"Disengagement" is under way in the the Holy Land.
     But "engagement" has been the experience of Jewish and Palestinian youth camps across North America.
     And the idea will go home to Palestine and Israel with this new breed of Middle East citizen who refuses to be "enemies."
     Just concluding their life-changing summers are programs like Peace Camp Canada, Creativity for Peace, Face to Face ~ Faith to Faith, Hands of Peace, Kids4Peace, and their forerunner, Seeds of Peace.
     These camps that fashion tomorrow's leaders are described at http://traubman.igc.org/camps.htm .

     On their heels will follow a family camp.
     September 16-18 is the Third Annual Oseh Shalom~Sanea al-Salam Family Peacemakers Camp in the California mountains.
     Youth and parents, as well as singles, will travel from the Middle East and North America for inspiration and deepening across generations.
     The next evening after camp, Monday, these campers will give a major San Francisco public presentation to tell their stories of struggle and change to the world.
     You can read about this at http://traubman.igc.org/camp2005.htm and http://traubman.igc.org/campmonday.htm .

     This Sunday, founder Melodye Feldman came down the Colorado mountain from two successful sessions of Building Bridges for Peace, seen at:
     Monday, she was already on the phone offering her best ideas to the planning team of Oseh Shalom~Sanea al-Salam.
     Tuesday, today, she flew to Israel and Palestine to do even more to build new relationships and deepen others.
     Such is the spirit and sharing of intelligence of this new family of camps.
     Programs that promise to train citizen-leaders, to help change the direction of history for the good of all.

     This same day, the Denver Post told the story of Building Bridges for Peace.
     Read about these intelligent, courageous teen women, and you will know and feel that change is in the air.
     See the telling photos.

     And assist activities like this where you live, however you can.
                -- L&L

Published in the Denver (Colorado) Post -- Tuesday,16 August 2005

Embracing peace

By Colleen O'Connor
Denver Post Staff Writer 

     For some Israeli and Palestinian women, just participating in a Colorado peace camp triggered terrifying threats back home in Israel, particularly the West Bank.
     Others feared to even mention they spent their summer vacation at "Building Bridges for Peace."
     Because of the Middle East conflict, the girls fear using their last names at home or abroad.
     "It's not safe," says Inas, 21, a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Jenin, the center of one of the most intense battles of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising.
     "People will say, 'Oh my God, you went to the United States. You talked with Israelis. You're a traitor.' "
     She sits on the forest-fringed terrace of this ski lodge in rural Summit County, dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, looking like any young American.
     Four years ago, Inas told fellow campers that she wanted to become a suicide bomber. Now she's a Palestinian peacemaker, headed home at a pivotal time for the Middle East.
     On Sunday, Israel took a historic step toward peace, starting its controversial pullout from Gaza and part of the West Bank. Wednesday, Israeli soldiers will begin forcibly removing all settlers who refuse to leave. Dismantling the settlements could lead to more bloodshed, and these teenagers - fresh from peace camp - face the possibility of even more violence.
     Already, an Israeli soldier deserted the army in protest of the pullout, then gunned down four Israeli Arabs before a mob beat him to death.
     Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has warned Palestinians that Israel will launch airstrikes, regardless of civilian casualties, if terrorists attack during the pullout.
     "I think it's going to be horrible," says Rawan, 22, a gregarious, tongue-studded Palestinian who lives in East Jerusalem.
     In her neighborhood, Eliana, a 20-year-old Israeli, expects an escalation of anger.
     "There will be more hatred toward people who don't agree," she says, grabbing a veggie-burger between peace-building lessons.
     "In Israel there is a strong sense of belonging to a certain political party, right wing and left wing. Many people actually hate the other side."
     Over 12 years, more than 500 teenage girls have attended Building Bridges for Peace, founded by Melodye Feldman, an American Jew who founded the Denver- based nonprofit Seeking Common Ground.
     Difficulty in fundraising almost closed the camp a few times, but Feldman perseveres because the teens insist.
     "For them it's a matter of urgency," she says. "This program keeps them tied to some form of sanity in a pretty insane place."
     Here, they learn new communication techniques, develop leadership skills and focus on building peaceful communities. Then they return to embark on a year-long follow-up program.
     They are Jewish, Muslim and Christian. Most are from the Middle East, a few are American.
     Numbed by violence, they struggle to reconnect with their feelings - fear, anger, joy, love - in order to communicate better with each other. The telling of their stories, an abyss of pain, is balanced with fun.
     Up on Copper Mountain, under an endless canopy of stars, they sing around the campfire. They hike, knit and break into spontaneous dancing when Middle Eastern music plays, arms swaying overhead as bellies undulate.
     "When they look across the dinner table at each other, mostly they see another teenage girl just like themselves," says Feldman.
     Change requires a breach in the security of certainty.
     On July 28, Reem, 16, stepped off the plane in Denver into a gaggle of Israeli girls, and struggled to mask her panic. The only Israelis this Palestinian had ever known were soldiers.
     "Oh my God," she remembers muttering. "I'm going to stay with them 14 days? This will be really hard. They're the enemy."
     On the first day, she was partnered with Roni, a 16-year-old Israeli who lives on a kibbutz.
     Apprehensive, treating each other like mysterious packages that might detonate at any moment, they worked on their first art project together, illustrating their hopes and fears.
     Twelve days later they're inseparable, standing with arms draped around each other, grinning.
     "My hope was to be able to look at an Israeli and see not the enemy but a human being," says Reem, gazing fondly into Roni's warm brown eyes.
     "But now I look at an Israeli, and I see a great, great human being!"
     This summer Rawan , co-director of the follow-up program in Jerusalem, was astonished at the number of teens who overcame a lifetime of stereotypes with unprecedented speed.
     But when she pauses to reflect, it makes a certain sense - especially now, with dismantlement in Gaza.
     "People are fed up with the conflict," she says, "and trying to find some hope somewhere in this big pile of dead bodies."
     Desperate for peace, they hurtle past the pain, yearning to embrace enemy as friend.

Staff writer Colleen O'Connor can be reached at 303-820-1083 or at coconnor@denverpost.com.

War's collateral damage forges hate, then change
Transformation is slow for some teens.

     Rawan, a Palestinian who lives in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem, adamantly refused to show any change during her first year at camp.
     "Because I got to hear the other side, and all that I believed to be true about the other side was half-wrong, or not completely right," she says. "That was really hard for me to deal with."
     She grew up watching her parents socialize with their Israeli friends. An Israeli soldier had risked his life to help her sick father.
     Still, something inside snapped when Rawan was 10.
     Turning on the television one day, she saw footage of an Israeli man shooting people at prayer inside a mosque.
     "I got really extreme," she says. "I was like, 'Jews should die. Suicide bombs are OK.'"
     Six weeks after peace camp, when she had just started her first year at Bethlehem University, the intifada started. Her university was bombed.
     Shaken, she went home, where her mother said a girl named Adva had called to check on her.
     "Who the heck is that?" Rawan recalls grumbling before dialing the phone number to find out.
     Adva turned out to be an Israeli teen from camp, someone she had already forgotten.
     "It struck me that none of my Palestinian friends called me, because we're used to bombing, but that Adva had called."
     Rawan's transformation, and her friendship with Adva, started at that moment. They crossed into alien territories to meet each other's families. Adva even attended the wedding of Rawan's sister.
     Now they co-direct the Jerusalem branch of this program, coaching the next generation of women leaders in the art of building peaceful communities despite religious conflict.
     "I'm not looking to save the world," says Adva, 22. "I know I can't. But if I can open the eyes of 'the other,' even one person, that's enough."

- Colleen O'Connor