The last time I went as a camper was in Atlanta, 8 or 9 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was an amazing experience that really exceeded my expectations. I learned so much, and it helped my personality develop. We have all this conflict between Jews, Christians, and Muslims here in Jerusalem, and the experience taught me to accept everyone.
It’s not that the conflict is between only Muslims and Jews, it’s more between Arabs and Israelis. I never felt left out of the conversation. The media often triggers tension by focusing on religious differences, but that’s not always how it is. Living here, you see it. There is also conflict between Christians and Muslims, but less often because we feel as though we are one united nation.
When you speak about peace anywhere in the West Bank, people will say, “We’ve been talking about peace for 60 years and we haven’t seen anything different.” People are tired of talking about peace, they want action, they want all that’s been said to be done.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. You’ll almost never get an older person to believe there will be peace. When you work with young kids whose minds are open and who want to learn, they learn from their surroundings and their personalities are built through what they see on TV, what their families think and what their parents say. So when you teach those kids that peace and harmony is possible between conflicting parties, they grow up and teach their children who then teach their children and so on. Just one child taught about peace can get excited, interested, and serious about the matter can make a real change.
My family descended through the Armenian genocide. What happened to us then was not easy, and what we are going through now as Palestinians is also not easy. As a Christian we have to forgive, but not forget. It’s stressful having that history, all the torture and evil things my ancestors experienced. It’s not easy, but for now we have to learn to get along and hope for the best.
Kids learn everything from their surroundings, their parents, and especially the media. I never thought I’d have Jewish friends. All the talk is about how they’re treating Arabs badly, killing them in cold blood. As a 12 year old kid, you just get the wrong idea. At first participating in K4P was a little hard, but then I started to notice those kids are exactly like me aside from language and religion. I was then able to accept Jews and realized there is no bad nation, just bad individuals.
At a meeting before we left to Atlanta, there was a guy called Amichai, and we started to become close friends. I was trying to talk in Hebrew so the Jewish families could understand better, even though there was an interpreter—I wanted to be challenged. Amichai came over to me as I was speaking some in Hebrew and some in English and he starts helping me remember certain words. That was the moment I thought, “Wow, this guy is nice. I like him, and he’s not as bad as I thought he was.”
A few years ago I was asked to become a leader in K4P. I was very excited when I learned that Michal was going to be the girls’ leader. We had been at the same camp in 2004, and stayed in touch. So to see how the kids were learning and interacting, it brought us back to how we were. We never realized any of it would matter in the future, but having that history with each other really helped us both.
I go to Bethlehem University in the West Bank. Conflict comes up every single day, especially coming and going, dealing with the checkpoints. There are many conflict related topics to study at school as well. It’s sad to say but I wouldn’t see an organization like K4P as very popular at my school. Even my close friends think that what I’m doing with the organization is a waste of time. They tell me, “You know it, I know it, there will never be peace.” But deep down inside I like to hope and pray for peace worldwide.
Business wasn’t my first choice as a major, I always wanted to be a pilot or engineer. Flying planes as a Palestinian person, especially after 9/11, is nearly impossible. My father owns a business, and any job in the world requires business, medical or anything else. So I thought that was a wide goal for me, and after I get my BA I can decide if I want to go in a particular direction. My dream is to make what my father built—a travel agency—bigger and stronger by widening the horizon with new partnerships, and see what happens from there.
Communication is so important. I try to keep in touch with K4P alumni to see how they are doing, where they are in life, how they are progressing. Even just a 5 minute check-in goes a long way. These relationships are built stronger by communication.
Having K4P in my life really changed me, I never thought I’d be the man that I am today. Back when I was a kid I had thoughts about revenge, and I have experienced an amazing 180 degree change—I’m really happy. I have hope and faith that there will be peace, maybe not my generation or my kids’, but we have to work for it and teach our kids the right way.
I’m interested in recruiting for K4P, helping to grow our diversity. We’re not teaching religion, it’s the door we come through to teach kids peace. I consider us farmers, planting peace seeds in the kids’ hearts and we can grow with them, teach them how to stand up straight so in the end they will be fruitful with their children and grandchildren.
This interview has been edited and condensed.