By Rev. Chelsea MacMillan, Interspiritual Minister and Kids4peace staff

“…love your neighbor as yourself.” Leviticus 19:17

“…show kindness to parents… and orphans and the needy and to the neighbor that is a kinsman and the neighbor that is a stranger.” Al-Quran 4:37

“…truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

This past weekend at the Excel: Training for trainers at Acer Farm, Vermont, hosted by Jerusalem Peace Builders, brought with it teaching from an imam, a rabbi, and a priest as we observed and took part in Jumm’ah, Shabbat, and Sunday services. These respected leaders focused on themes of service to humanity within their respective traditions. According to the Abrahamic faiths, people are supposed to show kindness toward others not only for the sake of living in harmony, but also because it’s what God wants us to do. Take care of the “other,” we’re told – the neighbor, the stranger. Jesus even goes so far as to say, “Love your enemies,” Matthew 5:44.

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As an interfaith minister, I deal in matters of the spirit. My knowledge of the convoluted and complex history of the conflict surrounding the peoples of Israel and Palestine is limited, at best (though isn’t everyone’s? how well can any of us really have a complete and exhaustive of this multi-faceted and -layered situation?), though this past week has helped shed some light for me on the multiple narratives.

As I learned more through our exercises in conflict analysis, I couldn’t help but start asking some questions in my head that went a little like this: After the horrific events of the Holocaust, why wouldn’t some people in the world (perhaps Palestinians) open their homes and say, “Wow, guys, I can’t believe what’s happened to you! You look terrible and it hurts my heart to hear of your suffering. Here, let me get you some food and a nice, warm bed to sleep in!” Why was it necessary for Israel and its friends in high places – the U.S., the U.K., Russia – decide it was necessary to use force (political or otherwise), to take land away from some unsuspecting people?

And, now that Israel has land and money and power and water rights, etc., why wouldn’t they look to their Palestinian brothers and sisters and say, “Wow, we didn’t realize what an effect we have had on you and your children. I’m so sorry! We certainly know what it’s like to be oppressed. Let’s find a way to share this beautiful land!”

This, like many problems of our world, is a spiritual problem. The tension between Israelis and Palestinians will not be resolved by government policies or land negotiations (though a change in some laws wouldn’t hurt, I’m sure!). The root of these problem lies within our hearts. When we can open our hearts as Muslim, Christians, and Jews in service toward others, especially the “other,” we will begin to change our actions.

I realize that this is oversimplified. But, when we’re talking about human lives, why can’t it be so simple?

 

By Michal Ner David and Selina Petschek, Kids4Peace staff

We – Michal and Selina – two Kids4Peace Staff, are here together at EXCEL: Training for Trainers program, hosted and facilitated by Jerusalem Peace Builders. Along with the other participants, we just completed the first part of our program facilitated by Dr. Paula Green, the founder of the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding.

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In trying to analyze conflict, we studied a number of theories. One of them affirms that when human needs are not met, it inevitably leads to cycles of violence. These basic needs include security, recognition, water, food, shelter, etc. While this feels obvious, it took us thinking about this deeply while feeling appreciative for having all our needs met, to make the disparities that exist in our world come alive.  Here we are enjoying the tremendous hospitality of Nicholas, co-founder and executive director of JPB and his wife Dorothy, who are opening their home and land, feeding us, sheltering us, and taking care of every little comfort we could possibly ask for. It is thanks to Nicholas and Dorothy that we are able to be together, to discuss and dialogue about the peace work that we do. This would not be possible without the environment where we have found ourselves.   

In discussing the causes for violence and trying to understand the conflict in Jerusalem –in trying to untangle the mess– we realized that when the needs of one of these groups are not met, it creates despair, loss and anguish. One piece of guidance that our trainer Paula offered, is that pain should not be made into a competition, it just is. So often, the people involved in a conflict tend to vie for the position of most victimized in a reflex of self-protection against the pain you may have inadvertently caused someone else. If we’re able to stop competing, or stop comparing, if we’re able to contain all the pain without judging where it is coming from or how great it is, we can hold the space for a different kind of reality.

