Project #3967

Youth Encounters at the School for Peace

by American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam
The Dabke Dance
The Dabke Dance

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.”

SFP-Youth Encounter Youth Program
SFP-Youth Encounter Youth Program

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.”

SFP Youth
SFP Youth
youth engaged in dual-dialogue.
youth engaged in dual-dialogue.

Following the most recent Youth Encounter Workshop at the School for Peace, Jewish and Palestinian high school students are now taking part in a 10-day mission to Italy to meet with Italian high school youth.

The encounter participants will be joined by Jewish and Arab young adults from Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, a Peace dialogue facilitator and an Arab teacher from Nazareth High School. Funded by Caritis, this additional session will give the encounter participants the ability to strengthen their relationships with each other and enable them to continue modeling what is possible during the coming year. The trip also focuses on developing a deeper understanding of Arab-Jewish relations along with their Italian counterparts.  

During the summer, the School for Peace also conducted an international encounter for young adults from the United States who had come to Israel to learn about Arab-Jewish relations and the roots of the conflict.

These three and four day youth encounters will continue during the upcoming school year, and often mark the first step in coming to know someone from “the other side”.  Through the encounters young people learn to honor their own identity while respecting the identity of others, and open a dialogue with and an understanding for the "other" which they carry with them well beyond the encounter.

Two Peoples Write from Right to Left
Two Peoples Write from Right to Left

This summer, the School for Peace has embarked on a new program to engage high school teachers who for years have been escorting students to NSWAS for youth encounters, without the opportunity to participate in the dialogue themselves. The new program, "Two Peoples Read from Right to Left," gives teachers the tools to expose their students to the life of the "other" and to develop tolerence, acceptance and respect for the culture of other culture. The program uses the SFP’s 2012 anthology, Two Peoples Write from Right to Left, which was developed over nearly twenty years of encounter workshops hosted by the School for Peace, and includes carefully-selected poems and stories in Hebrew and Arabic, which epitomize the separate realities of the two peoples. 

Teachers will participate in two three-day bicultural workshops. The first meeting will take the form of an encounter workshop, enabling each participant to explore the Arab Jewish conflict through the personal experiences of the participants in the group, and to examine the asymmetric power relations between Jews and Arabs, issues of racism, inferiority and superiority and more. The second three-day workshop will be devoted to literature, with teachers will modeling the teaching of stories and poems from the other nationality to the group. Participants from the other group will observe and then have an opportunity to give feedback and discuss the work further. 

This new program aims to take the work of the Youth Encounters back into high school classrooms, influencing the teachers' daily work at school and the perceptions they pass on to their students. The participants will gain the skills and confidence to teach the literature of the "other" in their curricula, and make this a more integral part of their lessons.  And next year, these teachers will also be able to escort their students to the youth encounter workshops in Neve Shalom/Wahat-al-Salam in a more meaningful way, giving them the support they need to keep working towards peace and understanding beyond their encounters.

School for Peace Youth Encounters

            It is a source of pride for those Jewish and Arab high schools in Israel that make a commitment to preparing for a four day residential encounter with “the other side” held at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam.  This winter, two groups of 55 students each worked with the issues of ignorance, stereotyping, histories and fears.  Recent (December 2012) violence between Israel and Gaza had resulted in postponement of one of the workshops.

            Two months later than planned, the Arab and Jewish students shared personal stories, experiences of discrimination, minority status, power relations, national identity, national/ civil rights and service and army service. With the guidance and support of eight Jewish and Arab facilitators, the encounter focused then on four areas: the nature of the state, education, symbols and ceremonies and historical justice and reconciliation.

            Students from  Makif Givat Brenner, Galilee School Nazareth, El Hitma School- Sakhnin don’t expect to change their world just yet, but they left the encounter with the skills to broaden their relationships and expand their vision of what’s possible. At the end, students wrote to one another; the following quote from one expresses the sentiments of many: "The meeting gave me the feeling that I want to know you more, I want to meet on a regular basis and I wanted us to act together.“ 

That sounds like a plan for the future that we can all support!


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Organization Information

American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam

Location: Glendale, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Abir Elzowidi
Operations Manager
Glendale, California United States

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