Summer peace program erases chilling Middle East distrust

Monday, 31 July 2006


     Middle East peoples and others on Earth are investing themselves in "wars against wars,"
     Caught in the lowest, most primitive reflexes of human response that defy common sense and principles of faith traditions.
     Denying that the means are the ends in the making.
     In contrast, youth from Palestine and Israel have been streaming across the ocean for North American summer programs that help them connect and change in safe, supportive environments.
     The ten 2006 camps are described at .
     One for 200 Jews and Palestinians -- both adults and youth -- is illustrated at .

     Today's Denver, Colo. newspaper headline is about 52 brave, visionary Israeli and Palestinian teen women.
     At this moment, they are at Building Bridges for Peace -- -- in the Rocky Mountains.
     They are connecting and changing, working very hard, becoming more human together.

     Melodye Feldman ( ) writes tonight:

"I wanted to share this article with you - and more importantly share with you the fact all these young women are working hard to understand the 'other'. Every day they show their strength and desire to understand each other - the days are long and the emotions are raw - yet they continue to move forward. They inspire me daily and give me hope when at times all feels hopeless.  I can't imagine any other place I would want to be right now except here with this exceptional group of women. Our motto this year is MAKE IMPOSSIBLEPOSSIBLE!"

     Do you want to know how war begins to end?
     Then read this story. 
     Read it several times.
     This is how authentic change begins.
    Hand in hand.
     Face to face.
     Heart to heart.
     Story for story.

     There is no skipping steps.
     Treaties and politicians cannot move beyond the human condition.  People must somehow change.
     No one can do this for another person -- know the "enemy," transform fear to trust.
     Change confrontation to cooperation.
     Change ignorance to knowledge of the "other" -- the equally human, excellent neighbor.
     It's about People crossing borders, getting together, refusing to be enemies.
     It's what works.

Published by Rocky Mountain News -- Denver, Colorado -- Monday, 31 July 2006
On the Web at,1299,DRMN_15_4882575,00.html

Peace program aims to erase chilling distrust
Muslim, Jewish, Christian girls gather in Denver to create bonds of familiarity
By James B. Meadow

