Imagine a pastoral place like this picture. Here I was almost a month.I would like to begin with this story at 2:00 AM on 1/7/17, trying to sleep on a basic bed in a wooden cabin. The bed next to me is empty, But suddenly the door opens gently, and I open my eyes wide and ask WHO IS IT? Into the cabin, a pale face is wrapped in a pink hijab with a whispering voice: “Inas from Sheich Jarrach, Jerusalem, Palestine.” Ok. I said, How are you? Must be tired…” in half Hebrew and English. And so we will communicate like this for almost a month, I am from Jerusalem originally and Inas, Palestinian from Jerusalem – as a roommate in the distant USA … We will share the pain and the laughter – and the tears of both … on the status of women, education workers, dealing with daily life. And of course we will talk about everything that is going through the conflict issues and process, which I will share immediately after the picture of the two of us embracing on the last day.
I was fortunate enough to be chosen to accompany the delegation of 52 ninth graders to a summer camp in the US, Maine, Seeds of Peace under the leadership of Hadara Rosenblum. After the selection of the delegation, the preparatory process started and included a number of fascinating seminars related to the conflict in the Middle East and an acquaintance with Israeli society and personal identity. So there were preparations, but I personally had nothing that prepared me for this significant I experience.
Sharimg with you the experience through the main things I wrote –
End of June Early July – We arrived in the United States. We are on the bus going to the camp. They said there would be Lunch on the bus, then go straight up to the camp from the airport and not eat. We immediately passed on the sandwiches and did not believe (they are with jam and peanut butter 🤢, for adults too 😩). So after 8 hours from New York to Maine, my back stuck to my stomach– we arrived.I am shocked by the gap between the amazing place and the fact that I will be here so far from my family for almost a month. (Most of the pictures were taken by the camp photographer Bobby, one of the founders of the seeds of peace, for more pictures, you can find in this link)
We are greeted by the huge crew that arrived a few days earlier. And very soon they are handing out shirts to everyone, so that we will become a little alike .
On the first day I try to whisper a conversation here and there with Israeli instructors (You can recognize them immediately :)), and I try to ask them “Hey… What’s going on here?” in Hebrew – and they answer me only in English: “You cannot accompany the delegations on the other side of the camp. They also sit in a separate dining room – that side belongs to the Seeds – the campers.” In general the atmosphere here is tough. All camp residents are inspected for lice including us adults, and there are also swimming tests for those who passed last year (“perhaps they forgot how to swim”). Everything is according to the procedures and there is no Middle Eastern atmosphere here, even though most of us are from there. All for our security and three values: respect, trust and communication. I feel I am in a movie about “Summer Camp”.
In any case, there is something special here, because the students and the staff – all come from countries where there is conflict – the Middle East – Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Palestine and East Asia – India and Pakistan and a delegation from America. Twice a day, dialogues are held by a professional team and it is not easy, neither for the students nor for us adults. We have to deal with difficult arguments that undermine concepts and pose many questions to all sides. The meetings and activities are so intense that sometimes the brain cannot contain it. I had thoughts and thoughts, sometimes a desire to be entrenched and angry, but then we went to sleep together, Israeli with the Palestinian people in the same room, and the tension dissipated by itself.
We, the delegations leaders, were a group of 20. All are educators and/or representatives of social organizations. All entrepreneurs are groundbreaking in a certain way and have the potential to lead changes in society. Each one was chosen carefully. We are going through a separate process that requires a lot of patience and tolerance. The process of practicing the “empathy method” that has been proven by research, reduces the threshold of violence and enables communication. . So together we participated in workshops in non-violent media, trauma workshops, restorative justice, etc. Our facilitators, Tarek and Peggy, who have PHDs, are experts in the field and fascinate us professionally. And the program’s director, Daniel Moses, is one of the most tolerant people I met. Our experience is very dependent on the composition and character of the group, so every year the dynamics are completely different. This year it seems to me that our group is very friendly, warm, curious, open minded to learn and to acquire new tools. There are objections, but very few. There are a large number of young people around the age of 30 and they encourage all of us to think about the future generation and not to sink into arguments about the past (who was here before? An argument that took place only in the first dialogue ).
Our activities included:
- Trips to host families’ homes.
- A tour to Boston (where I devoted most of my time to the exhibition on activism at the MFA).
- We went to the port city of PORTLAND.
- We went to another area, where local families with sailboats who took us sailing.
- The highlight – three days to an amazing area in Maine, a peninsula in the Atlantic Ocean. The place is called Blue Hill. Most of the tour focused on meeting people who initiated various initiatives. Some are related to organic farms and connection to the land. Because this is an area that many Americans came to because they were disappointed with the materialism and wanted to live a simple life. And some are artists. After a full day of sightseeing, we arrived at a barn converted into a Hall. And in the barn were neighbors, friends who came to meet us.The Americans told us about their organizations and social action. Some are lecturers in the fields of multiculturalism. The meetings were fascinating and I did not get enough … The trip together created a significant change from the routine of the camp. Going out to an unfamiliar place and together on the bus (the yellow bus) made us cope differently. And although we were given a free hand in choosing the roommates, , Inas and I continued to stay together.
On Friday we returned to cultural and religious reality and held ceremonies and / or prayers of the three major religions, open to all. It also included explanations in English. Each religious group explained that it encourages tolerance and human discourse and brings proof from the holy books. Questions about identity and belonging are important to everyone, especially the Israeli delegation, which includes Jews and Muslims. The answer to them is not always unequivocal. Maybe in fact, for everyone it is not unequivocal? Identity and belonging are very, very explosive words. If you go deeper, as one who is digging into the subject, this place where you meet other cultures and other identities has made me think a lot about myself, my culture, my belonging and my identity.
The description of the main experience in the camp is coming to an end. A lot of intense dialogues and occasionally a solemn reminder of roots, culture, identity and nationalism. Whether it’s at the opening ceremony of the camp on the flags’ boulevard and the singing of the national anthems of the delegations, or in the performance of the cultures and in the evening cultural dishes, every time we go out and enter our many identities. And always always return to the sense of fraternity in the club, activity or sleeping in the common room …
Mental challenges also included physical challenges. Something like this, “let’s see if after passing through what you have done together, you can trust each other?”. And here in sterile conditions of the camp, with blindfolds guide me to rise to a height of hundreds of meters and walk on a tightrope …Totally metaphorical!
Insights are multiple. I wrote a few sentences of insights that the students said:
“I think that from now on I will not take anything for granted.”
“Things became more pointed.”
“I feel hopeless because here it is a perfect place, but we will return to our country and there it will look different.”
“I have a lot of hope that in the wake of our discourse and contacts, someone who is close to a cycle of violence will not act violently himself.”
“I got to know new people and became more independent.”
My insights fall into two levels:
On a personal level, I hope to use the tools of empathy we have learned. I believe in them and believe that empathy helps not only the speaker but also the listener. And is therefore a tool for building trust. But I am aware that it is very difficult to implement.
On the national level, I came back with many thoughts that need to crystallize regarding our relationship with Israeli Arabs and the sense of belonging. Including our encounter with an Israeli delegation to a number of countries “from the other side,” and the meeting with my roommate and other Palestinian representatives aroused many questions. Thoughts that came to me about our being representatives as the State of Israel, our narrative and our ethos. And all the time thinking about the younger generation and about my continued role as an educator.
If you’ve read up to here – I’d love to read what you think? Maybe you have also experienced, and what are your insights? And maybe questions you wanted to ask?