Hamze with K4P Executive Director Fr. Josh Thomas at the Congressional Forum.

Hamze with K4P Executive Director Fr. Josh Thomas at the Congressional Forum.

Trying to bring both sides to understand that both nations want peace and a better future for their children takes hard work.  There are accusations of betrayal  which is common against those who dare to dream and work for a shared future for both sides.

Hamze Awawdeh is a Palestinian from Dura in the West Bank, near Hebron.  This summer he is interning in Washington, D.C. with Americans for Peace Now, as part of the New Story Leadership program.  

Back home, he is an Advisor for the “Roots” (14 year-old) group of Kids4Peace Jerusalem and is active with Yala Young Leaders.  

He offered this speech during the New Story Leadership Congressional Forum at the US Capitol:

“When I was 3 years old, I learned that my grandfather was a Shaheed (martyr), a man who was a freedom fighter, fighting the occupation and bravely dreaming to ensure a better life for his children and grandchildren. For many years, I had to go to his yearly anniversary event where many politicians came to talk about their memories of this man. A man who I never met because the Israeli Army took his life many years before I was born. I cannot deny that I always felt proud of him. But it was frustrating to see that his dream of having a better future for me is not yet fulfilled.

Growing up in a political family, I was interested in politics in the early stages of my life. When I was 9 years old, I was nominated to represent the school in a meeting with a PLO leader.  I spoke to him about the failures of the peace process, accusing him of talking to the enemies while he was supposed to be fighting them, exactly like my grandfather and his friends did.

Being a student at Birzeit University in Ramallah, I was granted an independent life far from my family and town. I acquired the chance to think for myself and form my own opinions. On campus,  I used to meet political activists from different backgrounds. Additionally, I started learning about the other side and I decided to talk to them.

As a result, I realized the complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which was deeper than I thought – not just all black and white as I had in my mind. I started to discover more and more of the Palestinian reality and shape it by my own understanding.  I started to learn about the Israeli side trying to discover their story as well.

Both nations have a valid claim to this land. Both nations believe they were victims of history. Both nations are on this land to stay. Palestinians have no other land than Palestine and Israelis have no other land than Israel. Both need to find a way to coexist.  The circle of violence will continue to repeat itself until we Palestinians and Israelis break it!

I learned also, that both sides do not trust each other.  How could they when they are still living with walls separating them? I’m not talking about the wall that Israel built inside the west bank or the one surrounding Gaza Strip, I’m talking about the walls of the past, those walls deep in our mental and emotional consciousness which prevents us from seeing hope on the other side.

How do we fix this problem? Both sides need to talk. they need to talk so they can learn and get to know  each other. There is no other choice. Now I am the one who is encouraging  9 year old children to talk with other side.  I’m advocating for  something I was once against!

Trying to bring both sides to understand that both nations want peace and a better future for their children takes hard work.  There are accusations of betrayal  which is common against those who dare to dream and work for a shared future for both sides.

In real life, it’s hard to find a common place where Israelis and Palestinians  can meet and discuss the issues. Therefore, through YaLa Young Leaders the peace social movement I’m proud to be part of, we encourage the young people to use social media to talk to each other. This is the advantage of having brave young leaders leading the change for peace!

I remember 6 months ago, I was in Tel Aviv chatting with a friend of mine, an Israeli peace activist who with me and other peace activists (from the YaLa Young Leaders movement) initiated a peace campaign, (calling for “No More Excuses” from our leaders), for the Israeli and Palestinian people to back Secretary of State, John Kerry’s efforts to bring the parties to a peace agreement. We believed that this could be achieved by harnessing the power of the young people from both sides. My friend Yael and I were so amazed by  Secretary of State John Kerry and his team’s devotion and hard work into reaching an agreement .

When we realized that the peace process was not going to bear any fruit–  both of us grasped the painful consequences of what that meant, and feared for another round of hostile conflict.

A new common thread between Palestinians and Israeli leaders became clear to us– both Israelis and Palestinians lack leaders who care about their nation’s future. They have an interest in maintaining the status quo as it serves their political agenda. Many people on both sides have taken this reality as a given. I remember sitting with my friend Yael, sharing cigarettes, as well as our fears and anger at the lack of progress towards peace, and predicted that violent clashes between the two sides would become extremely likely.

Throughout this past month in America, many people have asked me if I still have hope that Palestinians and Israelis will be able to live one day together in peace- My answer to them is always Yes!!!

Today, me and my fellow participants, Israelis and Palestinians, from different sides of the fence, even as the situation back home is dire, we are here in Washington DC brave and confident enough to speak about Peace! Embodying the change we want to see in the future! Living the recognition, the understanding and the coexistence !

If this is possible now despite the bloodshed back home, then I truly believe our people can find a way to live together peacefully, and create not only sustainable relationships, but also deep friendships based on love and trust, as I have created with my fellow participant  and my host brother, Yonathan.

Thank you for your time and continued support.

Read more about Hamze and his Israeli roommate & colleague in Haaretz.

For information about Kids4Peace,  visit www.k4p.org 


The 2014 class of Palestinian & Israeli interns with New Story Leadership

The 2014 class of Palestinian & Israeli interns with New Story Leadership

Last night, Kids4Peace Jerusalem protested against the violence. We left our families, we left our bomb shelters, our neighborhoods, our villages, to come together as a community. Yes, many of us were terrified. Some community members and even staff sent messages of love and support but were too afraid to join.

In Kids4Peace Jerusalem, many members of our community have been directly affected by the terror and violence. Whether it be close personal relationships with the teenage boys who were murdered, military lock-down, inability to enter Jerusalem, violence in our neighborhoods, cities, and even inside some homes. Everyone in Jerusalem has felt threatened, felt afraid, and had run to a bomb shelter at least once, and the war in Gaza and the violence around us is growing.

What was our action? We had dinner. We: Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis. We broke bread together. We caught up with old friends. We lent each other our ears, our shoulders, and our hearts. We feel that now more than have to take a stance against violence and this interfaith Iftar was just the beginning.

Kids4Peace Jerusalem co-director Mohammad Joulany opened the evening with a few explanatory words about the holy month of Ramadan, the spiritual opportunities it provides, and how an Iftar is a family dinner that breaks the daily fast. In the last few moments before sundown, members from each religion stood up and offered a prayer over the food. As the sun started to set over the 11th night of Ramadan, all who attended felt like family and broke the fast together.

Udi, K4P Jerusalem Steering Committee Chair compared the violence to the Kindergarten that he runs. He asked everyone to imagine what would happen if one of the kids came to him and said: so-and-so ruined my drawing, and his reply would be: well then go on and ruin everyone else’s drawing too. This, he pointed out, is the extremism in our societies. They are trying to destroy everything, but here we are coming together despite it all, making a stance against violence.

#ViolenceStopsWithMe  #TogetherPeaceIsPossible

Below are quotes by those who attended the event. 


“I came to prove to others that it is possible to be around people from the other side.”
-Eden, 9th grade, Muslim

“I came to show that other than all the fighting between Arabs and Jews, there is still a way here to show peace and love.” -Carla, 9th grade, Christian

DSC_0094  “I came because I wanted to come. The war is making us all divide up and be on separate sides. It just makes me want to come even more to settle things down.” -Aviya, 7th grade, Jewish


“The dinner was a success, as I was in a room where Muslim, Jews and Christians were eating, talking laughing together I remembered John Lennon’s song: Imagine…”  – Zahava, mother of Liav (Jewish)

“This is a really interesting meeting, but we have to build on it. It is one thing to come together, but let’s see how much we can make it grow.” -Francis, father of Mira (Christian)

“Yes, it is Ramadan and we came without the whole family. It is so important for us to be part of this meeting. We are Kids4Peace people, we are really in it.” -Aref, father of Adel (Muslim)

Josh Thomas To the Kids4Peace Community,

As Shabbat comes to Jerusalem on this first Friday of Ramadan, our prayers are mixed with tears.

An escalation of violence in Jerusalem and the surrounding region has brought death and suffering to yet more Palestinian and Israeli families. Calls for retaliation and vengeance threaten further destruction.

In the midst of overwhelming fear,

Kids4Peace remains a powerful sign of hope.

We are one of the only places where Jews, Christians and Muslims from all parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank meet face to face.  Our long-term approach is our strength. With the leadership of Jerusalem Co-Directors Mohammad Joulany and Rebecca Sullum, we are responding to the current situation with courage and compassion.

    • Interfaith Iftar: Next Wednesday, K4P Jerusalem will gather for an Interfaith Iftar: A Dinner of Prayer, Community and Hope.
    • #ViolenceStopsWithMe: K4P Jerusalem launched a #ViolenceStopsWithMe online campaign, to counter the message of vengeance and retaliation that is spreading through Jerusalem.  Join them by changing your cover photos to the pic above.
    • We continue our regular programs and meetings, to the extent that safety will allow.

Kids4Peace was born in the midst of violence, by brave families who risked coming together, precisely when the conflict was driving them apart.  Two years ago we met to pray during the violence in Gaza.  We face another moment of deep pain, suffering and fear.

