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Middle East Kavitha Dispatch

Pieces for Peace
January 26, 2000

Imagine the different realities of this puzzling situation...

 
A Palestinian youth. You've grown up in the West
Bank, and your younger years were marked by
the violence of the intifadah. During those
years, your neighbors and family rose
up in anger against the Israeli
occupation, and had several
encounters with the army.
A lot has changed
in the past four
years, and
now your
town
is
finally
on the road
to independence,
as is the entire
Palestinian Authority.
Israeli soldiers no longer stand
outside your front door. But still you are
not allowed to travel through Israel to visit
your family, who lives in the Gaza Strip.... Still
Israel places rules on your government and your
laws...Still you find your Palestine is not truly free.  
     
A
Jewish
Israeli
teenager.
You've grown
up in a modern
Israeli suburb your
whole life. Your family
came to Israel from Europe
after World War II to finally
establish themselves in a place
where they can live freely, without
fear of persecution and discrimination...
in their own land. The Arabs want to take
that land back from you, so you have
grown up in a constant state of
defense. In a few years you,
like all 18 yr-olds, will
have to join the army
to defend your
land from all
the Arabs
around
you.
 
 
A
Refugee
from Palestine.
You have grown
up in a refugee camp.

Over 50 years ago, when
Jewish people from around
the world came to settle and
form Israel, your family fled in
fear for their lives, from their homes
to the West Bank. Like some of the
other millions of Palestinian refugees in
camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza,
you are not considered a citizen of the place you
have lived your whole life. You are but a guest,
and your family is still waiting to return to their
own land.…land that is now in Israel's borders…land
you are unable to visit, much less move back to.
 
     
An Arab-Israeli youth. Your family has lived in the
same town for many generations, and today that
town happens to be on the side of the border
called Israel. Although the Israeli government
has granted you citizenship, you have never
felt like a true citizen.
Your schools and
your town are neglected and in a much
poorer state than your Jewish
neighbors. You have felt dis-
crimination from the Jews,
but you also often feel
like an outsider amongst
the Palestinians, your
own people, who
see your family
as traitors

for being
Israeli.  

Like pieces of a puzzle that just don't seem to fit, the conflict that plagues Israeli and Palestinian co-existence seems almost unresolvable. There are so many sides... so many hurt feelings… so much anger and loss. But if you look a bit closer, you will see that these pieces can fit together. A handful of artists here have gathered youth from different parts of this puzzle to show the world that, together, these pieces do indeed make a whole.

Map
A few years ago, three artists: an Arab-Israeli, a Palestinian, and an Israeli-Jew, met (in California of all places!) to work together on a mural. Judy Baka, a muralist from LA, gathered artists from all over the world to create a mural with the vision of a Future without Fear. Inspired and challenged by this endeavor, the three artists, Ahmad Bweerat, Sliman Mansour, and Adi Yekutieli, decided to bring this same spirit of collaboration back to their home. They decided to bring youth together to create a mosaic, a project they would call Pieces for Peace. The mosaic would have the same vision... a Future without Fear.

"MOSAICS REVEAL HISTORIES,
PEOPLE AND PLACES.
CAN A MOSAIC REVEAL THE FUTURE?"

A vision of this sort is no easy task to accomplish here in Palestine and Israel. First of all, fear is everywhere. In an area where the past is marked by bombings, shootings, and other forms of violence, and the present finds armed soldiers walking the streets every day, could you imagine a future without fear?

Click image for larger view
Surreal interpretation of the complexities of the world
Surreal interpretation of the complexities of the world
Since the peace process started back in 1992, much of the violence has died down; unfortunately, the fear remains. The fear of today is more a fear of the unknown. People live in fear of their own neighbors because they don't know them. They have shared the same soil for over fifty years, but have never even spoken to one another. During our past few weeks here, however, we worldtrekkers have found that people are overwhelmingly kind. Both in Israel and in Palestine, we have been invited into homes and been given unexpected presents; we've made new friends and celebrated holidays with people we've just met! It seems so strange that these wonderful and giving people should be so scared of one another... surely if they met and saw each other for the human beings they really are, they would no longer harbor such fears.

