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Kids4Peace responds to controversy about Palestinian flag at camp

“These are the partners for peace – the new generation of leaders – that so many on both sides have been hoping for.”

Fr. Josh Thomas
Executive Director, Kids4Peace International

Earlier this week, a group of Kids4Peace youth was privileged to visit Camp Solomon Schechter near Seattle, Washington.

They included Jewish, Christian and Muslim, Israeli, Palestinian, and American teens from Jerusalem and our local Seattle chapter.  They came to share the stories of their lives, and their work together for peace.  It was a powerful few days of learning and dialogue, which my colleague Jordan Goldwarg describes on the Kids4Peace blog.

During the visit, the camp raised the Palestinian flag alongside the American and Israeli flags, as a gesture of welcome to all of our visiting youth.  Since then, many have loudly criticized that decision, while others have supported it as a step toward peace.

To some, the Palestinian flag evokes the failure of past negotiations, continued hostility toward Israel, and a feeling that there is no partner for peace.  At the same time, the Palestinian youth who came to camp are precisely those peace leaders who are reaching out to work with Israelis, to counter incitement, and build a new future on a foundation of mutual respect and understanding.  These Muslim and Christian youth are also part of the Palestinian people, and they deserve only admiration and support.

Many say the two societies are not ready for peace.  In Kids4Peace we are working to change that.

We do not engage in superficial conversations that avoid hard issues. We are not naive about the challenges. Instead, we honestly address the histories and narratives of each side, the connection of both peoples to the land, and the daily realities they face because of the conflict.  We don’t do one-off workshops or feel-good encounters.  Ours is a long-term, year-round program of dialogue, leadership and action.  We speak about occupation and terror, about Zionism and the Nakba.  And we are committed to nonviolence.

In Kids4Peace, we work to empower the pro-peace voices in both societies.  In today’s Times of Israel, my colleague Meredith Rothbart, our Israeli Co-Director in Jerusalem, shares her own story as a religious Zionist working for peace alongside Palestinians who seek security, equality, dignity, and freedom for their people.  The young leaders of Kids4Peace, including those who visited Camp Solomon Schechter, are courageous activists.  Instead of blaming the other side for past failures, or giving in to the deadly cynicism that says nothing will ever change, these Israeli and Palestinian youth are taking responsibility for their future.

Together, they are educating their own societies toward peace.  These are the partners for peace – the new generation of leaders – that so many on both sides have been hoping for.

Unfortunately, most Americans and Israelis never encounter any pro-peace Palestinian voices.  Instead, their perspectives are shaped by painful past experiences, and media portrayals that reinforce negative views. But it is wrong to view all Palestinians as enemies of Israel or the Jewish people.  That’s why Kids4Peace came to camp in the first place.

We are grateful for leaders in the American Jewish community who are partnering with us to present a more balanced, mature, and honest picture of Israeli and Palestinian life today.  We are especially grateful for those who invite Palestinians to speak in their own words about their life, their struggles, and their personal and national aspirations.

Today, Kids4Peace in Jerusalem is a community of more than 500 families, from every part of the city.  With greater support, we can grow Kids4Peace to reach thousands more Jerusalem youth, and build a movement powerful enough to turn the tide of this conflict.

Fr. Josh Thomas
Executive Director, Kids4Peace International
@frjoshthomas | @kids4peace

Contact: info@k4p.org

Jill Levenfeld, Kids4Peace Jerusalem staff member

#Forward Together

What a feat it was for our feet to walk together this last Friday over four kilometers around the walls of the Old City as Kids4peace Jerusalem residents sharing  our stories, our histories and herstories too.

#Forward Together indeed, our Kids4peace community of over 100 leaders gathered, clad in colored shirts wearing our hashtag proudly.  We walked the walk and talked the talk; very aware of the fear and violence around us. We customized our own unique mini –pilgrimage so that we would be visible in the public sphere while sharing  our Palestinian and Israeli narratives. Together we stepped in and out of new and unfamiliar places walking out our stories. Because stories have legs, love, loathing, laughter and lots of life to carry. 

We encircled the entire circumference of the Old City by foot which takes about six hours (!) passing under all seven gates. That’s a lot of legwork and brainpower for our youth who remained engaged and curious. We were guided by four excellent tour guides, two Palestinians — Jalal and Samer, and two Israelis Hava and Alex. Each guide was responsible for a designated section, between specific gates, delving into  the history and perspective from his/her particular point of view.

“This was a very ambitious undertaking”, said Hava as we were walking. She had never led such a tour for a community like ours; of Israeli and Palestinian young leaders living in Jerusalem. Impressive youth  who care and who dare. Dare to engage with each other despite what their school friends might say. Their parents are equally brave supporting our work, and believing in the importance of taking our voices to the streets.

Walk about Zion,
go round about her,
number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
go through her citadels;
that you may tell the next generation that this is God,
He will be our guide for ever.
(Psalm 48:12-14)

The   Psalms has it right….This last Friday, we sure did

go round about her , considering well her ramparts ….and went through her citadels,”  as we felt the divine, learned and opened our eyes guided to new perspective.

Jalal, our first guide,  talked about the many political leaders who ruled over Jerusalem, how they entered the city, and how they left their influence. I thought to myself, if Kaiser Wilhelm is remembered today for his audacity in 1898 as he reshaped Jaffa Gate due to his height and large  helmet, then just imagine the  new gateways our creative Kids4peace young leaders will burst open.

As the light rail passed, some of our youth spoke about their  concerns riding the train. Why don’t the ticket machines get fixed in Shuafat the same way they are repaired in other parts of the city? Why isn’t there more security on the trains to make me feel safe?  How can we optimize the light rail as a space not just for travel together, but a chance for commuters to get off the train to wander into neighborhoods not familiar ?

Our K4P young leaders are doing that already. They learn and visit each other’s neighborhoods crossing the boundaries that separate us.

And the boundaries are many in our city. Samar, our second wonderful guide of the morning walked us to Damascus Gate while talking about the different neighborhoods within the walls. Approximately 36,000 residents live inside the Old City and their lives are not easy to navigate between the hordes of border police and tourists. He pointed out the Central Bus Station opposite the Gate asking the kids if they have ever been on one of the Palestinian buses? A separate transportation system where an Egged bus ticket would not get you far. Making us aware again of the complexity of  the multiple realities in Jerusalem.

Hava, our third  guide of the day, met us in the Kidron Valley as we watched Jerusalem’s diversity gather for prayer. Hundreds of Muslim men, from neighborhoods like Ras Al Amud, balanced folded prayer rugs on their shoulders as they ascend solemnly towards  Lion’s Gate, the entrance to Al Aksa for Jumu’ah Friday prayer. This is the same gate during the Six Day War that Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin came through in 1967 changing the status of Jerusalem. Below the Gate, we see Christian clergy and their pilgrims fill the Gardens of  Gethsemane in their colorful robes. Hava reminds us of the New Testament verse that as Jesus approached Jerusalem, and saw the city, He wept.

Tears blend with our histories at Lion’s Gate as our senses heighten. Each of these gates open up a chance for us to learn, see, and feel something new.

 Uncertainty awaits at the gate. Hava warned us as we approached Lion’s Gate, that we might not get permission from the Border Police to enter the Muslim Cemetery, our next stop.  But   Hashtag #Forward Together has its own momentum and power.  We enter, and learn about the Muslim burial traditions. Our dead in Jerusalem, Jewish and Arab, are separated geographically, like the living. The Kidron Valley serves as a separator between the Jewish burial on the Mount of Olives from the Muslims who are buried here under the Golden Gate. But our traditions run parallel when it comes to the afterworld. We need those parallels in THIS world, not just while we wait for the Messiah who is believed to come from the East, agreed by ALL of our traditions.

As we walk through the land of the dead, we hear clearly the Khutbah, Friday sermon at  Al Aksa  ( above our heads, as if coming from the heavens). I was walking in the Cemetery at that moment with  Mohammad (Joulani) but Mohammad the Prophet was ever present as we walked in the Yerushalayim Shel Mata (Jerusalem Below) aligned with the Yerusahalayim Shel Maal (Jerusalem Above). I asked Mohammad if he could translate  a bit of what was being said in the Khutbah.  A verse from the first chapter in the Koran was being quoted, which comingled nicely the vision of  our #ForwardTogether,

Sirat al mustaqim—Guide us (gently) to the straight path.

Along with our Muslim friends, we too at Kids4peace are in search of that straight path  and hope that we can continue to gently guide our community, even when the road is unpaved or unjust. #Forward Together

 

On Saturday slept late, as the kibbutz was quiet around us due to the Jewish Sabbath. All of the kids, especially the boys (!) helped  prepare our own breakfast outside. The entire group sat together at the table, we heard the Muslim blessing, and then we ate a breakfast of yogurt, tuna, cheeses, vegetables, and cornflakes. Before each meal this week, following the Kids4Peace tradition, we hear the blessing over the food from a different religion. It is always special to hear different blessings in different languages.

After the entire group helped clean up breakfast, we began our religious text study. We divided into smaller groups and read texts dealing with environmental justice from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faith traditions. We shared which texts we connected to most, and learned that all of the holy books include passages instructing us to take care of the world and the environment. We also discussed the concept of justice. Tarik Abu Hamed came to speak to the group about his experience. He is Palestinian and grew up in Zur Baher in Jerusalem, studied (3 degrees!) in Turkey, then returned and became Israel’s Deputy Chief Scientist. He works at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, located in Ketura. His story is incredibly inspiring, and we all learned from his story and the difficulties he overcame. He stressed the importance of cooperation over land and water, and between the different populations living here.

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Then, we had lunch in the kibbutz dining hall, followed by a long rest time and time to pack for Jordan, where we traveled on Sunday. After resting and packing, we started an amazing session where we built our own Kids4Peace Neighborhood. The kids were divided into pairs and given different responsibilities in creating the neighborhood – we had mayors, religious leaders, a town song writer, and pairs who were responsible for designing the roads, shopping centers, education, community center, environmental sustainability, and more. The kids first shared their own experiences from the neighborhoods they lived in, and learned more about each other and each other’s realities. Then they got to work to design a neighborhood that would include all the religions and peoples and would be culturally sensitive to Muslims, Christians, and Jews – and Israelis and Palestinians – living together. You can see pictures of the neighborhood below and be sure to check out the Kids4Peace Jerusalem Facebook Page to watch videos of the kids explaining their vision for a shared neighborhood.

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We were amazed and inspired by the kids’ vision for the future, and we hope that some day, we will lead the change to truly create a shared and tolerant neighborhood for everyone. In the meantime, we are off to Jordan to the EcoPark, to continue learning about “Our Land, Your Land, Whose Responsibility?”

 

Day #7

Today we experienced a new kind of NVC, we split up into two different groups according to language, Arabic and Hebrew, each group put on a play in their own groups language. It was interesting to see the cultural differences between the groups and the patience the kids had to work in both languages.

At our last NVC session the kids were asked about their personal experience in the program, Qais, was one of the first kids to answer “With these new tools of solving conflicts we can solve any conflict! including the Israeli Palestinian one”. Gessila added “If we try to approach the other and understand their needs we will find a solution that satisfies everyone”

After all these amazing experiences with the kids it was time to have some fun! The kids decided to put on a talent show! We were amazed by how many talents there are amongst our group. Starting with Meital and Leen who played piano together with a priceless harmony and ending with Sevan who amazed us with his Dj mixing skills.

It was a great day and an even better night!

Day #8

OMG! We cannot believe it is our last day at camp. 

We learnt how to make kites and waited for our parents to arrive. they finally arrived and we all hugged and told stories about camp!

At the end-of-camp party we enjoyed Ben&Jerry’s ice cream, donated to Kids4Peace, and Taboon pizza made by our Druze neighbors near Nes Ammim. 

We taught our parents how to make kites and brought them over to the beach in Acre to fly them. After a wonderful day we all headed back onto the bus to go back to Jerusalem-back home. 

While feeling emotional about leaving camp, one of the campers, Lior,  shared “I will miss you all so much, the camp was amazing and we had lot of fun”
Another camper, Karl, added:”It was a great experience and I made lots of friends during the camp and I wish we had time to stay here longer”!

We were all sad to leave, but all excited to come home to our families and friends!

It was truly a meaningful and fun week at camp!

Day #5

On day 5 we dove deep into trust building activities, an example of one was: the staff had to release their body and fall backward, the rest of the group had to be ready to catch the person who was falling!
It was amazing to see the trust in the eyes of the staff and kids!

We then gathered for our NVC practice session. Today we learned a little about empathy and experienced empathy by sharing each others stories and listening to each others fears and hopes. We learned how to form questions of NVC, learning how to ask about each others feelings, and supporting them by practicing empathy towards them. 

In our next NVC practice session we experienced choosing our own games and setting the rules for them as well. we learned how to use NVC while creating the game rules as well as during the game it self. These skills will not only help us in our peace work but in our everyday life as well.

When one of the campers, Yousef, was asked about his experience in this session he answered “It was interesting creating the game rules ourselves as well as being aware of what we did well and what we could have done better”. Another camper, Itai, added “I learned how I can support my friends in a sensitive way when they need help”. 

 

Day #6

Today was the trip we were most looking forward to! We took a day trip to Acre!

We got off the bus near Al-Jazzar mosque in Acre. We started our day, meeting our tour guide and watching a short movie about the wonderful city of Acre. With a lot of pride, our tour guide shared that he was born and raised in Acre, he taught us about the history of the city and shared stories from his childhood.  

Our guide led us on a tour of the underground city of Acre and then guided us through the ancient narrow passages of the underground city. Our Muslim kids and staff had the pleasure of attending the Friday Jum’aa prayer at the Al-Jazzar mosque. The rest of the kids and staff enjoyed exploring the Acre old city shuk. Later we headed down to the port where we sailed on a boat looking out to the beautiful view of the city from afar. 

We got back to Nes Amim just in time for the Jewish celebration of Shabbat!
After experiencing Kabbalat Shabbat and enjoying a big Shabbat dinner, we enjoyed a night of board games and sports!

Today was a big day, filled with culture, history, religion and beauty!

During closing of the day, Bassel, one of the campers shared “It was great to learn about the Jewish prayer, it is a great experience”

Maya added “I liked the trip today, I really enjoyed going to the shuk, learning about the city and being together”.

Day #3

Today we woke up early to leave for our trip to the Golan heights, we packed sandwiches and took a lot of water with us! We went on an amazing water hike. On the hike we all helped each other cross carefully over water streams and enjoyed the nature together.

After a wonderful and challenging water hike we listened to an explanation on what is happening in Syria right now. We discussed the different causes of the Syrian conflict, understanding the division of the different religious groups in syria. We looked at the beautiful landscape of the Syrian boarder and prayed for peace in this region and around the world!

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We sang our way back to camp, using words in Hebrew and Arabic.  

Meital was saying in Arabic to Tali “You are beautiful”!
And Basil was saying to Itai in Hebrew “I want to move to your school”!

WOW – their are so many different languages and subjects to talk about – We are learning so much!

Day #4

Today we left the camp to visit an unusual horse farm where we actually were not supposed to ride the horses. At the farm we learned how to work with the horses in a peaceful way. Through this experience we were able to learn how to be tolerant and understanding. Later we were given a tour of the farm, exploring the nature and learning more about each and every animal and the roll they play on the farm. 

While exploring the farm we were asked by our guide, “How do you think this tree is so well shaped, without having a Gardner that takes care of it?” after thinking together we got to the conclusion that the animals in the farm must eat leaves form the tree and that’s how it is shaped.

One of our Advisors asked if that reminds us of the Harmony that we have in Jerusalem. This was followed by a second question,”Will Jerusalem be Jerusalem if any of it’s religious or cultural groups disappear?” We heard a united loud answer from the kids, “No”!

Itai, a Jewish camper said “I can’t imagine Jerusalem without Muslims”and then Qais a Muslim camper replied with”I can’t imagine Jerusalem without Synagogues”…….

