Middle East Public Peace Process

Comes to California Camp. . .and Korean One, too


23 September 2005


     In Summer, 2005, (1) at the most northern tip of South Korea -- near the inter-Korean border -- and (2) high in the California mountains, Palestinians and Jews recently met to finally discover one another's equal humanity.
     Clearly, these safe environments with supportive hosting help people for the first time to move beyond enemies, and into relationship, cooperation and collective creativity.

===  1 ===
In Korea

    Near the inter-Korean border, ten Israeli students from Hebrew and Tel Aviv Universities and 10 Palestinian students from Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities met. They were joined by 10 Korean university students.
     Gideon from Israel said: "We came here to listen. In order to listen, each side has to realize that the other side's truth is as true to him or her as it is to the other side."
     Ibrahim, from Palestine: "I thought on first day we were going to fight and become friends the next day, but actually we became friends on the first day, which was very good."
     "Next time we hope that North Korean students will join the program," added Irina from Israel.
     See a photo and read about the peace camp program KOPAIS -- KOrea, PAlestine, ISrael Friends: Making Peace Together:

Israeli, Palestinian Students Seek Common Ground in Kyonggi Province

By Park Chung-a

Korea Times Correspondent


===  2===
In California      

     "Middle East Peace Process Comes to California Camp" headlined CBS TV Channel 5 news in San Francisco last Monday evening, September 19, 2005.
     140 Jewish and Palestinian youth and adults -- Muslims, Christians and Jews from the U.S. and Middle East -- had just concluded the third annual Oseh Shalom~Sanea al-Salam Family Peacemakers Camp near Yosemite National Park.
     Holy Land participants who traveled 7,000 miles were from the West Bank, and included Palestinians and Jews from Israel.
     They included 14 youth and parents from Peace Child Israel -- http://www.mideastweb.org/peacechild/
     See KPIX-TV streaming video interviews at http://cbs5.com/seenon/local_story_262192742.html .
     And see the station's slideshow at http://cbs5.com/slideshows/local_slideshow_262194057 .
     Their full news report can be found several pages into http://cbs5.com/video/?cid=130 .

     Camp photos are on the Camp Tawonga blog at http://www.tawonga.org/blog/ .
     Updated Information about the camp will be kept at http://traubman.igc.org/camp2005.htm .
     The larger family of 14 North American for the Middle East public peace process is described at http://traubman.igc.org/camps.htm .

     Said an American Palestinian camper: "Thank you so much for a wonderful weekend!!!  (My daughter) and I made many friends. . .We had a fantastic and productive experience at the camp."
     An American Jewish participant added:  "It was truly a life and peace enhancing experience. Listening to people conversing in Arabic and Hebrew added breadth and meaning to the weekend."
     West Bank Palestinian:  "Coming to the camp was not an easy thing. . .it took me a while to make sure that I really wanted to come. . .It's been a long time since I talked about my experiences. . .Things are tough back home. . .When I first arrived in the camp, I felt odd. . .I was confused. Why on earth do I have to remind myself of all the pain, anger, and loss I feel. . .Will I really make any change? I had so many questions with no answers. Now, I have an answer. . .it gave me an inspiration that I will keep close to my heart as long as I live. . .it left something in my mind and my soul. I know that something changed in my heart and that change that started in my heart will not stop there. I had to go through this process of talking and sharing. . .your dream has given me an inspiration. . .It's almost impossible to expect a change right now, but there's a first step in everything."
     American Jewish participant:  "Thank you for making my dream come true."

     On Sunday,  June 26, 2005, from Notre Dame Center just outside the Old City, Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, President Emeritus University of Notre Dame, said to the world in an international interfaith broadcast:: "The peace of the world begins in Jerusalem."
     This Middle East citizen-to-citizen public peace process is just that important.
     Please help build face-to-face relationships however you can.
     This harmless power travels and matters.
                - L&L

