Turning Enemies into Friends

Sylvie Schapira writes about a charity based in Sussex called PeaceInsight ñ a new, peace education organisation for teenagers who come from Palestine and Israel.

The blight of humanity is to believe absolutely in the rightness of something and reject totally the other as wrong. Nowhere is this demonstrated more than in the way we feel about the Israel/Palestine conflict. It is time, surely, to look at other choices.

From another deeply wounded country, Bishop Desmond Tutu said: ‘There is no handy roadmap for reconciliation… No short cut or simple prescription for healing the wounds and divisions of a society in the aftermath of sustained violence. Creating trust and understanding between former enemies is a supremely difficult challenge. It is, however, an essential one to address the process of building a lasting peace. Examining the past, acknowledging it, understanding it and above all transcending it together, is the best way to guarantee that it does not ñ and cannot ñ happen again.’

In order to meet this challenge PeaceInsight, a charity dedicated to peace building, recently brought a group of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers together in England. The pilot group of 8 Palestinians and 8 Israelis, aged between 15 and 17 years, lived with each other for 24 hours a day for two weeks. The aim was to teach them how to dialogue together. This involved sessions on how to listen to each other with respect, hear each other’s stories and discuss the conflict without resorting to blame or abuse.

The students found it hard at first but this particular form of education works. Around the middle of the second week they bonded. They shared experiences that they would never have been able to back home. They also did other summer camp activities together, worked on combined projects, played football, danced to music, went sightseeing and met English students from a local comprehensive school.
If funding permits, PeaceInsight will invite the group back next year to continue the second part of the programme: negotiation, mediation and leadership skills. The objective is to enable the young adults to work together towards peace in their own country. If they are able to normalise communication, play and be together in England, then they have a much better chance of doing so back home.

The Hague Agenda for Peace & Justice for the 21st century firmly states: ‘A culture of peace will be achieved when our citizens of the world understand global problems, have the skills to resolve conflicts, struggle for justice non-violently, live by international standards of human rights and equity, appreciate cultural diversity and respect the Earth and each other. Such learn-ing can only be achieved with systematic education for peace.’

Shai, a 16-year-old participant from this year’s programme, lives on a kibbutz near Haifa, the largest city in Northern Israel. He writes:
‘The camp was great! We were in a boarding school in Sussex, which was a positive break from our regular life. People from other lands cannot understand that we people, from Israel and Palestine, never meet each other ñ although if you look on a map, you can see that we live very close.The issue of being able to meet the other side is very important.

‘The situation in our area is very hard. PeaceInsight gave us the first answer to our conflict. I developed my skills in listening and under-standing the others. I learnt that, for some reason, we have a circle of terror-army-terror-army. We, the young people of tomorrow, need to break the cycle. Our first steps were made with PeaceInsight.

‘This experience has turned me into another person, a better one. Since we came home, we have been keeping in touch with emails and through FaceBook. From this project, I have learnt that we have a partner for true Peace.’

Meera, another participant, is a 17-year-old student, who lives in Jerusalem. She says: ‘It is rare for two groups of young people caught in a conflict, who see each other as enemies, to come together. We spent 14 days side by side, not only discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict but also trying to understand the other side’s perspective ñ to find some common ground upon which both sides could agree.

‘Taking part in the camp has helped me in ways I never imagined. New experience and knowledge has encouraged me to surmount many of the obstacles I was faced with in Palestine. I was finally able to face my worst fear, which was to stand up to an Israeli and say everything I have always been afraid to say. At the end of the day, I was able to let my Palestinian voice be heard and defend my rights.

‘I had the most memorable and wonderful time of my life there. It enabled me to achieve what had seemed impossible, to look at my enemy in a different way, to see him as another human being and become close friends. My thanks and appreciation go out to all the wonderful staff who helped us along the way to achieve our goals.’

Contact: Sylvie Schapira,
PeaceInsight Director, Barnards, Twineham Lane, Twineham, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH17 5NP
Tel: +44 (0)1444 881032
Website: www.peaceinsight.org

Photos: © PeaceInsight

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