After asking one of our Palestinian participants about his experience thus far, he reflected on how much impact being here in a space that can contain all of us – all of our pain and suffering and our hopes and creativity – had on the freedom of our conversation. In his words: “back home, it would be harder to find people who are willing to listen and understand”. In contrast, everyone who is here came with a willingness to be open and engage in dialogue. He went on to say that, “it’s even slightly interesting that we are acquainted with people back home who don’t know very much about the conflict.” He was further surprised that there are people who don’t live in Israel-Palestine [i.e. Americans], and perhaps have never even visited, but know so much about it and have their own ideas on how to address the conflict.

On thinking about what he is taking away from this training he added that “perhaps we’ve been able to gain a new kind of approach to this conflict, a new way of discussing it. We are not leaving with a collective plan of action per say, but rather a whole new approach that each one of us will carry back home individually. We are more capable than we were before.”

by Rebecca Sullum, Kids4Peace Jerusalem Co-Director

It isn’t often that I have a chance to reflect on my personal growth and see how a set of Kids4Peace experiences have changed me. Here is my Ramadan experiences and my growth.

The Ignorance- 1981-2007
Until the age of 26, if I were asked to name any of the Muslim holidays I would not have been able to name even one. Of course I could name at the time a handful of Christian holidays and all the Jewish with the exact dates, historical and symbolic reasons, for as a Jewish Israeli living in a Western culture these were easy for me. But I had never shown interest in learning about the other religions celebrated by my neighbors in Jerusalem. Not only was I not interested but when I passed by a mosque, heard a call to prayer, saw a Muslim in tradition clothing during the second intifada I walked away as quickly as I could.

The Call To Prayer -2008prayer
I found myself volunteering with a group of 12 eleven-year-old kids as part of a Kids4Peace program (what lead me to Kids4Peace I will save for another blog). I was in charge of the four Jewish youth and during our pre-camp sessions we were putting on skits as a way to teach about religion. The Muslim youth’s skit was about Ramadan. It was then that Kareem, a cute eleven-year-old Muslim boy performed the traditional call to prayer. It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. I still remember thinking to myself, “is this sound that I have lived in fear of for some many years?”  

 

The Mosque 2009
In the middle of nowhere Vermont in the USA I walked into a mosque with a new group of 12 eleven-year-old Kids4Peace youth. It was their first year in the program and my second as a volunteer. The Mosque was small. It felt like a humble place with no decorations on the inside, it looked nothing like the Mosque I had seen on tv or in Jerusalem. It was one room, with no chairs, only carpet on the floor and a divide between men and women. I remember feeling a sense of safety and familiarity, so this was the building I was scared of for so many years.

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The Iftar 2010
My third year of Kids4Peace camp was over and back in Jerusalem it was Ramadan. A Muslim family from Beit Hanina, actually little Nutlie’s family had invited the entire group of 12 youth to join their family for a traditional Iftar meal. I drove the car with the four Jewish youth across town to Beit Hanina. It was all of our first times in the neighborhood and at an Iftar meal. I felt so welcomed into their home and at their table I thought to myself this is actually enjoyable, the food was amazing and I wanted to try this again.

 

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Reeham extended an invitation to an Iftar meal the following year at her home. Reeham and I had been colleagues for 4 years but this invitation felt like it wasn’t because of our mutual work in Kids4Peace but because we were friends. Sitting in Beit Safafa with Reeham’s family, her parents, her two brothers, her sister and her husband and their three children all welcomed me and I felt like I was at home, that this was like my own family. This meal was to be the first of many that I had at their home.

 

The Work 2012
I was no longer ignorant and no longer living in fear, I started to work full time for Kids4Peace and started creating spaces for other people to come together to meet, eat, learn and experience.

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Yair, my two year old son shows me at his pre-school all of the art work he has done for the Muslim Eid, holiday. I remember feeling proud that he will not be ignorant of his neighbors’s living next to us in Jaffa, which is a much more inclusive city than Jerusalem, but hope that these first steps will help set him in his own journey for peace.

The War 2014
The timeline I will never be able to forget, watching the cycle of violence expand and expand, three Jewish Israeli boys kidnapped and killed, one Muslim Palestinian boy kidnapped, tortured and killed, the Gaza war starts again and so does the Ramadan Fast. Sitting within the despair, Mohammad and I, Kids4Peace Jerusalem co-directors initiate an Iftar meal during the violence as a safe place for Kids4Peace community members to come. I remember thinking, “will anyone be brave enough to leave their homes during this hellish time to come together in the name of peace?” When over fifty people joined in the meal together,  I felt there is hope.