As violence spreads in Jerusalem, it is time to come together again.
  • Together, we mourn the death of Mohammad Dudeen, Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir and the many victims of the conflict whose names have been forgotten.
  • Together, we affirm the sanctity of all life and pray that no more families will feel the pain of this most tragic loss.
  • Together, we commit to continue our daily work of ending conflict and inspiring hope in Jerusalem and beyond, through interfaith learning, leadership development and nonviolent action.

And it’s only possible because of you.

Next month, nearly 100 Jerusalem youth will attend camps in the USA, and I want to shower them with support. Here are some ways to help.

  1. Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. Remember the victims and the peacemakers in your congregation’s prayers.  As people of faith, we need to acknowledge the pain and maintain our hope.
  2. Send a Message of Support. Write a note to a young peacemaker on this online form.  This year especially, it will be so hard for the Jerusalem kids to leave home and come to camp.  Your support will make all the difference.
  3. Follow & Share the Kids4Peace Blog There is so much bad news coming from the media.  We need to remind the world that people still work for peace. Follow k4pblog.org and share daily updates with family and friends.    If you have contacts in the media, please email me.
  4. Give as Generously as you can. This is a critical time, and you can be part of the solution.  Help Kids4Peace end this conflict, so no more children will die of violence.  Donate Now.

Thank you for keeping the light of hope alive.

Fr Josh Thomas, Executive Director
Kids4Peace International | josh@k4p.org
Kids4Peace 3300 Chimney Rock, Suite 301, Houston, TX 77056
Donations are tax-deductible

Interfaith Prayer during the Fighting in Gaza Two Years Ago

Join the Campaign #ViolenceStopsWithMe

Kids4Peace International

3300 Chimney Rock, Suite 301, Houston, TX 77056 www.k4p.org

With heavy hearts, Kids4Peace mourns the continued loss of life and suffering throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding region.
At a time of great fear, when voices of retaliation and anger grow louder, Kids4Peace is committed to resisting violence in all its forms and working together for lasting change. 
As a first step, we invite you to join a #violencestopswithme online campaign:
  1. Change your cover photo to the graphic below
  2. Take a picture of yourself with the #violencestopswithme hashtag
  3. Invite others to do the same.

If it wasn’t for K4P I might have just grown up with the idea of hatred in my mind, and without the idea of being peacefully active.

Hailing originally out of East Jerusalem, Sami Qumri was a Kids4Peace camper in the early years, way back in 2004. Originally, he just wanted to make friends and learn about different cultures. What he discovered he gained in the process was a different mindset, one that believes in peace and looks for opportunities to pursue it.

Sami comes from a Christian background, “Not super religious, but enough to be a good Christian,” he says. He’s currently studying graphic and web design at Brevard College, with a minor in business marketing. He balances school with working as a bartender and DJ.

Having participated so long ago, before social media became the prevalent force it is today, Sami unfortunately had a tough time maintaining relationships with the friends he made. That’s one of the main reasons he’s reached out to K4P, he’d like to be involved as a leader and reconnect with the K4P community.

Sami was very generous in taking the time to tell me more about his story:

sami qumri“I joined K4P in high school. We started by forming meetings at St. George’s college. Our families would come and organize various activities. That went on for a few weeks, then we prepared for our trip to Houston. Having traveled to the states before, I didn’t encounter many surprises—I had a little feel for it.

I remember Camp Allen very well. We spent a week there getting acquainted with the American campers. It was just like having fun with my friends at home: learning, building connections, and bonding across cultures. It’s been 7 years, but that’s the most significant thing I remember, how good that felt. That was what I liked. Being Christian didn’t make it difficult at all to connect or feel included.

I always grew up with an understanding of the conflict and what was going on. But I also had the mentality that people just don’t get along and are full of hatred. I was caught off guard by K4P, I wasn’t expecting to make new friends, or even get along. Bonding over all the different activities there helped me to make some very good friends—I loved it so much. It stays in my heart, it changed me, my view. If it wasn’t for K4P I might have just grown up with the idea of hatred in my mind, and without the idea of being peacefully active.

Whenever I think of K4P there’s always one memory that pops into my head, a picture of my classmate and another friend, arm in arm. It was a very good memory, a great image that really touched me and totally demonstrated exactly what K4P is all about.

After participating, I talked a lot about the experience. My whole family was engaged, and so were my classmates, one of whom had also participated. A lot of our friends did not have the chance to travel so it was very exciting for them to hear about. They were so interested, they loved it. Some of my classmates and neighbors actually went and applied to participate.

For two or three years after participating, the other participants and I all remained close. It was easy because we were still in high school, and the K4P staff would help organize reunions to help maintain our connection. After we graduated, it became much more difficult.

