Presentation Considers the Potential for Peace
“The perception is that when an Israeli kid grows up he’s going to become a soldier. When a Palestinian kid grows up he’ll become a suicide bomber. Either way, he’ll do terrible things to you and your family,” said junior Adi Dajani during his and junior Ilya Friedberg’s presentation, “Possibilities for Peace.”
In the presentation on Monday, Dajani, a Jordanian Palestinian, and Friedberg, a Russian Israeli, spoke about their experiences in mediation camps working to deconstruct such deeply rooted perceptions. The event was sponsored by Oberlin Hillel.
Seeds for Peace, an overnight camp in Italy, and Apple Hill, a music camp in New Hampshire, both provide opportunities for Palestinian and Israeli children to meet and befriend each other.
According to both presenters, misperceptions make the current political situation extremely difficult. Before attending the camp, Dajani remembered, he was afraid of and angry towards Israelis.
“Palestinians and Israelis resent each other because the only information they get about the other side comes from within their own communities,” he said. “Israelis are guys in green uniforms with guns. Israel was this beast of a state.”
He added, “An Israeli soldier once yelled at me not to run to the bookstore because I might be shot.”
Friedberg’s experiences with music were limited by negative misperceptions. He recounted one lesson he gave to a Palestinian woman.
“I saw in her eyes fear when I approached the piano,” he said. “It’s hard to teach someone who is afraid of you, especially if they see in you a soldier.”
But after attending camps in New Hampshire and Italy, both Dajani and Friedberg saw a marked change in their own perceptions.
“We were a bunch of kids, 12 to 15 chosen from each side, going off to Italy to chill for two weeks. These kids have the greatest times they’ve ever had in their lives,” said Dajani.
Dajani explained the daily schedule, which included ordinary camp activities such as sports, swimming, music and art, but also emphasized “co-ex” sessions, cultural and ethnic discussions intended to help Israeli and Palestinian children understand each other and eventually co-exist.
The Apple Hill music camp worked differently. “Sometimes you don’t even need to talk about anything,” Friedberg said. “You just have to play music together. For us there was no politics, only a common goal: making music.”
Friedberg and Dajani said that now they see the people involved in political struggles differently and have many friends of both cultures.
“Every month my friend travels around to talk to people all over the place. Sometimes he wouldn’t come because the border is closed,” Friedberg said of a monthly Arab tea-drinking buddy.
Dajani added, “Seeds for Peace allows children to see that the others are children too, with the same needs. When they come back, these kids do not forget that they have friends from the other side that are in the line of fire.”
The speakers concluded that the key to finding a solution to political conflict is understanding that your enemies can be your friends, although that can be very difficult.
“You need to go 50-50,” Friedberg said. “You need both people to work to find understanding. You want to believe that there is no problem between people, but everything comes up, like in a relationship. You remember everything that happened yesterday, two months or even ten years ago. It makes it very complicated.”
Said Dajani, “It is simple but certainly not easy.”