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Al Aqsa Mosque 2015
Joined part of the Kids4Peace international leadership on the Temple Mount, an act that I never had imagined that I would take part in. I remember feeling an enormous spiritual presence and wanted to cry because I knew the fighting over the land is far from over.

 

The Blessing 2016
With two years of Arabic behind me, I think that I am ready to bless my Muslim colleagues and friends for the Eid, following the month long Ramadan fast  I write to them in Arabic.

كل عام وانتم بالف خير.
Blessing them with a joyous eid.

All write back to me, many in Arabic (which I am not sure I understand fully) but thanking me for the blessing. I realize that not only am I wishing them for their holiday, but I am recognizing who they are, accepting them for their beliefs, embracing them as people of faith and only now understand how these small acts can lead to making change for peace: peace for myself no longer living in fear, peace for others of acceptance and understanding.

But my journey took me 35 years to reach this point, as I am about to celebrate my birthday, I want to invite all of us to find these small acts that reach out to others and to join me and making sure that it will not take others 35 years to do so.

Please donate to Kids4Peace in honor of my birthday by clicking here! 

 

 

 

by Jill Levenfeld, K4P Jerusalem and Global Institute

That’s what Kids4peace is doing: making noise, a lot of noise, in hopes of making change.

Our Jerusalem young leaders this week took to the streets of Beit Safafa, during this holy month of Ramadan, to share Iftar and their neighborhood with our wider community. Charlie and Omri, two of our Kids4peace Palestinian residents shared their personal stories and perspective on growing up in the neighborhood as they led us through their streets. They spoke out on the issues that matter to them as they described the history and landscape of their ancient village pointing out local landmarks of the mosque, cemetery and original water source. Not often enough do Jerusalemites cross boundaries with a curiosity to learn and visit each other’s neighborhoods. At Kids4peace, we plan to traverse many more Jerusalem communities, of and led by our kids.

13502886_846413595464704_1080654258153148322_o“Big visions is what you kids teach us” said Dave Harden, Mission Director of USAID West Bank/Gaza who attended our Iftar. We are grateful to their continued support and belief in the work we do.  Harden encouraged our kids “not just to teach each other, but to teach your brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents.” We believe at Kids4peace that it “takes a village” to bring change. And it starts with the family unit.

Countless families, passionate participants in our various  programs over the last 15 years, filled the Beit Safafa Elementary school who graciously hosted our event last night.  Over 200 people from our community  joined  together to share the Iftar meal,- Muslims, Christians and Jews. Our fasting Muslim friends waited to hear the cannon blast at7:51 PM, the precise time  which indicates that the festive meal can begin with the traditional madjul date. The non-violent association  of the Ramadan cannon is a pleasant irony in a city overly polluted with frequent noise of helicopters and ambulance sirens.

13490852_846414552131275_4713328403162325711_oCharlie and Omri ,honed their public speaking skills developed in our Leadership program, inviting us  to think  beyond our given  narratives. Next month, they will travel to Washington, DC to join the Global Institute, a new program designed for thirty K4P young leaders, actively involved over the last three years in chapters around the globe.

As evolving young leaders, they will be invited to speak and share their stories as Israeli, Palestinian and American youth committed to faith -based social change. They will learn more about US civic engagement as they meet the  powerful centers of influence in Washington and in the Government. They will  meet staff from legislative offices, the State Department, United States Institute of Peace, advocacy groups connected to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and  ALLMEP, The Alliance for Middle East Peace, supporting our shared commitment in strengthening civil society. Together we believe that  bringing our  young leaders to Washington , eenshallah,  will help groom tomorrow’s leaders  bringing about a secure, just, and sustainable peace. The role of religion in conflict transformation is also a key element of our program as our youth will meet DC’s local leaders and their communities exploring faith in social change movements.

“You’ve got to get out there, stand up, and make some noise”, quoted Congressman John Lewis  at the Newseum exhibit on student advocacy and the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Next month, we will take our K4P youth to Newseum stressing the importance of telling story, and to the MLK Monument to learn more about what it takes to “stand up on your feet and speak out”. Just like Charlie and Omri demonstrated this  last week in Beit Safafa.

