Blur­ring bor­ders Cre­ativ­ity for Peace

CRE­ATIV­ITY FOR PEACE

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Jennifer Levin I The New Mex­i­can

“I ex­pe­ri­enced the con­flict through rock­ets and stuff like that. I never got the chance to meet some­one from the other side — the people liv­ing be­hind the rock­ets. I didn’t think I could come here and solve the con­flict, but I had the goal of get­ting to know Pales­tini­ans as hu­man be­ings,” said Yaara Tal, an ad­min­is­tra­tive in­tern with Cre­ativ­ity for Peace, a summer-camp lead­er­ship pro­gram for Is­raeli and Pales­tinian girls that has been held near Santa Fe for 19 years. Tal, who grew up in Kib­butz Dorot, near Sderot, by the bor­der with Gaza, first came to the camp in 2008, when she was six­teen, af­ter a rep­re­sen­ta­tive spoke about the pro­gram at her high school. At the time, she was pri­mar­ily ex­cited by the prospect of see­ing more of the world, but the camp’s goals in­trigued her.

Nine years later, Tal con­tin­ues her in­volve­ment with Cre­ativ­ity for Peace by go­ing on speak­ing tours in the United States. Now twenty-five, she re­cently grad­u­ated from col­lege in Eu­gene, Ore­gon. She and her room­mate, Deema Yusef, an­other Cre­ativ­ity for Peace par­tic­i­pant, first went to Lane Com­mu­nity Col­lege on schol­ar­ships co­or­di­nated through the or­ga­ni­za­tion, and then trans­ferred to the Univer­sity of Ore­gon, where they both ma­jored in in­ter­na­tional stud­ies. Yusef, who is twenty-one and a ris­ing se­nior, is from Pales­tine. She speaks pub­licly with Tal about the con­flict as part of their schol­ar­ship re­quire­ments. Yusef’s fam­ily is orig­i­nally from Nazareth, and she grew up in Ra­mal­lah, in the West Bank. She at­tended Cre­ativ­ity for Peace on a whim, when a last-minute spot opened up, though ini­tially she had not seen the point. She, too, was six­teen.

“I de­cided to go be­cause I wanted to talk about my ex­pe­ri­ences with the con­flict and how hor­ri­ble and dif­fi­cult it is to live in Pales­tine — ba­si­cally to make the Is­raeli girls feel bad about what their govern­ment does,” she said. “I grew up dur­ing the Sec­ond In­tifada. Most nights I could not sleep in my bed­room. My fam­ily and I slept in the hall­way be­cause that was the safest place in the house, with no win­dows. There were a lot of shoot­ings and bomb­ings.”

Campers spend the summer en­gag­ing in in­tense dis­cus­sions and par­tic­i­pat­ing in group en­deav­ors, in­clud­ing art projects and a ropes course, as well as field trips to cul­tural events, shop­ping, and other lo­cal at­trac­tions. They also spend a week with girls from North­ern New Mex­ico. Plenty of what they do is just for fun, but the daily di­a­logue ses­sions are chal­leng­ing work. “For the first few days we are just set­ting guide­lines and learn­ing how to talk to each other,” Tal said. “We have rules like ‘don’t judge people’ — rules that create better con­ver­sa­tion. We try to fo­cus less on pol­i­tics, be­cause talk­ing about pol­i­tics can make you cir­cle around and around.”

Pol­i­tics, how­ever, is not a taboo sub­ject. Ev­ery group of campers dif­fers when it comes to how they deal with talk­ing about the con­flict. Some want to avoid the con­ver­sa­tion and just con­cen­trate on be­ing friends. Other years, the girls start with pol­i­tics and have to learn how to move past that. “At some point with ev­ery group, the Pales­tinian girls go here and the Is­raeli girls go here, and they ex­clude each other and speak their own lan­guages even though ev­ery­one is sup­posed to be speak­ing English,” said ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Dot­tie Indyke. “The rea­son that hap­pens is be­cause anger comes up, feel­ings of in­jus­tice and per­se­cu­tion. Some­one says some­thing that re­ally, re­ally hurts you. Some groups have to be dragged to the break­ing point, but they can’t have the break­through with­out the break­down.” The pub­lic is in­vited to get to know the Cre­ativ­ity for Peace par­tic­i­pants at Salaam-Shalom: A Cel­e­bra­tion of Peace, on Thurs­day, July 27, at the Santa Fe Farm­ers Mar­ket Pavil­ion. Campers who have re­turned as coun­selors, called Young Lead­ers, talk about their work in the United States and the Mid­dle East. The event fea­tures food trucks, mu­sic, and a cash bar.

