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January 22, 2000
Amany looks into my eyes and says, "I want to give the message of the Druze people. We think about the problems a lot. How do we live with the conflict?"
Amany, who is 16 ½ years old, is a Seeds of Peace participant from the village of Beitjan. She has two brothers and one sister. Her friend Fanda is 16 and also from Beitjan, and they are explaining the situation of the Druze to me as we share a minivan ride to Kibbutz Yahel, near the Red Sea.
"Do you know about the Druze?" asks Fanda. "Is there information on the Internet about us?"
The situation of the Druze, as with other Arab Israelis, is one of division. Their voices are not often heard. Amany explains it this way:
"My brother, he serves in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). We live with the Jewish people. We speak Hebrew very well. But our religion--the words are in Arabic. And our customs like our food, our clothes--you can say we are Arabs in our culture."
With no homeland or language of their own, the Druze are defined by their religion: a mystery-shrouded offshoot of Islam, which holds that the prophet Mohammed was succeeded by a divine messenger. The Druze are further distinguished from mainstream Islam by their belief in reincarnation.
For the most part the Druze live in Syria and Lebanon, but some have lived in Israel for generations. This is a legacy of the carving up of Palestine-the Druze now make up a part of the Israeli population that maintains its distinctly Arab roots. As such, many of the Druze are ambivalent about their status as Israeli citizens.
Their religion is a source of pride for Amany and Fanda. "The Druze are all over the world. We are in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon. I even heard there are Druze in England!" Amany exclaims.
She lowers her voice and smiles at me, "It's a very special culture. We have a secret religion. The other religions--everybody knows about--but ours we keep very special." This secrecy piques the curiosity of other students at the Seeds of Peace winter seminar. During one of the workshops, both Israeli and Palestinian students ask Amany question after question. She is pleased to share more about her unique culture and religion.
When I ask Amany and Fanda how their involvement with Seeds of Peace could change the situation for the Druze, Amany speaks with honesty. She says it is difficult to enter the program, and that because English(the official language of Seeds of Peace) is their third language (after Arabic and Hebrew), it's a real challenge for them to express ideas.
"Going to the Seeds of Peace summer camp didn't really change anything," she says. "We speak, we discuss, but no one listens. But it's good because we practice the English, and we meet other people in the camp. And now we can have programs and trips here." She's referring to the opening of the Center for Coexistence in Jerusalem that provides long-term support and workshops for the campers here, in the middle of the conflict.
Seeds of Peace is one way for young people like Amany and Fanda to broaden their experience, to learn about their political situation, and to challenge themselves and others in their struggle to define themselves.
I ask Amany how she sees herself in ten years, when she would be my age now. In her culture, she says, it is very common for young women to be married in their late teens or early twenties, so she'd probably be married. She also sees herself working as a lawyer, and doing lots of traveling- not something she could do if she were single. She says travel has always been something her family encouraged.
As for the impact of Seeds of Peace on her desire to be a spokesperson for the Druze, Amany says: "We are very interested in politics, not like other youth. And our families are very supportive of us and Seeds of Peace ... They are very proud of us."
Fanda nods in agreement. Amany looks at me with a glimmer in her eyes, and gives me the final word about Seeds of Peace and the steps she and Fanda are taking (as Druze and as Arab Israelis) towards resolving the conflict: "I hope we will be able to change the situation in the future."-Monica
p.s. - Please e-mail me at email@example.com
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