We will journey back to our communities at the end of the summer with a shared commitment to make more noise as our young leaders take to the streets with their new skills. Advocacy projects of  community mapping  is  just one outcome that we hope from our young leaders once  back in Jerusalem. They will continue to map and share together Jerusalem’s  complex maze of neighborhoods “spinning round and round” from the Old to the New.

13528166_846413872131343_3348376271579868913_oYehuda Amichai, an Israeli poet, wroteSpinning Carousel, “Jerusalem is a carousel spinning round and round from the Old City through every neighborhood and back to the Old.”

Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian  poet wrote, In Jerusalem, “where the prophets over there are sharing the history of the holy”.

We plan to spin “round and round”, here and “over there” inspired by  the writings of our national poets. We will engage with our youth in “the history of the holy” and how  it matters to each of them.

Recently, I have been asking our young leaders “here” in Jerusalem, and “there” in our American chapters, “Why does Kids4peace matter?” Inevitably, the answers resonate hope and safety. As Darwish said about Jerusalem, “if you don’t believe, you won’t be safe”.

We are a community of believers, and recognize that the impossible might  take awhile. But it is well worth the fight to make our children safe. We hold space at Kids4peace tolerating and accepting difference, united in standing up and  speaking out.

Get ready to hear us. We plan on making a lot of noise.

 

The Kids4Peace International Board of Directors elected three new members this week.  Welcome to the Kids4Peace Team – Rokas Beresniovas, Jesse Raben & Kevin Rachlin. 


????????????????????????????????????Rokas Beresniovas

Rokas Beresniovas works as a Vice President at the State Bank of India (California) in Washington, DC.

Born in Lithuania, Rokas emigrated to the U.S. in 1999. From there he worked his way up the corporate ladder, and in 2006 he began work in the financial services sector at Bank of America. In August 2007, Rokas became a Vice President of Business Development for Eagle Bank where he helped grow the bank by double digits. Following this, Rokas was recruited by HSBC Bank USA, one of the largest banking and financial services organizations in the world. As Vice President of Global Business Banking, Rokas helped grow and sustain their international presence in the Washington DC market. In 2013, Rokas was recruited by the State Bank of India (California) to head its east coast commercial business expansion.

Giving back to the community is also important to Rokas. In 2007, he joined the Georgetown Business Association (GBA) and was elected VP in 2011 and President in 2012. Currently, Rokas is a board member of Pebbles of Hope, Kids 4 Peace International, the Joy of Motion, and an honorary board member for The Embassy Series. In the past, Rokas served on the Board of Directors for the CSAAC Foundation, the GMC and Global Tassels.

Recently, Rokas was awarded the 2016 SmartCEO Washington DC Executive Management Award and was a finalist for the 2015 SmartCEO Washington DC Money Manager Award. He also won a Global Tassels Community Innovator Award (2015) and The Eurasia Center Golden BRICS Award (2014).

Rokas is the founder of the Lithuanian nonprofit organization Global Lithuanian Leaders (GLL) and was recognized by the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2015 for outstanding leadership in youth mentoring.


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Jesse Raben

Jesse Raben is the Associate General Counsel in the Office of General Counsel at the American Psychological Association where he has been for over 15 years focusing on intellectual property, internet privacy and technology issues, corporate compliance, contracts, corporate governance and general business and legal risk management. Before joining APA, Jesse clerked for the Supreme Court of Hawaii and worked pro bono for an environmental watch dog group in Israel in 1994 before becoming an associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson and then at Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan in Washington, DC. In 1998, Jesse started and operated his own internet retail company but came back to practicing law in late 2000.

He earned is J.D. from Georgetown University in 1993 and his B.A. from Tufts University in 1988. He is admitted to the District of Columbia Bar.


Kevin Rachlin

unnamed-3Kevin Rachlin currently serves as the Director of Government Affairs for the Basic Education Coalition, advocating for expanded and equitable access to quality basic education so that all children around the world have a chance to learn. Prior to this, Kevin served at J Street, a pro-Israel pro-peace lobby in Washington, DC for over six years as the Deputy Chief of Staff as well as the Deputy Director of Government Affairs. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Kevin received his BA in Political Science and International Studies from The Ohio State University and his MS in Health and Medical Policy from George Mason University. In 2006, he studied in at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he witnessed the 2006 Lebanon War and Gaza conflict, which deeply impacted his commitment to peace in the region. Kevin currently lives in Arlington, VA with his wife, Jennifer and is expecting their first child in December 2016.

This article originally appeared in the Times of Israel Blog

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In the shadow of the ancient walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, on a sunny day in April, I am leading a small group of prophets down a pathway into the Kidron Valley, and then up the slopes of the Mount of Olives. I call them “prophets,” but these women and men in their twenties are not in old-fashioned robes or unkempt beards, nor roaring dire warnings about the end of time. Rather, their appearance is quite ordinary for these days in Jerusalem. Some of the Jewish men wear yarmulkes, some of the Muslim women wear the hijab; all see themselves deeply connected to their traditions. These are not misfits or anomalies, or foreign tourists or pilgrims, but native sons and daughters of today’s Al-Quds/Yerushalayim.

Over the years, I have guided hundreds of visitors of many faiths who have come to Jerusalem, but this group is totally different. I realize that this moment, these young companions, this journey in the shadow of a wounded and torn Jerusalem, will remain in my memory for the rest of my life. In their decision to walk together in the public sphere of Jerusalem, I am witnessing a divinely human courage, a sacred prophetic vocation, a conscious choice to take action and to step out into a society not yet ready for holiness.

Anyone not familiar with the ugliness and alienation, with the fear and loathing of the “other” that scars the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its present form, will find it hard to understand how walking together can be miraculous. But a miracle it is, and I know that I am privileged beyond words to see it.

The young Palestinian and Israeli activists who have chosen to walk on this path, on this April afternoon, are participants in a program called “Dialogue to Action,” an initiative of the Kids4Peace movement. I have been asked to lead this pioneer group in a shared walk into the holy places of Jerusalem’s contested, wounded, and dangerous public sphere. The question we are asking together is: “What is holiness, and how can we live it, together, in this time of most unholy violence, rage and terror?”

“Holiness,” like “peace,” is ideally a practice, not a product. In Jerusalem, however, in these days, “holiness” seems still imprisoned in an externalized ontology. It is a divine “power” or “substance,” or a divinely gifted “place,” jealously guarded and viciously fought over, rather than the freely embraced and liberating “practice of the divine presence” that it should be. Strangely, Jerusalem may be among the last human societies to awaken to the essential humanity of holiness.

While there is abundant loyalty to the three monotheisms among Jerusalem’s inhabitants, the practice of humanism toward the “other” is not their guiding principle. In public discourse and on the streets of the city, one sees more zealotry for religious and political “messianisms” than empathy and an inclusive spiritual vision of the future. When holiness and humanism are totally alienated like this, the result is crippling. As the activist and contemplative Thomas Merton wisely wrote in Life and Holiness, if we devote ourselves only to a “cult of other worldliness,” we are not able to act responsibly in the world of humanity. Holiness must be practiced in the here and now, and with “others,” not just those like us.

In Palestine and Israel, the past hundred years have been one long conflict. The children of the last generation of this violent century still live in constant fear of enemies too grotesque and too intimate to name, and in constantly disappointed hope that some new political regime will bring about an impossible peace.

And here, today, on the slopes below the looming walls of Jerusalem, I walk together with this very “last generation.” The “Dialogue to Action” project is proactive, confronting helpless disappointment with an intelligent practice of hope. The miracle is not only that we are walking together, but also that these young prophets have refused to continue the narrative of despair and hatred. They are in the process of forging a new language of holiness in the public sphere.

In 1957, the great historian of religion, Mircea Eliade, in the closing chapter of The Sacred and the Profane, challenged the theologians of the future to take up the quest for an authentic theology and practice of holiness after the collapse of secular modernism. Eliade’s “future” is now, and we are the theologians who must dare to respond to that challenge. It is fitting that Jerusalem should be one of the first contexts for this response, and that it should come in the form of an interfaith pilgrimage to truth, not a single-faith crusade of coercion.

New realities require new language. To live together, to walk together, rather than to be separated by fear and loathing – this will require rewriting the religious narrative of Jerusalem in a way no less radical than a political revolution. This revolution, though, is one of new attitude and inner orientation, not of more power and more defeat. The young people committing themselves to the “Dialogue to Action” program, are living examples of what the philosopher James Carse has called an “infinite game” – that is, a process of engagement and discourse that goes beyond the “winner/loser” imperatives required in a “finite game.” We might call the “Dialogue to Action” initiative an “infinite process” that will continue to grow and become more inclusive, widening the boundaries of social and theological possibility, even as its participants push against the physical boundaries of checkpoints and forbidden zones.

To walk an infinite process in a very finite city is physically and mentally dangerous. Each holy place that this group visits has been marked in recent months by the spilled blood of Israeli and Palestinian victims. Life in the public sphere in Jerusalem today is a “finite game,” if there ever was one. Winners take all, and celebrate their victories with demonstrations of unbridled zealotry, while the defeated suffer constant humiliation, abuse and despair. The idea of a public narrative that is not based on “winners” and “losers” is perceived as downright threatening to the status quo. A week ago, these same young Palestinians and Israelis were together in another part of town, just walking and talking on the sidewalk, when some anonymous fear-monger, shocked to see Jews and Arabs peacefully sharing the same public space, called the police. The “men in blue” in fact arrived, and questioned the group. Then, satisfied that this was not some new strain of “interfaith terrorism,” the police drove away.

Not all encounters are so relatively benign. Rocks have been thrown; threats are being made. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that there will be an increasing scrutiny of and increasing hostility toward the “Dialogue to Action” participants. Their unique dedication to each other and to their shared path will not be tolerated by societies committed to bottomless hatred and total separation between Jews and Arabs. Already the interrogations and shunning have begun. This is where the truly holy vocation of these contemporary prophets of peace emerges into the light of day.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel, the Jewish theologian who walked with Martin Luther King during the civil rights movement, wrote that a true prophet does not foretell the future, but rather tells forth the truth. It is in this sense that these young Israeli and Palestinian companions, walking through Jerusalem together, are prophets. Participants in “Dialogue to Action” are not trying to predict what will become of their societies, or of their narratives, or of the city they all love. Rather, they are trying, with all their hearts, to speak truth to their societies, and to each other. The truth they speak echoes the practice of compassion they have undertaken in their daily lives, and reflects the path of spiritual humanism they are walking together. This is a courageous and holy truth, and it will be heard.

Hi, I’m Noah, the new intern at the K4P DC office. Before encountering K4P I had previously attended a talk between an Israeli man and a Palestinian man at which I was first exposed to new perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I later encountered K4P at a speaker event in a Busboys and Poet’s restaurant. It was there that I really took an interest in K4P as well as their mission and wondered how I could get involved. Over the course of high school, I had become very interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as the misconceptions many have about it. This was only amplified later when I was admitted into a school program that allowed me to begin college early, therefore exposing me to a college environment where the Israel-Palestinian conflict is intensely discussed. Since my initial interest in the organization, I have attended a series of classes that allowed me to further understand both the Israeli and Palestinian narratives. I really look forward to spending the summer with K4P and helping out however I can.

by Hana, K4P Jerusalem Media Intern

Last Thursday Kids4Peace Jerusalem’s Leadership youth (9th graders), met with diplomats from the US Consulate, the US Embassy, and USAID.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The session started with each diplomat giving a brief presentation, explaining their jobs and responsibilities. Some of their positions are more political, linked to the Consulate, others more cultural. They all express their admiration for the kids Congratulations, you are our hope for the future.

The first question that broke the ice was direct and had no hesitation: If you say you support the two state solution why does US always vote against it at the UN?

The diplomats smile at the question and make comments about how the kids go directly to the point. One of the diplomats assistants replies:

“We are working towards a two state solution to bring peace into the country. By getting involved we provide a neutral space so that both sides feel comfortable. We want to bring peace and establish a Palestinian state, however a big impediment is the estrangement between the two sides.”

The answer was followed by another question directed to the US, Why is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict such a big issue for the US?

The diplomats answered: The US is deeply connected to the history of the area, with a large population being Christian and having very important Jewish and Muslim communities. Many Americans feel spiritually connected to this land. Israel was an important ally of the US during the Cold War, and it’s very connected to WWII, so there is a spiritual, cultural and political connection. Furthermore there is a feeling of frustration for the endurance of the conflict and we believe stability within this region affects the global economy. The instability of oil and global market could get better if the region had more stability.

