During the conflict in Gaza, for the safety and comfort of the participants, it was decided by both Tawasul and the School for Peace that the continuation of the cross-border encounters course would be postponed for a short period. The program started up again this past October. The Journalist Writers Foundation award will fund the SFP and Tawasul to organize an additional encounters course after the conclusion of this current course.
Most recently, the School for Peace has been expanding its partnerships with both Israeli and Palestinian organizations to ensure steady growth and expand its impact. It has been setting up regional forum meetings in Nazareth, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem for past graduates of the School for Peace encounter programs to meet and work on their own projects together. Resulting projects from these meetings include working with young Arab women as they transition from villages into the university lifestyle, and empowering Arab student unions. Other impressive graduate achievements include Dr. Nissim Avissar’s published book that was inspired by the mental health professionals’ course, and Elinor Amit’s course at Harvard that is based on the SFP method of working with groups in conflict.
In June, Dr. Nava Sonnenschein was invited to Turkey to take part in the competition for the prestigious Journalists Writers Foundation award. The School for Peace was one of 1,179 organizations, from 107 countries, competing for the 10 prizes that were awarded. The foundation has set its goal as promoting the idea of coexistence through understanding among the masses. JWF is a non-governmental organization in general consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
The prize is intended to “support innovative conflict resolution and peace building projects focused on preventing, managing and resolving violent conflict and promoting post-conflict peace building”. It will fund a joint project of the School for Peace and Tawasul in Ramallah which will teach 60 Palestinian and Jewish literature teachers to teach the literature of the “other”.
Congratulations Dr. Nava Sonnenschein!
Not just anybody can bring Jewish and Palestinian youth together to engage in dialogue, role play, and the forming of a shared commitment to peaceful action. The Youth Encounter Workshops at require properly trained and committed facilitators.
Which is why the School for Peace runs intensive, four-month-long facilitator training programs. The most recent one came to a close in February: 15 participants (6 Arab and 9 Jewish participants) completed the course, which was led by Dr. Nava Sonnenschein, director of the School for Peace, and psychologist Wasim Birumi.
The participants attended lectures, received academic reading material, and had intense group discussions on aspects of the Jewish-Arab conflict and the role their own identities plays within it.
They also learned the skills needed for reaching out to groups in conflict through peer facilitation — the very work that is done in the Youth Encounter Workshops. During the training course, participants kept a diary on their experiences and analyzed the process they went through.
These newly trained facilitators began the course with different levels of experience in the field of conflict resolution, yet they all left with an enlarged awareness of the issues of the conflict, their own identities, and a greater skill set to drawn on when working with groups in conflict.
One Arab participant said, “The workshop clarified my own identity and belonging to my people. I am happy and proud that I made this important step in my life. Through this course, I became more knowledgeable and feel a responsibility to my people. Today I am more committed to help them strengthen their identity.”
And a Jewish participant said, “I feel the course is the beginning of a long journey. The first part has exposed me to many voices, feelings, information. I want to re-examine what I have learned and how I previous perceived the situation. I have new eye glasses for seeing our reality in Israel. My view on the conflict between the two people has widened.”
The latest Youth Encounter Workshop, which took place over three days last December, was a dynamic, lively, and inspiring meeting of 62 Arab and Jewish high-school students. It was the most successful youth workshop yet in this keystone program of the School for Peace at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam.
30 Arab and 32 Jewish participants engaged in open dialogue, games, and simulations designed to make each group more aware of how the other group lives, how they see themselves, and how they are seen by each other.
The first day was devoted to getting to know one another in the three small groups. The students discovered that they have much in common. The atmosphere was one of positive curiosity. For many of the youth, it was the first encounter with the “other.”
It was on the third day that the political dialogue began in earnest. Much of the session consisted of individuals from each group sharing personal stories. These candid dialogues can sometimes be uncomfortable, but in the end, each group felt stronger and wiser for having spoken their minds and hearts.
And, when it was all over, the Palestinian youth taught the Jewish youth the Dabke, a traditional Arab folk dance (pictured above).
As one of the Arab participants told us later, “The encounter was important to both sides. [The Jewish group] listened to us and we listened to them. We had arguments, but it is natural. The encounter was a wonderful idea we learned a lot. We want peace, independence, and equality.”
It’s through such dialogue — an essential component of the Youth Encounter Workshops — that participants generate forward-thinking ideas that are designed to stimulate more dialogue. This group put forth the idea that at official ceremonies and events, three national anthems be played: one Jewish, one Palestinian, and a common anthem about equality.
As one Jewish participant said later, “I had an amazing experience that I will not forget. The dialogue caused me to understand that the situation is not simple at all, but I understood much better your situation. I hope a day will come when coexistence will be possible and we will reach a compromise and peace.”
The Ongoing Impact of the Youth Encounter Program
The School for Peace at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam continues to build on, and be inspired by, the work done in last February’s Youth Encounter workshops among high-school students from Arab and Jewish schools.
Although the workshops had to be delayed due to a flare up of violence in Gaza, the students came into the experience that much more energized and curious. There were frank discussions about Jewish and Palestinian national identities, and no opinions were withheld when it came to, for instance, Israel’s compulsory military service.
But it was because of discussions like these that the young participants were able to find plenty of common ground as they engaged in simulated peace negotiations. The atmosphere was euphoric as the students came up with creative and practical ways by which their two peoples could live and thrive together.
“I wish we could meet each other more,” said one of the Jewish students. “I want to educate the children I work with in the youth movement to be pro-peace.”
And an Arab student was similarly inspired: “I could understand you and I felt that you understood me. I hope you will be able to help us get out of the difficult situation we are in and that we will live in peace and equality.”
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