     For the first time in their 16-year- old lives, the Jewish girl in the WHY BE NORMAL? T-shirt and jeans and the Muslim girl in the hijab covering her head and full-length dress covering the rest of her are able to sit in the same room and talk and smile and share.
     Yes, 7,000 miles away the maelstrom of war, fear, mistrust and percolating hatred that has swirled through and defined so much of their lives whorls on, taking more lives, poisoning more souls. But here, right now, in Denver, there is something else going on.
     There is a beginning.
     "She is wonderful," says Islam of Ofer.
     "She's very cool," says Ofer of Islam.
     And all of a sudden, they had more in common than "peace, music, the color green" and the fact that both "like to talk too much."
     Which is just what Melodye Feldman is hoping for as she watches and hopes while a delicate process is set in motion.
     Thirteen years ago, Feldman helped create the Building Bridges for Peace program, which brings together adolescent girls - Muslim, Jewish, Christian - from Israel, the West Bank and the United States and tries to inaugurate a process that helps peel away differences and expose similarities.
     Feldman knows that a yearlong program - two weeks of that time spent in Colorado - isn't going to end the conflict that has been raging for generations in the Middle East, erupting with new ferocity in recent weeks. But she's content with any small victories that may occur in the hearts and heads of the 52 girls as they begin their path toward discovery, bonding and self-exploration, first in Denver and for the next two weeks up in the mountains.
     "If I can get a kid who says to me, 'I'll never talk to a Palestinian,' or 'I'll never share about myself with an Israeli,' to sit down and share something of herself, then that for me is success," she says.
     Feldman is thinking of the Israeli girl who came to the program years ago inflamed with the memory of her three 9-year-old friends being stoned to death by a Palestinian mob. She is thinking of the Palestinian girl whose father died at the hands of Israeli soldiers and told her, "I am the face of a suicide bomber. I only came to tell the Israelis how much I hate them."
     She is thinking how both left, shedding tears of revelation and nurturing a new sense of understanding.
     Every year there are new candidates, candidates whose last names cannot be given because there are those in their country who do not approve of their peace mission and would hurt them or their families.
     Dalal is 18; a Christian, a Palestinian. Her dark eyes sparkle as she talks about Beit-Jala, her village that is near Bethlehem.
     But the sparkle recedes and something hard replaces it when she talks about how Israeli rockets destroyed her family's first home. About how Israeli soldiers came into her family's second home and stole money. How they climbed to the top of the roof of her family's home and shot at Palestinians "who were doing nothing." About how bullets have passed above the head of her and her brother many times and once lodged in the leg of her sister.
     "Always there is tension living there. We don't know if we are going to live tomorrow. If bullets and bombs can take a family eating dinner, they can take us, too."
     Is she hopeful then that the Building Bridges program will help?
     "Maybe. I'm not sure."
     But she is sure that "I want to know the Jewish opinion about our current situation. This is my first time to meet them."
     Tslil knows how she feels.
     "This is my first time to meet Palestinians; I want to learn more about them. I want to talk to females who will share with me and tell me how they feel. I only know the Israeli side and I want to know more," says the 18-year-old from Karkur, in the middle of the country.
     Tslil knows this will be her only chance for a long time - maybe ever - to talk to Palestinians. Two days after the program ends on Aug. 13, she will return home and begin her required two-year stint in the army.
     Perhaps over the next two weeks Tslil will be able to sit down with Hiba, a 19-year-old sweet-but-very-serious Muslim from Hura in the south of Israel. Hiba is here because, "This is the first step to make peace and I want to make peace very much."
     Around her, the room is filled with many girls in casual dress - T-shirts, cut-offs, short skirts, sleeveless blouses. She doesn't mind, just as she feels they shouldn't mind that she wears the hijab and her dress. "I am happy to wear it; it's religious wear, to cover our beauty. The only person who can see your beauty not from your family is your husband."
     But for Hiba, today and tomorrow aren't about clothes, they are about ideas.
     "I am here to meet people who I don't know, to learn things I never knew. This is very exciting."

Fun is part of program

     It is also much fun, this first day of two weeks in the U.S., a place Hiba has never been. After each girl introduces herself, it is time to eat lunch. Pizza - no meat toppings - is provided, as are salads. For those girls who keep kosher, there is food, too. Feldman emphasizes the program rigorously respects the customs and dictums of each girl's religion.
     After lunch there is singing, one of the cornerstones of BBP. If I Had a Hammer and The Circle Game are two favorites, as the girls follow along to Deedee Huntingon's guitar. At times, the singalong takes on the trappings of a sleepover, pajama party and tent show revival all at once, with the girls laughing and singing, twirling and hopping.
     After this comes a drawing exercise. Girls are paired off - Israeli and Palestinian, American and Israeli, Palestinian and American - and work together to discover similarities and differences. Though all the girls speak English, translations in Arabic and Hebrew are provided as the girls are given instructions.
     The exercise is interesting as strangers encounter common ground, first tentatively, then in widening circles.
     Noga, 19, a Jew, and Amira, 17, a Muslim - both from Israel - find they both like "ice cream, chocolate, shopping," and "Mama Nature." Even better, in the spot where the girls are supposed to list their fears, the girls have discovered, "We are not afraid of anything."
     With a grin that stretches for 7,000 miles, Noga says, hanging out with Amira is "great, so natural."
     And so it goes through the afternoon. Smiles. Discovery.
     Of course, there is more work to be done. Overcoming a legacy of dark mistrust does not happen overnight. Wading through a history stained with rivers of blood to reach a peaceful place takes time. When you've grown up being taught that you must choose sides, listening to what the other side has to say with an unclenched fist isn't easy.
     But as she watches the scene unfurl, as she watches a shy smile slide across Hiba's face, as she sees Delal and Stav, Sarah and Rawan, begin the first awkward steps toward bonding, Feldman doesn't look worried. She's seen this before and she has come to know a thing or two about building a bridge for peace.
     And what she knows is that the task isn't about making waves. It's about creating ripples