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The kids also wanted to know wether the US supports not only organizations working with kids, but also with adults.

One of the answers the kids received was: Definitely, we also support the parents circle of Kids4Peace and are involved in environmental issues. It’s true that it gets more tense whenever parents are involved. We are also currently learning negotiation between Israeli, Palestinians and diplomats. Not only do we learn technical skills, but we also get to know each other and deepen the relationships within our community.

The diplomats also want to make clear that it is our kids job here at Kids4Peace to continue with this work as they grow up: It’s also on you guys to continue to engage when you grow up as adults.

Finally the diplomats say that they find it easier to work with both sides within similar communities:  People with common interests working together helps create peace. So working with educators, social workers etc. from each side is helpful. 

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At this point the diplomats feel they also want to know more about the teenagers sitting in front of them: Why do you participate in K4P?

Adam, 15, answered: Both sides are in pain, so the only way to understand the other side is to hear their story. Some of my friends are against it and I also lose hope sometimes. Even if we don’t change the world, we can change ourselves.

Talia, 15, added: As we grew up there was a moment when my classmates started discussing politics and the conflict, and I realized I didn’t know anyone who was Arab. As soon as I joined the program I started to understand that the reasons of “the other side” were rational and that it’s not fair to put the blame on them.

Aviya, 15, also expressed: I had only heard what my side was saying “They kill people, so they’re bad” I wanted to know what they were thinking as well.

Omri shared his personal experience in the public space: With my family we bought in Arab shops, we went to Arab restaurants, even my parents had Arab friends who spoke in Hebrew. Also, many of my friends said it was ok to get to know Arabs, we played football together. I didn’t have Arab friends myself and decided to join K4P. I prefer to come to Jerusalem every month because here Arabs and Jews really live in the same city, it’s not like two different cities.

Zeina: Many of us heard a lot about the other side and knew a lot of things from what people had told us, but we had never met or knew anyone from the other side. We were curious to know what they think about us too. After we joined Kids4Peace, we noticed that the others are just normal people as we are and we share many similarities.

Tia: Older K4P members and program Alumni’s encouraged me to join, some friends were against it, but I believed I had to hear what they have to say.

Guy (Leadership program coordinator) : We’ve reached a moment where more kids come to us that we can afford to accept. Friends and relatives of K4P members want to join too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the kids had been in the spotlight, they all had a short break. After the break it was their turn again to ask some more questions. The conflict is again, the main topic.

One of the kids asked: What do you think about “drawing a line”, creating a boarder in areas people live in? what do you think about the future, post boarder?

The kids received an interesting answer, referring to world history: It’s not up to us to draw any line. Societies have been able to work together without diminishing their pain like the example of France and Germany who have been enemies in different wars through history and now are allies.

The diplomats then received a very direct question: What are some personal goals you would like to achieve during your service in Israel?

The diplomats were pretty surprised and pleased with the question. “It’s a good question / I hadn’t thought about it. Freedom of movement is something that would help my job so much. There’s a sense of being displaced depending on the city you’re in. My wife is an Arab and she doesn’t speak arabic in West Jerusalem. If we could reduce the tension and help make people more comfortable to walk around.  A better access to resources (water, electricity) everywhere. More patience and manners: traffic is an example.  That there would never be a reason to turn away a student in K4P for lack of resources

The last question that was asked: How are we gonna get peace if there is a wall of separation? If the two populations are not connected?

The kids received a complex but yet hopeful answer: Any border is an invisible wall, and also walls can fall like in Berlin. The greatest wall is the mentality of people. Even if there are two states, you will also need some kind of border between the two states.

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The Diplomats also reminded the kids of their power and responsibility and working towards a change: “Remember that you guys have a lot of power, talk to the people about your dreams, about what you want to achieve. Raise your voice. Remember Rosa Parks ( African American civil rights activist) she was not alone and didn’t come unprepared. She was from a peace group in Tennessee. You can also bring change in society like Rosa Parks did.”

Overall kids showed a level of maturity and preparation that definitely surprised the diplomats who praised them. The kids were also satisfied with the session, feeling that their questions have been answered and the difficult topics addressed.