Published by j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California -- Friday, 23 September 2005
140 Arabs and Jews share magical Tawonga weekend
by Alexandra J. Wall
Staff Writer
     Before he reached his teens, Suleiman al-Khatib began throwing stones at Israeli troops in his West Bank village.
     Then it was Molotov cocktails, and finally, he stabbed someone.
     The soldier was lightly wounded, and al-Khatib was sentenced to 10 years in Israeli prison. He was 14.
     Now 33, al-Khatib told this story again and again at Camp Tawongas Oseh-Shalom, Sanea-al-Salam Peacemakers Weekend Sept. 16, 17 and 18.
     Al-Khatibs story does not end there. He picked up Hebrew in prison, and taught himself English. He read as much as he could about Jewish history, the Holocaust and the founding of the state of Israel. And slowly, his views began to change.
     Its a process, he said in an interview at Tawonga. Its not a shift just like this, but year by year. I and many Palestinian prisoners, step by step, began to accept Israel. And we realized that dialogue with Israeli people is necessary to achieve peace.
     In 2004, al-Khatib was one of eight Israelis and Palestinians who traveled together to Antarctica in a mission called Breaking the Ice, which was widely covered by the media. So when he sent an e-mail to Len and Libby Traubman of San Mateo, founders of numerous Bay Area dialogue groups and co-founders of the peacemakers weekend, they invited him.
     Al-Khatib was one of about 20 people from the Middle East who were flown here to attend this years Jewish-Arab family camp, made possible through fund-raising by local Jews and Palestinians.
     The third annual peacemakers weekend was vastly different than the first two, with far more people in attendance and, in particular, many more from the Middle East. Including Tawonga staff, there were about 140 people, with an almost even number of Arabs and Jews.
     While al-Khatib, who could sometimes be seen with a cigarette behind one ear as he waited for his next cigarette break, calls himself an ex-fighter, the fact that some might call him a terrorist was not lost on anyone.
     We want to be as inclusive as possible, and anyone who has an interest in furthering the peace process is welcome, said Michael Katten, a Tawonga board member. 
    Suleiman doesnt betray our mission at all, but rather its validating that someone like him sees us as a vehicle for furthering peace.
     And surely his presence affected many. I was trying to imagine what it would have been like if we met when he was in prison and I was in uniform, with full weapons, said Israeli Lior Levi, 27, a five-time Tawonga staffer who has pledged he will never again touch a gun.
     Sitting by the Tuolumne River, after a final ceremony in which Jews and Arabs washed each others hands in the water, Levi said, In the back of my mind, I keep thinking about how we could be hurting each other, but here we are smoking cigarettes and making jokes about Americans. We both want the same things, to fall in love and have kids.  Its magical that it can be so different than it used to be.
     Also flown in from Israel was Peace Child Israel, a Jewish-Arab theater group that performed a wordless act of their play. Six teens, their parents and the director, who live in neighboring Galilee villages, all came. The participants had no contact with each other until an American-born immigrant formed the group, and their parents began to meet regularly, too. Reflecting the mix of cultures and open attitudes, one Muslim girl wore a Tawonga sweatshirt with her hijab (Muslim head covering).
     The camp offered many opportunities for hearing each others perspectives, even on difficult issues. In the stone amphitheater where Shabbat services are usually held, participants discussed such contentious issues as the fate of Jerusalem and the Palestinian right of return. Jewish and Arab children of the participants were often playing together in the distance, providing a glimpse of what the future could look like.
     After so much heavy conversation, a talent show was followed by a dance on Saturday night, Sept. 17, where it was impossible to tell the Jews from the Arabs. An Israeli staffer growing dreadlocks taught a popular Israeli dance with belly dancing moves, and the septuagenarians boogied as hard as anyone.
     A 32-year-old Israeli native who lives in. . .(California). . . remarked at how different things were now than when she was meeting with Palestinians in Israel 10 years ago. Because of globalization, All of their English is better, she said. They like the same music and have more things in common.
     Ann Gonski, a Tawonga director, said shed had no idea whether they could pull this off, as they had never before attempted anything on this scale. But seeing supposed enemies connect made her weepy.
     On Monday night, Sept. 19, in an event organized by the Traubmans, camp participants shared their stories with the public at St. Marys Cathedral in San Francisco.
     But even as new friendships were forged at camp, the reality of two warring peoples was never too distant.
     One example was when Jacob Mandelsberg, a longtime Jewish dialogue participant from El Cerrito, shared his story with Lama Tarayrah, a 19-year-old Palestinian Jerusalemite who is now a sophomore at Brigham Young University.
     Originally from Chicago, Mandelsberg, 46, moved to Israel right out of high school. He served two and a half years in the Israel Defense Forces, mostly in the West Bank. Ten years later, he was ordered to report to Ansar for reserve duty.
     Everyone knew about Ansar, he said. It was a big prison in the Negev desert for those fighting in the intifada, and the only difference between you and the prisoners was that you have guns. That was a red line I just wasnt going to cross.
     Rather than go to military jail, Mandelsberg chose to have his army profile lowered a permanent stain on his record. He felt this would affect his ability to get a job so much that he returned to the United States, his Zionist dream in tatters.
     Listening carefully to his story and the pain in his voice, Tarayrah, her brown eyes wide, said softly, You could have been my fathers jailer.
     Tarayrah did not meet her father until she was 5. He was sentenced to Ansar for writing articles against the occupation when her mother was eight months pregnant with her.
     Had Mandelsberg chosen differently, their time at Ansar would have overlapped. It was a heartrending decision that he hasnt regretted, and certainly not when he was sitting across from Tarayrah.
     My father still has bruises and scars from his time in prison, and you could have been the one who caused them, she told him.
     His voice barely audible, he said, But I wasnt.