Pales­tinian, Is­raeli girls camp­ing for peace in US wilder­ness

Muscat Daily - - REGION -

Santa Fe, US - Liza Masri had learned as a young girl dur­ing the blood­i­est days of the sec­ond in­tifada to fear the sol­diers pa­trolling her neigh­bour­hood in the be­sieged West Bank city of Nablus.

But it wasn’t un­til af­ter the upris­ing that her mis­trust was most shock­ingly vin­di­cated as she wit­nessed Is­raeli troops shoot­ing dead her Pales­tinian neigh­bour as he smoked a cig­a­rette on his bal­cony.

“It’s flash­backs I can re­mem­ber... the am­bu­lance, the way they took him down the build­ing,” the 21 year old tells AFP, as if the in­ter­ven­ing decade has sud­denly melted away. “We weren’t al­lowed into the streets. We were afraid they would kill us. It’s some­thing I will al­ways re­mem­ber - it’s so painful.”

Some years later, her neigh­bour’s be­reaved daugh­ter in­tro­duced Masri to ‘ Cre­ativ­ity for Peace’, an or­gan­i­sa­tion in Santa Fe, New Mex­ico, that brings to­gether Pales­tinian and Jewish Is­raeli girls in a bid to bridge the emo­tional fault lines cre­ated by 70 years of con­flict.

Half a world away from the cor­ri­dors of the United Na­tions, they get to­gether at a ranch in the tim­bered foothills of the south­ern Rocky Moun­tains to hear for the first time the sto­ries of en­e­mies they have grown up learn­ing to hate.

Since 2003 more than 200 girls of ages 15 to 17 have par­tic­i­pated in the Cre­ativ­ity for Peace camp, where Masri has re­turned this year as a ‘young leader’ af­ter tak­ing part in 2013. It was at the camp that she be­friended Naama Shlomy, a Jewish Is­raeli who lives some 100km south of Nablus, on the bor­der with Gaza.

Shlomy was three years old when her home town of Sderot was tar­geted by Ha­mas’ Qas­sam ar­tillery rock­ets, the first of an es­ti­mated 8-10,000 to rain down on Is­rael from Gaza since 2002.

Some 30 Is­raelis have been killed but the psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma has been pro­found.

Al­most half of Sderot mid­dle school­ers sur­veyed for the Jour­nal of Ado­les­cent Health in 2008 showed signs of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, while high lev­els of mis­car­riage and de­pres­sion are a fact of daily life.

“It’s hor­ri­ble, I can’t de­scribe it. It’s a trauma that’s in me. I’ll need to deal with it for the rest of my life,” Shlomy (19) tells AFP at an open day as the three-week sum­mer camp.

Ev­ery year up to 20 girls - half Jewish Is­raelis and half Pales­tini­ans from Is­rael, the West Bank and Gaza - are in­vited to New Mex­ico by Cre­ativ­ity for Peace, which is funded pri­vately, notwith­stand­ing a 2015 US gov­ern­ment grant.

The girls share their ex­pe­ri­ences of the Arab-Is­raeli con­flict as part of a to­tal of 40 hours of di­a­logue founded on the no­tion that ‘an en­emy is a per­son whose story you haven’t heard’.


Pales­tinian and Is­raeli Jewish girls pose for a photo at the ‘Cre­ativ­ity for Peace’ camp on July 30

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