Fifteen Palestinian students from the West Bank and Fifteen Israeli students (from the Sapir College, Tel - Hai College, Universities of Haifa and Beer-Sheva), met at “Ohalo” College near the Sea of Galilee for a three-day seminar. We invited to the seminar new participants as well as Israelis and Palestinians who previously participated in jointed seminars arranged by the Parents Circle - Families Forum (PCFF) and Al-Tariq.
The unique cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians expressed itself throughout the project, starting with the preparatory stage, a joint steering committee, a joint process of designing the activities, recruiting the participants from Israel and from Palestine and the implementation on the ground.
On Sunday, August 16th, the group gathered at “Ohalo” and went through some acquaintance activities with Or Brant, the founder of “Mischak Hachaim” ("The game of life") organization. Or had previously conducted a workshop at the “Messengers of Reconciliation” Seminars, and once again managed to carry the group through a successful workshop. After the excellent activity, the group took a short walk along the Sea of Galilee and enjoyed a light dinner on the beach.
The second day of the seminar started with a Feldenkrais workshop, conducted by Tal Goldberg, a student from Sapir College. It is a very well known body-mind technique.
After a pleasant morning prologue, the group was divided in two: the first-timers watched the film "Behind the Intentions" – a 45 minutes film about the Parents Circle, its vision and message - and participated in a dialog meeting with Osama Abu-
Ayash and Nir Yesod; The more experienced participants went with Ariella Shainok and Mazen Faraj to learn and discuss the Continuation Theory - Soft Power Peace Building. The theory talks about a peace process as an attractive rather than enforcing process. It refers to three things that attract people to join the dialogue with the “other” and go through a peace and reconciliation process: culture, values, and benefits, that each party will produce future peace.
In the afternoon, after a meal and bathing in the Sea of Galilee, we had a Playback Theater workshop conducted by the “Kartoshkes” theater group. The performance is based on viewers telling their stories and experiences. These stories are the script for the theater group. Kartoshkes have previously participated in the PCFF members’ seminar with a great success. Guy Elhanan, a PCFF member is a member of this group as well. He also provides translation from Hebrew to Arabic and vice versa.
The participants told their stories and some of those stories were selected to be dramatized by the theater group: the stories of Samar, Anas, Reem and Nir's.
Reem told how she experienced difficulties in passing through the checkpoint on her way to the seminar. She said that all her personal belongings had to be placed aside while going through the checkpoint and only at the end of the check you are allowed to go back and collect your belongings. She put her bag as required and forgot to take out her permit. When noticed she wanted to return back to her bag. The soldiers shouted and one female soldier made a sound reminiscent of the sound used to scare a dog. The soldier looked at her with aggressive eyes and Reem immediately felt how her eyes are also becoming aggressive.
Samer described a situation from his childhood. Shots were fired from both sides where he lives. His family gathered together in an inner room. Samer's mother put her hands over his ears and told him that everything will be fine.
Anas said he went to Bethlehem with two friends and at three AM they wanted to return home to Jenin. Soldiers stopped them asking them to step out of their car. One of the friends is physically well built, but afraid of dogs. When he came out of the car he saw a dog. The dog approached him. Being frightened, he kicked the dog. One of the soldiers started kicking him, pointed his gun at him and ordered him to kiss the dog. The soldier’s counterparts finally stopped this. Anas' friends sat in the car fearing for their friend's life. After the friend was released and they continued driving, they began laughing silly laughter from the word "matata" which has no meaning.
When the theater group dramatized the story of Anas they decided that the protagonist will be the dog who observers the situation and at the end thinks whether to choose the side of the people or the dogs. Finally he chooses the side of the dogs.
After the break Nir, one of the workshop facilitators, shared with us two stories. He told us about his turning point regarding how to resolve the conflict, which took place in Gaza. At the time, he served there as a soldier. He saw children playing with what seemed to him as a dog or a cat. As he approached, he realised that it was a rat. Later, he spoke about his mother, Tzipi, who was killed when he was only 11 by a Katyusha missile fired by Palestinians at the place he lived in, a kibbutz on the Lebanese border named Misgav Am.
Later on, the “Kartoshkes” theater group continued with several exercises related to the role of the Messengers of Reconciliation in the future. The encounter with this particular theater group was exciting and painful but aroused optimism.
In the evening everyone gathered to play backgammon, cards and just be together. Games lasted until three in the morning.
The morning of the third day opened with a yoga class, conducted by one of the participants, Adi Diamond.
After this refreshing start, the group was divided into two circles, a Palestinian circle and an Israeli circle. Each group was asked to formulate questions for the other group. Each group was asked to address all the questions.
The Israeli group asked: • Do the Palestinians criticize themselves regarding their involvement in the peace process? Do Palestinians have a self-criticism?
• How do you think Israel should respond to terrorist attacks from Gaza on Sderot?
• What is your opinion about the Palestinians living in Israel - "1948 Palestinians"?
The Palestinian group asked:
• What is peace and what does it mean for both sides of the conflict?
• How do you perceive the Palestinian mother? Would you consider educating and raising your children in Palestine?
• You are in a situation where you can save a Palestinian's life. You know he killed one member of your family. What will you do?
The answers to the questions were given voluntarily by members of the group. This technique enabled the participants to view varied opinions for answering these questions and dismantle stereotypes even further. This process of growing trust undoubtedly enabled this session, also due to the fact it was relaxed and carried an accepting atmosphere. These hard questions were possible and people were open for discussion and listening.
The departure at the end was postponed due to the interest generated in the morning session and the summary session, which took more then two hours. Despite the desire of everyone to go home, they sat patiently listening tolerantly to one another.The participants expressed the transformation they went through during the seminar. Each of the participants, regardless of the starting point he or she came from, have all made a step further on the path to reconciliation. For some, it was their first face-to-face encounter with a Palestinian or an Israeli their own age. For some, it was a safe place where they could express their fear and anger and for others it was a place to ask difficult questions: addressing both themselves and the other group. They all said that the seminar, the encounters and the activities served as a great motivator to go further and seek activities they can join and create, to expand the circle of reconciliation and peace activists.
At the conclusion of the seminar we thanked the Anna Lindh Foundation for its Restore Trust, ReBuild Bridges project for making this seminar possible.
Photos: Uri Leshem