Palestinian, Israeli girls camping for peace in US wilderness
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