Adnan Abu Rmalieh was born in an Arab neighborhood in the old city of Jerusalem and from an early age, he experienced the violence brought on by the conflict in his area. His parents were told to leave their neighborhood but refused, and because of their courage, their house became a target for hand grenades. Only then did his family leave, fleeing for their lives. Adnan is officially registered as a Palestinian refugee and noted sadly that “we ended up as refugees in our own hometown.”
Adnan worked to get an education however, graduated from Bersic university in the West Bank and received a masters in teaching English as a foreign language. Adnan is currently married with six children and teaches English as a second language in Jerusalem where he has been teaching for twenty years.
Adnan first became involved with missions for peace in 1988 with a program between Jerusalem and France. In this program, Palestinian and Jewish kids went and met the French. Adnan described the experience as one of exchange but without dialogue. Through this involvement, he saw that
“it is possible to talk to others, to travel with others and to just have fun. We always have the idea of Israelis as occupiers but at the basic human level, we have a lot of fun and a lot of interests.”
After this experience, Adnan “kept looking for opportunities to do it again” and found his opportunity in 2006. He was offered to become a chaperon of Peaceittogether in Canada, which took ten Palestinian and ten Israelis for three weeks of filmmaking. He also was involved in PeacecampCanada in 2007, though this program soon ended.
Last year, Adnan made the decision to join Kids4Peace as a Palestinian Muslim advisor. He went during the summer to the Boston camp and saw that “the people in Kids4Peace are really sophisticated people.”
Speaking with regard to his past experiences with peace initiatives, Adnan described to me that he saw “no hidden agenda” in Kids4Peace and that it was “more like a family” than he had experienced before. This summer, Adnan participated with the New Hampshire Vermont Camp, and at this camp, he made an important observation.
“Very often, I look at the kids from far away. I know who is Muslim, who is Christian and who is Jew. But when you look at them from far away, you cannot tell. All are walking side by side, laughing together, hugging each other and playing together. Who’s who? You can never tell.”
“This is the kind of moment that gives me pleasure to see all these kids as equals. These people have been fighting for so long and now they are together. No one is patronizing each other, no mistreatment, no prejudice. They have been hearing so many stereotypes but they realize that they are talking to another human being who is worth being heard, and being felt.”
I also asked Adnan why he thought this organization, and other peace organizations, find it so useful to involve kids.
“You get honesty from kids which is not found say when adults are around the negotiating table. Adults have their own agendas, and so many things to think of…very often they are not interested in the real or actual thing. But when you leave it to kids, kids make it work because they want to play, have fun and talk. What is on their mind is immediately said on their tongues. Sometimes its not their homeland’s interest that they are looking out for but with kids it is the simplicity and honesty that they have in their behavior.”
Adnan additionally shared with me his thoughts on the future and on improvements for the program. He explained that the Jerusalem staff undergoes extensive training and spends quite a bit of time with their camp kids before sending them to camp. “What I would like to see work better is that the US staff goes through the same training and hold the same kinds of meetings that we do.” In general, training “helps a lot…because you come to know how to deal with kids and what to expect.”
Adnan also expressed for me his satisfaction with the Kids4Peace organization saying, “I hope to continue with this program because I am so comfortable. I don’t feel pressured or pushed around.”