Friday, July 19, 2002
A New Initiative for the Middle East
Fifty-three years ago, Americans heard those words for the first time in a new musical called South Pacific. Today, they still resonate in the social fabric of our society and of the world. In the beleaguered Middle East, families live every day in an atmosphere of hate and fear. Israeli children cannot gather at playgrounds or public places. They fear to use public transportation, and even their school buses are not safe. Palestinian children are corralled into camps and settlements, their movements so restricted that their most popular game is flying kites, because that can be done in the few square feet of play space allotted to them. Are these conditions so ingrained in the cultures of the area that they cannot be eradicated?
Ending the violence in the next generation
A native Vermonter named Henry Carse, who has spent the last thirty years living and working in Israel as an academic and peace activist, believes not. He says, "If we can get to these kids before they strap on the suicide bombs or step into a tank, we have some hope of ending the violent pattern" that has eluded politicians from every side. To that end, he formed a new organization for children called Kids4Peace, and began by introducing twelve children from the Jerusalem area to each other in a series of informal meetings. The four Palestinian Christians, four Palestinian Muslims, and four Israeli Jews are between the ages of ten and twelve. In July, Carse, his wife and fellow Vermonter Anne MacLeod, and a small staff of Israeli and Palestinian advisors accompanied the twelve children to Navasota, Texas, for a week-long stay at Camp Allen Summer Camp and Conference Center, to share "fun, sport, adventure [the usual camp activities] and peace-making dialogue."
I called Carse while the camp was in session and asked him how he gets a "peacemaking dialogue" going. He told me that the kids begin by being both curious about and wary of each other. On the theory that they have already been subjected to imposed dynamics of behavior, no format for discussion is provided at first. He says that the children, culturally and spiritually "all over the map," find ways to "cross the lines" through the activities provided. Age and gender are the first bridges. Girls feel more comfortable sitting with girls to work on a craft project, for example, and a Palestinian girl will choose an Israeli girl as a partner over a boy. Speaking in English as well as they can, they learn to play and work together, and to communicate on a basic level. Gradually, Carse says, "the human dynamic eclipses the imposed dynamic" and the children begin to teach each other Arabic and Hebrew words, and to respond to their advisors, who function as teachers. A more sophisticated leaming process evolves, Carse says, from what is already there. Teachers work to encourage civility, tolerance, and listening, so that the children can achieve a society of their own with enlightened modes of behavior.
At Camp Allen, the twelve children developed a program to present to their American hosts. Drawing from the common areas of their religions, they participated in a sixty-minute presentation of a "peace tent" modeled on the tent of Abraham, which was in ancient tradition the paragon of hospitality. In this tent, they cooked food, served it on pottery they made during the week, talked with their hosts, and demonstrated Israeli and Palestinian folk songs and dances.
Maintaining peace and friendship: can Carlisle help?
That was the easy part. The hard part is maintaining the communication and friendship started at the meetings and the camp. As soon as the children return home, Carse says, "all the pressure is on to separate them." Telephone calls are difficult between Palestinians and Israelis, given language difficulties and restrictions. Currently, it is illegal for Israelis to communicate in writing with Palestinian friends. It is vital to the success of the peace-making dialogue, Carse says, to keep all these children talking to each other.
Kids4Peace is working to establish an authorized, secure pen-pal program, so that Israeli, Palestinian, and American children, and children world wide, can write to each other and learn about each other in a candid, non-threatening way. Carlisle has the edge on sign-ups, as this article is the first to be published about this initiative in the U.S. Another plan is a Christmas/Chanukah craft project. Finally, Kids4Peace would like to develop a petition, authored by these same children, to present to their governments and to the United Nations, detailing their desire and plan for peace. Interested Carlisle parents and children can learn more by logging onto www.kids4peace.org.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito