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!
This summer School for Peace Director Ahmad Hijazi and his son Adam were killed in a car accident while traveling in Africa. It was a terrible loss to the School for Peace and Neve Shalom – Wahat al Salam. Ahmad was my working partner for the last 20 years, a great partnership that I will miss every day every day of my life. The pain of his loss is beyond words that can tell. Ahmad was fully dedicated to peace and equality between the Jews and Arabs. He was a leader of peace, a gifted educator and a man of all people. His influence opened eyes, broadened horizons and shaped inspiration for both Arab and Jewish participants and facilitators.
In September Dr. Nava Sonnenschein was appointed, for the coming three years, as the Director of the School for Peace by the board of the non-profit. We are dedicated to continuing Ahmad’s work and had a special memorial meeting for the 3 courses for change agents that Ahmad was involved with. We at NS/WAS also had the memorial service for him and his son. We at the SFP feel that we must continue the vision we had dreamt together with dear Ahmad.
Last year the SFP published an anthology of Israeli & Palestinian writers (short stories & poems) "Two People Write from Left to Right in both Languages Arabic and Hebrew”. This anthology can now benefit the youth programs as we begin a literature teachers’ training programs. Teachers from both sides will be able to use this book in their school systems. We hope to train Israeli & Palestinian teachers from Israel and from Palestine together with the Future Generation Hands Association from Nablus Palestine.
The School for Peace always follows up its youth encounters with meetings at the schools after a few months. We happy to share some of what came out after one of our encounters with you, who have helped make this encounter for Jewish and Palestinian high-schoolers possible:
Students of Givat Brenner remembered the workshop very well and talked about it as a significant, empowering, and thought-provoking experience. Some of them mentioned that, after the workshop, they suddenly were much more conscious of issues involving the relations of Jews and Arabs in Israel. Some of them talked bout how this influenced the way they studied and analyzed materials for their history matriculation exam (bagrut). In general, the workshop created a desire to continue to learn about the other group, to conduct additional meetings and get to know the other culture better.
At Aljalil School in Nazareth, students came out of the meeting with a sense of moral power and a deeper view of the conflict. Moreover they emphasized the encounter's advantage as a framework facilitating this sort of dialogue of equals. In their opinion, this is a framework that gives legitimacy to political discussions without fearing the outcome. One of the girls expressed this very well, saying: "Where could we talk to them about this on the street, or in a dress shop? There is no place as appropriate as this workshop."
Recently, there have been two youth encounter workshops. In addition, we conducted a uninational workshop for Jewish students. The School for Peace is gradually shifting its activities from the classic youth encounter model to longer and more serious activities. This is only partly due to a lack of available funding for this kind of activity: another factor is that in the current political atmosphere, in which young people express widespread pessimism, rightward swing, growing racism and lack of interest in the other side, it becomes harder to conduct a substantive short-term encounter according the classic format. The following two projects are examples of longer-term youth activities that we are now attempting to develop.
A Youth Environmental Leadership Project, funded by the United Nations Development Program, is continuing, with the most recent workshop taking place in May. The project engages six schools in Israel and the Palestinian authority.
A Human Rights Project for Youth, supported by a 15,000 Euro grant from the Dutch Friends of NSWAS to conduct a youth leadership project in human rights, will hopefully take place at the beginning of the 2012 – 2013 school year (we are currently making contact with schools). The plan is to work with a group of about 20 Jewish and Arab students who will lead the project in 2 – 4 high schools.
At the end of February and in early March, thanks to support from donors like you, the School for Peace will organize two new youth encounters for students from Nazareth and Givat Brener, and from Tel Aviv and Afola.
Each high school will send 30 participants, accompanied by two teachers (a man and a woman), so there will be 60 participants for each workshop. In preparation for the encounter, a senior facilitator from the School for Peace will meet students and their teachers at the school and introduce them to the workshop.
The youth encounter workshops are life-changing experiences for the young Jews and Palestinians who participate and they very often provide the youth with their first opportunity to meet the "other side."
We are so grateful for the help you provided to make these workshops happen and we'll make sure to keep you updated in the coming months!
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