Though their time at the camp is im­por­tant, it is what hap­pens af­ter­ward that mat­ters most to par­tic­i­pants. Some of the girls re­turn as Young Lead­ers, and there is pro­gram­ming in Is­rael and Pales­tine so that they can con­tinue to com­mu­ni­cate with one an­other and work on peace­mak­ing skills. Some friend­ships last and others do not; some girls need years to process the ex­pe­ri­ence of Cre­ativ­ity for Peace. When war breaks out, even those who stay in­volved with the or­ga­ni­za­tion find them­selves pulling back and tak­ing time be­fore re­con­nect­ing. Yusef said that re­turn­ing from New Mex­ico can be dev­as­tat­ing, be­cause for all the friend­ships that were made, Pales­tini­ans still go home to op­pres­sive re­stric­tions. Is­raelis re­turn and soon must serve two years in the mil­i­tary, which they do with dif­fer­ing lev­els of en­thu­si­asm, na­tional pride, and will­ing­ness or abil­ity to talk to fel­low sol­diers about Cre­ativ­ity for Peace. For many on both sides, it can feel as if noth­ing has changed — yet each year, a hand­ful of Mid­dle Eastern girls who once au­to­mat­i­cally hated each other no longer do.

When they speak to au­di­ences about the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, Yusef finds that many Amer­i­cans do not know much about Pales­tini­ans, and only know the Is­raeli side of the con­flict. Her job has been to por­tray that side through per­sonal sto­ries. She talks about trav­el­ing to Nazareth from the West Bank dur­ing the hol­i­days and hav­ing to spend hours at check­points, where there is of­ten vi­o­lence. “My city is a lit­tle safer than it was be­fore, but we still have a mil­i­tary pres­ence, so there are al­ways sto­ries. And I tell them what it’s like to travel through the Tel Aviv air­port, where they don’t treat Pales­tini­ans very well.”

Each year, a hand­ful of Mid­dle Eastern girls who once au­to­mat­i­cally hated each other no longer do.

Tal said that one thing not all Amer­i­cans know about Is­rael is that much of the pop­u­la­tion is sec­u­lar. There is much pub­lic de­bate about what it means to be Jewish and whether or not that should not be de­ter­mined by the govern­ment. “No one has the right to de­cide if you are Jewish enough,” she said. “My mother is Korean; she con­verted to Re­form Ju­daism. My fa­ther’s brother was sec­u­lar but be­came re­li­gious, and he does not con­sider my mother Jewish. That’s funny be­cause some people in his com­mu­nity don’t con­sider him re­ally Jewish, be­cause he wasn’t born Ortho­dox.” She also wants people to know that just as in Amer­ica, you can love your coun­try and crit­i­cize it at the same time, and want to change the ac­tions of your govern­ment.

Never would Yusef have imag­ined that one day she would be close friends and room­mates with an Is­raeli. Dur­ing her first summer at the camp, she was of­fered a spot in a dou­ble bed with one of the Is­raeli girls, and she re­fused. “In my head, all Is­raelis wore the uni­form of sol­diers. I did not want to show an Is­raeli that I was com­fort­able with her in that way, to sleep next to her. But when she said she’d sleep in the other bed, it made it eas­ier for me to stay the way I was.”

Tal hopes to work for UNICEF or an­other in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion, pos­si­bly but not nec­es­sar­ily in diplo­macy. Yusef is con­cen­trat­ing her de­gree in con­flict res­o­lu­tion in the Mid­dle East. “I am proud to be a Pales­tinian per­son, an Arab, Mus­lim. I was talk­ing about this with Yaara in the last cou­ple of weeks, and I was say­ing that my life is ba­si­cally about the con­flict and I don’t know what I would be do­ing oth­er­wise. I am so in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics and all of these things.”

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