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.”
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