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Palestinian-Israeli Peace Camp

07/21/2009

Danny Shapiro, a friend who has started working at the Peres Peace Center wrote the following account.

July 19 was the first day of a six day camp joining 32 Israeli kids, aged 12 - 14, from the poor southern towns of Yeruham and Sderot, and 28 Palestinian kids living in poverty and despair in the occupied territories.

The camp, held at Kibbutz Galon, is organized by the Peres Center's Sports Department. And as much as I read about this kind of program, no article I could read, or video I could watch, could in any possible way match the almost incredulous sense of wonder and inspiration aroused by seeing these sixty kids playing in Galon's pool together, and enjoying a multi-lingual Darbuka session with a Palestinian madrich (leader).

It was also fascinating and deeply impressive to speak at length with Issam, who works on a number of projects with the Peres Center. Issam grew up in Gaza and moved to Ramallah after Hamas came to power and he felt his life was in danger for his many years of reconciliation work. No doubt some of you know him.

His story is amazing. He sat in an Israeli prison and had a life-changing experience with an Israeli officer that put him on the path of working towards conciliation and peace. If I have the time I will write the story down and pass it along.

Issam reminded me again and again that not only was this the first time most of the Palestinian children had met an Israeli who is neither a soldier nor a settler - but for the great majority of them, this was the first time in their lives outside of their town or certainly the territories; the first time they had eaten in a restaurant; the first time they experience what even the lowest social and economic classes in Israel take for granted.

I have no illusions that the experience of these 60 kids, and that of the additional several hundred who will be treated to similar camps this summer, will make any serious dent in overall public opinion or attitudes, and certainly will not make the leaders on both sides more peace loving and conciliatory. But then, that (the latter, at least) is not the goal of the Peres Peace Center.

But this type of program most certainly changes attitudes (this is based on professional evaluation following multiple years of experience), and, if nothing else, humanizes the conflict for those who are involved in it; and injects a few rays of hope into our battered and shattered hearts and minds.

Can we hope that such efforts will proliferate in future? They will, if will will all fight for them. It is no secret that dialog and reconciliation efforts have enemies. Groups like PACBI and Alternative Information Center oppose "normalization." Fanatics ruined the beautiful one voice effort with threats of violence. We all remember the suppression of the Palestinian youth orchestra that played for Holocaust survivors. These efforts, these noble failures and tiny successes, show that the will for peace exists. In the long run, they are the real hope for lasting Middle East peace, for peace is not just a piece of paper. Isn't it worthwhile fighting for dialog activities?

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000769.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 1 Comment

I really hope Issam's story gets written and shared.

I blogged a while back about some Egyptians I met while travelling there. I noted that the only Egyptian I met who actually hated Israelis, was the only one who had actually never met an Israeli. I firmly believe that exposure to "the other" brings progress and peace.

Posted by Charlie @ 07/22/2009 07:55 AM CST


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