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.
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.
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.
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.
After 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.
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.