 

by Yakir, DTA Project Director

Mimouna is an old Jewish-Moroccan tradition. In the Jewish tradition, during Passover, the Jewish community is not allowed to eat Chametz, any kind of bread. On the first night after Passover, in Morocco, the Muslim community would come to the Jewish homes, bringing the first bread and sweets to the Jews and they would celebrate together. The origin of the name Mimouna is mysterious – some think it is connected to the word Emuna – to believe. Others think it comes from the Arabic word Maymun – luck.

Today in Israel the Moroccan Jewish community still celebrate this holiday, but today they celebrate it alone, with no connection or relationship with the Muslim community. When I speak with the young generation of Moroccan Jews, none of them told me about the role that interfaith dialogue with the Muslim community plaid back then in Morocco. Only the older generation, remembers their Muslim neighbors, speaking with sadness about the “good times”, back in history.

In the Dialogue to Action program we demand to be together, to walk on the streets of JLM together even when it cause us hardship – even when some young Palestinian kids throw stones at us and some Jewish people call the police about the Palestinians walking in their neighborhood.

On the last day of Passover, we decided to gather at my Jewish home to celebrate the last meal of Passover and the Mimouna. One of the participants, a unique Sufi Muslim Palestinian who is also a chef took it upon himself to prepare the meal for the Jews, just like old times.

We had Christians, Muslims and Jews together, Israelis and Palestinians with a Buddhist American visitor who was so surprised by the honest dialogue she saw, the open hearts, the amazing food and the love among the group. She came to me again and again to ask: “so, is he Palestinian? Israeli? Muslim?” I was smiling, seeing her desire to learn and her confusion that we all look the same.

But beyond the laughing and the joy, this group of people knows, very well, that they are on a mission. They must be honest with each other, despite frequent disagreements, and most importantly, they must listen and build trust among themselves. The following week, these courageous people handled one of the most difficult dialogues I have ever experienced about their collective pasts, the creation of pain, the Israeli independence day and the Nakba (catastrophe) day of the Palestinians. I deeply believe that their ability to engage with these deeply challenging subjects comes, at least in part, from the fact that they have chosen to celebrate together and to bring back interfaith traditions from their lives.

Change on the Ground

merk4p —  May 19, 2016 — Leave a comment

by Yakir, DTA Project Director

Dialogue to Action (DTA), the new initiative of Kids4Peace International, was created in order to ensure that in addition to speaking and having dialogue, we area also actively working together to create real change on the ground. During the last several months, 12 participants from each of the three Abrahamic faiths are creating change in their own lives, but furthermore they are demanding to walk together in the public sphere of Jerusalem, influencing a wider audience.
Today, 2 of the participants, decided to take the next step and begin their own project. After months of discussions and preparations they found a unique place, on a rooftop of the old city of Jerusalem, at the intersection of the Jewish, the Muslim and the Armenian quarters of the city. This roof is neglected – filled with garbage, drugs and security cameras. They decided to make their dream a reality and to make this unique corner of the roof a place for dialogue and meeting between Palestinians and Israelis. For their first step, they found some volunteers, a Jewish gardener, Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Palestinians who care. After getting permission from the Palestinian owner of the roof, we went up to the roof with garbage bags and started cleaning. In the middle of this hot day. we were collecting history through the garbage, broken glass, and dust, and replacing it with seeds of love. On the roof we saw Ultra-Orthodox locals walking around us, trying to understand why a group of Palestinians and Israelis are smiling together. From the Muslim windows I saw faces of people who have seen too much pain, wondering what will happen now.Ahmed 3
But now the participants are already planning the next step. After getting permission, next week, a group of Graffiti artists, from both Israeli and Palestinian backgrounds, will come together to create graffiti for peace and tolerance. This will be only days before the Jerusalem national day, when hundreds of provocative and violent extremists will march in the Muslim quarter and will shout racist statements against Arabs and Islam. Our people hope that they will encounter this graffiti. The participants hope to use this location as a place where they can invite Jews, Christians and Muslims who want to live together to come to the roof, and to have dialogue and do change.ahmed 2

In addition to the two participants, 5 of their friends will join, each contributing their knowledge and their activism. The rest of the group will be involved in other kinds of activism. Today, walking on the roof of the old city, I felt proud. I love these two young men so deeply, and I am worried. Last week one of the main Palestinian activists for peace was murdered by Palestinians and we all know that he will not be the last. I pray God to keep alive and safe my amazing Dialogue to Action angels.