plainly visible in the groups of happy, interacting children.
This is not the
"As one of our founders, Karen Berg, said, when a person is cut and bleeding, you check the blood type, not the skin type," says Osnat.
The Spirituality for Kids program, she says, can help change the lives of these many emotionally exhausted children, offering hope and a better future for them, both personally and nationally.
"The biggest thing for the children here," she continues, "is that they have peace, quiet and space to get to know each other. This park is a place without suffering, without killing. It's the best place in the world for them to get to know each other."
The director of the safari park, too, believes that there could not be a better venue for such a camp.
"The idea initially came from the
The animals of the safari park, he continues, have a lot to teach people of this region.
"Put a puppy and a kitten, or a baby wolf and a baby sheep, together," he says, "And they'll grow up as friends, not knowing they're supposed to be enemies. Besides, animals only fight over food, but after a few minutes of fighting, things are resolved and life goes on. They know the rules and they stick to them, which is why so many species can live side by side. If humans in this region took a little more notice of that, they'd know how easy it could be to do something about this situation."
Outside, the children begin to make their way to the zoo area of the safari park, for a close feeding encounter with the resident giraffes. The atmosphere is one of happiness, hope and joy. While the aims are more far-reaching, the kids today are just doing what kids do best: simply enjoying life, the moment and each other's company.