An Island of Sanity
Fifty Israeli and Palestinian young people, some from families that have lost loved ones to the conflict, came together for a summer camp from July 13 to July 17, 2012, accompanied by ten Israeli and Palestinian staff people.
Waiting for the bus
The tension was rising, creeping in on the first day of camp as the Israeli youths waited almost three hours in Tel Aviv for the Palestinians. They had been held up at the checkpoint, which is especially crowded on Friday mornings.
PCFF summer camps have been taking place for the past nine years and represent an island of sanity that operates within the reality of the conflict and the Occupation. Heightening tensions, the delay of the Palestinian group at the checkpoint even led one camper to ask if she could give up and go home.
As they waited, one of the Israelis said, "We're definitely gonna sit separately when the bus comes - Israelis on one side and Palestinians on the other."
Shortly after the bus arrived, the youths had already gotten to know one another and remained intermingled for the duration of the camp. "From the beginning you could see how curious they were to know one another," said Dana Wegman, Israeli director of the camp. "Every night we had to force them to go to bed. It was hard to get them to separate; they were just too excited."
After they arrived and settled down, the youths were split up into three groups, each of which featured an Israeli counselor and a Palestinian counselor. Some of the activities included all campers, and some - like an activity in which participants were asked to use nonverbal communication to sketch their life journey in symbols and shapes - took place within the groups.
The camp directors, Osama Abu Ayash and Dana Wegman - both PCFF members, told their personal stories about the process they went through until choosing the path of peace and reconciliation. That meeting was followed by an activity called "Walls Speak," in which counselors hung from the walls newspaper pages on which they wrote phrases expressing different emotions. In response to the question "What angered you?", someone wrote: "That both sides add to the cycle of revenge, whether it's the one who started or who keeps it going." In response to the question "What struck a chord with you?", someone wrote: "Despite the pain on both sides and the loss of someone dear, people keep searching for peace."
G-Town, Movement, and Capoeira
Yonit and Alon Yudelevich, brother and sister, came to lead workshops on movement (Yonit) and on capoeira (Alon). They were joined by Fadi and Muhammad from the band G-TOWN, a rap group from the Shuafat Refugee Camp, who led a rap workshop.
The group could not stop laughing during Yonit's movement workshop. For their part, Fadi and Muhammad explained what rap is and wrote a song with the young people.
After finishing the workshops, the entire group assembled for a capoeira dance and song circle with Alon. It was difficult to break up both the tight-knit circle and the sweeping excitement. The artists, having connected strongly with campers, joined them to hang out by the kibbutz swimming pool.
In the evening, the group was divided into two circles - Israelis in one and Palestinians in the other. The goal was to allow people to speak freely, relieved of the need for translation, and to share what they are afraid to say to the other side. Some children could not understand why they needed to be split up, and others - the Israeli Druze - felt as they belonged to both groups. The connection they had forged had become so strong that being together now felt natural and the separation to which we are so accustomed, seemed rather artificial.
The next day, the group travelled to the Sahne, a hot spring in the Galilee, for a half-day of swimming and lounging on the grass. One significant activity at the Sahne was a set of games led by the counselors intended to create trust. The games, which took place in pairs, involved one member in some way guiding the other - who closed his or her eyes, was blindfolded, would simply imitate the movements of the first member, etc. The results were mixed, with some groups getting alone fine and some finding it difficult to transition between playing the roles of dominant and passive..
What is our story?
In one activity, the group split up into pairs. Each group received an activity kit, crayons and newspapers with which they created a collage that told the life story of both group-members and asked whether their stories were similar, parallel, congruent, unrelated, etc. Madj, a Palestinian, and Romi, an Israeli, made a picture about their common denominator - losing an uncle to the conflict. Itamar and Hana drew the summer camp as a unifying place, while Roey and Bashir imagined a football match between Israel and Palestine in which the score is -1 for Israel and -1 for Palestine. Their message was unequivocal: in the conflict, everyone is a loser.
Making artwork together was very meaningful for the young people. It was incredible to see how much they shared, how deeply they had connected, how they had become able to accept difference and how they had acknowledged one another's personal and national narratives.
Juggling with Yuval and Tal
Yuval Roth and Tal Ginat are well-known to the PCFF. Yuval is a long-time PCFF member and, among other pursuits, performs with Tal Ginat in an "Especially Entertaining Juggling Act."
One of our camp counselors, Rami Alyan became our official translator, not resting for a minute as he managed to translate all of Tal's jokes plays-on-words quickly and sharply. It became a recurring scene at the camp to see two young people approach Rami asking him to translate for them one to the other. Always happy to help, Rami was one of the primary means of dealing with the language barrier.
Down-time at the kibbutz and a shake-up in Akko
On the last night in the kibbutz, the youths met up their peers in the kibbutz for a free party on the grass with music and games. The kibbutz youth felt it was too bad they only had a chance to meet the PCFF youth on their last day in Beit Alpha. Accordingly, the meeting ended with hugs and exchanging Facebook pages.
The beach was a focal point for many Palestinians, who had never visited it. It was stirring to see one of the young Palestinian men seeing the beach for the first time and almost crying with joy.
Despite the heat and the taxing experiences, the counselors managed to assemble the group for a seaside competition between boys and girls. Each group was given a series of tasks, such as forming the word "peace" with their bodies, building a sandcastle, dressing up as the opposite sex, and others. The girls won.
Upon arriving at the café in the beautiful and charming Galilean town of Klil, the group atmosphere changed distinctly - with a drumming workshop on percussion instruments from around the world that led into the last evening.
The combination of the scorpions littering the ground, the bonfire and - especially - the spirit of the last night of camp made the environment too emotion-filled for sleep.
The next morning, the group concluded the camp. During the concluding remarks, the young people spoke mostly about strategies for passing on the message of the camp, such as talking about the camp at school, learning the other side's language, keeping in touch, etc.
A significant addition to the 2012 camp was a planned meeting with the campers' parents. The parents joined in the last activity, which began with a meal at the Al-Babour Restaurant and continued with a shared visit to the Umm al-Fahem Art Gallery. Their brief tour of the exhibits was followed by the closing ceremony, in which parents saw pictures and videos and heard about the camp from their children. A proposal that next year's camp take place in the Palestinian Authority met with uproarious applause. The parents were very moved, with one saying to the group: "You've done a great job succeeding at something that we could not. You are the future!"
The campers, now a number of weeks past the camp, have held on the powerful connections they formed, as seen on the camp's still-active group on Facebook. The group has decided that it cannot wait an entire year and is already planning its next meeting, which will take place at the end of August.
We thank the amazing counselors who gave of themselves above and beyond and stayed up at night: Muhammad Al-Bau, Dagan Lavran, Iman Mustafa, Tsahi Avinoam, Rami Aliaan, Noa Israeli, Allaa Asa, Talia De Vries.
We thank the campers who were amazing, mature, sensitive and wise and who made the camp so meaningful.
Alon Yudelevich - Capoeira
Yonit Yudelevich - Meeting and Moving
Muhammad and Fadi of the rap group G-TOWN
Yuval Roth and Tal Ginat - Circus workshop
Drum circle - Amir
Doron - Counselor in Akko
Miki Alon - Videographer
Youth House counselor at Kibbutz Beit Alpha - Lior Ben Rey
We especially thank Dana Wegman and Osama Abu Ayesh for their efforts at building and administering a wonderful camp.
We thank Persula Foundation for funding the camp.
We thank Martin Buber group-Jews for Peace, Rome Italy, headed by Giorgio Gomel for funding the activity with the parents.