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After an amazing day of activities we returned back to camp and enjoyed a movie together in our own Kids4Peace theatre arranged by Nes-Ammim!!

It is sad to think it is almost over!

Day #1

Today is the first day at the local summer camp of leap in Nes-Ammim!

We all gathered in Jerusalem to head out to the North filled with excitement. On the bus we listened to both Arabic and Hebrew music, which helped us learn about each other’s culture. Especially when one of the Palestinian kids held the other on the shoulder and started singing a  Palestinian song which Palestinians usually sing at weddings “Zareef At-Tol”! 

After arriving at our camp location we started our very first activities, we played sports and participated in our first Non Violent Communication practice.

In our NVC practice (None Violent Communication) we learned more about the culture of the other. One great example was one that Maria shared with us, she learned that some of her Jewish friends have 2 names. One name that most of the people call them by and an additional middle name, usually named after grandparents or great grandparents. Maria shared:”This is all exciting and new information for me!”

Hallel, another camper added “My second name is Hana and I was given this name in memory  of my grandmother”. The kids learned about the meanings of the names and the reason why they were given these names.

It was really a wonderful first day! 

Day #2

Today we woke up early in the morning to play some sports and start our day in healthy style!

We then gathered all together to celebrate Meron’s birthday. Meron is a Jewish advisor who joined Kids for peace this year. We sang “Happy Birthday to you ” “Hayum Yom Huledet” and “Sana Helwa Ya Gamil”, the Happy Birthday song in all three languages (Arabic, Hebrew and English).

After that we participated in an artistic activity, learning how to use Henna and other materials to make temporary Tattoos. We had a wonderful time seeing how the staff members and the kids were interacting with each other.   Muslim Advisors tattooed the word “Hayat”in Arabic which means life.  

We participated in an excellent NVC practice, and had some really interesting comments from the kids. One that stood out was Ahmed’s comment:”I learnt that we should think about a solution for everyone and not think about the needs of only one group”. Another camper, Sheli, added:”Cooperation helps us do what we couldn’t do before, because now we thought out of the box. We need to learn how to think about alternative solutions”

We enjoyed Swimming and playing Olympic Sports! We held a competition in which the purple team won after hard work and cooperation!

The most important lesson the kids agreed on learning today is that cooperation is the key to success!

Stay tuned to hear more about camp!

Jerusalem Leap 2016!

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?

 

Brian SullivanBy the Rev. Brian Sullivan, President of Kids4Peace Atlanta.

As I am walking to my car about to leave Kanuga to prepare for the children to arrive in Atlanta, I had a familiar feeling.

I feel aspiration. It is the feeling I get when the actions of others cause me to take action.

Whereas, inspiration makes me think big thoughts, aspiration is a catalyst to make those thoughts a reality.

After 13 years of being involved with Kids4Peace, aspiration is the reason for our continued existence. People from all over the world have aspired to make Kids4Peace a reality.

People like you are what make Kids4Peace possible. You know Kids4Peace is about children coming together to see one another for who they are, not what they are. Kids4Peace makes space for simple questions, to get simple answers, but it also about experiencing the complex meanings behind those answers. What could me more simple than a child asking a new friend at the dinner table, “Why can’t you eat that?” The simple answer is, “because scripture says I can’t eat it.” But at Kids4Peace we are also exploring the more complex meaning, which is “because this makes me who I am.”

In today’s society we like clear answers, and Kids4Peace is giving us those answers along with the complex meanings.

Kids4Peace is a community of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim children. We are from the United States and Palestine/Israel. We love to play soccer, draw pictures, share thoughts, paddle canoes, and hike trails. We are also surrounded with conflict, confusion and sometimes violence.

However, by coming together and respecting the complexity of who we are, Kids4Peace is making peace a daily reality.

Clearly Kids4Peace is an inspiration. But the reason you are reading this has more to do with the fact that you want to be inspired. Whether you are reading this as a leader of your own chapter, volunteer at a camp this summer, or JUST AS IMPORTANT a financial supporter; I hope that you take action to help Kids4Peace remain one of the most aspirational programs many of these children will ever experience.