Being here isolates the day to day stuff going on back home. I’m more free to move without checkpoints and soldiers checking IDs. I try to keep up with the news, and if it wasn’t for family I wouldn’t know what’s really going on. The media is so different, there’s always two sides to the story. At this point, I’ve sort of gotten used to being away, having spent so much time here.

I’ve been interested in raising awareness here at Brevard. I often meet people who don’t know about the conflict, or don’t even know what Jerusalem is, crazy as that can be. On the other hand there are some faculty at school who have traveled to Jerusalem and are more aware. I had a good talk with one faculty member in particular, which led to me doing a series of powerpoint presentations, talking about the conflict and what it’s like for people there. Students were engaged and it raised a lot of questions for them.

Rock4Peace Rocked It!

nbarell —  June 27, 2014 — Leave a comment

The Kids4PeaceVT Rock4Peace fundraiser last Saturday found Vermonters of all ages rockin’ in a room full of chairs while sharing stories, games and food. Entertainment also included an impromptu juggling act and a one man poetry slam. After K4P campers & staff reconnected, everyone sang peace songs and watched a movie about the Civil Rights movement while snacking on popcorn.

Alumni attendees at this event included Noa, Morgan, Maddie and Lana.

We raised over $1,000 toward scholarships for this year’s camp!


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Kids4Peace young leaders: Toot, Mohammad, Mary, and Louis
**starring in**
KidsSpeak! with Molly Livingstone!
Episode 2: Social Media and Freedom of Speech

As Northwest Regional Director of Kids4Peace, I was often met with looks of surprise when people learned that I had never been to Israel/Palestine. Since starting work last fall, I have been giving myself a crash course in Israeli and Palestinian history, culture, and politics, but I have been longing to visit and see it for myself, and also to meet in person the wonderful colleagues I have been communicating with via email and Skype over the past months. From June 3-10, I got my wish: a whirlwind tour of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv/Jaffa, and Ramallah.
I arrived in Jerusalem just as the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, celebrating the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, was starting. One of the ways that people celebrate Shavuot is through all-night study sessions, and it was amazing to see the streets of Jerusalem packed with people on their way to study sessions all over the city. It was even more amazing to wake up early the next morning and see the streets just as packed, filled with tired people on their way home.
Part way through the trip, I joined five other Kids4Peace staffers on an afternoon trip to Ramallah. For many, this was our first time going to the West Bank. We visited the tomb and museum dedicated to Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, and we met with the staff of another non-governmental organization, Palestine Education for Employment, that provides additional skills training to university graduates to help them secure jobs. Traveling through the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah was a sobering reminder of how difficult travel can be for people who live only miles apart.
I also enjoyed a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem, seeing some of the holiest sites in Judaism (the Western Wall), Islam (the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque), and Christianity (the Church of the Holy Sepulcher). As a former history teacher, I find the layers of history in Jerusalem to be almost beyond comprehension. From the ancient Israelites, to the Greeks, to the Romans, to the Byzantines, to the Ottomans, to the British, and to many others in between, when we look at how many people have controlled this area, it becomes easier to understand why it is such contested territory.
Despite the difficult and complicated history, the trip also affirmed my belief that people are capable of working together to solve the conflict and that people want peace in the region. When I see how dedicated our staff are and how hard they work to bring our kids together — Muslim, Christian, and Jewish — I have hope for the future of the region.
Meeting our kids and families in Jerusalem also gave me hope. Just before I left, I had the opportunity to meet with all of the kids who will be coming to Seattle this summer, along with their parents. The whole Seattle team looks forward to welcoming them in a just a few weeks!
I want to give special thanks to our Jerusalem co-directors, Mohammad Joulany and Rebecca Sullum, and to the rest of the Jerusalem staff for their warm hospitality and help in making my trip memorable.

Kids4Peace young leaders:
Mary, Mohammad, Jiries, and Eden
**starring in**
KidsSpeak! with Molly Livingstone!

Episode 1: John Kerry’s Hair and the Middle East Peace Talks

by Mariam Naser

I had never heard about Hand in Hand schools before meeting Bashar, one of the 6th graders in our Boston group this year. He mentioned that he really likes his school because it “changed my mind about others and gave me the confidence to deal with others.” This got me curious to know more so I suggested that we visit the school as a staff. Today, the Boston staff and co-directors Rebecca and Mohammad had the opportunity to tour the school. Our tour guides, Noa and Angie, told us about the school and all of the complications of having two teachers speaking different languages and how to handle managing the different religious and national holidays. We also visited some other Kids4Peace youth that learn there and heard from them what it is like to learn in a bilingual school, with some saying that it feels similar to Kids4Peace while others saying it is very different.
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