Click image for larger view
Adi Yekutieli and some of the cool kids who started the project
Caption
Well, that is exactly what Adi, Ahmad, Sliman, and their associates believed when they set out to bring youth from all parts of Israel and Palestine together for this unprecedented project. Finding youth who were willing to overcome their fears and work together was one thing. Finding parents willing to allow their kids to travel to 'the other side', or sponsors willing to help fund the project was quite another. After almost two years of planning, the first stage in the vision of the mosaic finally took place. A couple of months ago, over sixty kids and young adults from Jewish-Israeli towns, Arab-Israeli towns, and Palestine met for the first time in their lives to make a new mosaic while making history.

In a few days, the youth were able not only to shed their misconceptions, share their visions and dreams, and learn different perspectives, but to work together to create four beautiful mosaics. It's hard for anyone who hasn't grown up here to realize what a huge event this was... here were groups of kids who had always been taught to hate each other creating art together. They were both sharing and realizing their visions of a future without fear. They were able to use art as a process through which to cross barriers of language and culture, and eliminate barriers within themselves. Above and beyond making four inspiring and beautiful mosaic pieces, the students were able to make new friends. The results were extraordinary, but don't just take my word for it... see what some of the young artists had to say for themselves:

Naama, a 12 ˝ year-old Jewish-Israeli girl in 7th grade from Tel Aviv: "I learned there are other opinions of people, not just ours. We want Israel for ourselves, but there are other people here too. They want to live here, but they can't. The kids from Balata (refugee camp) can't even get into Israel, and after school they can't do things like us... like watching T.V. or playing on video games or computers. From that moment I understood that those things are not very important in life. You need to meet people, you don't need all those material things."

Moeed, an 18 year-old Arab-Israeli boy, who was first introduced to art when Adi established an art workshop in his hometown of Tira. "We (Arab-Israelis) are living with both (Palestinians and Jews), so meeting the rest is not so strange for us. But this was the first time ever that we were with both sides together. Now we're working with people from different levels --- each side has their own ideas. I thought at the beginning that each side would be separate, but now I know it's possible. They can talk and collaborate."

ARTISTS' STATEMENT:

Acknowledging, understanding, accepting, the differences, having the courage to mutually explain them, is what we, as artists represent. Pain, suspicion and suffering, that we have experienced and are still living through, are our children's inheritance. Let them succeed in transforming this inheritance into a new reality.

Let them listen, speak, and respect the desires of the other without fearing differences of race, gender, and religion. Fifty years of war and battle are not worth a single tear of a wounded child.

No one raises a sword to kill a friend. We raise pens, pencils, and brushes instead, and with color design a common creation.

Adi Yekutieli
Ahmad Bweerat
Sliman Mansour

California, 1998

Mohammed, a 17 year-old Palestinian from Balata Refugee Camp: "This was the first time I've come to know Jewish people. We've had one image of them since the war fifty years ago, now they are no longer just the enemy. The mosaic project has taught me that you don't have to judge people from the surface... you must know them first."

Akel Raniya, an Art Teacher from the Arab Israeli town of Kfar Qara: "The mosaic project was a beautiful experience. Not just the actual art, but it was the working together that created a bond between us."

Khafes, a 17 year-old from Tul Karim, Palestine: "The mosaic project was really beautiful. Between these different groups, it's hard to communicate. We have different languages, different cultures, different histories. To come together and talk about what the governments and armies have done is stupid. It will only lead to misunderstanding and more fighting. We see the news, we know what is happening. It's not working. The mosaic is about art. You can express what's in the mind through art, you don't need to talk. Even young kids can do it. The important thing is the process, not the result, and it's a process we worked through together."

The success of the first part of the mosaic is only a beginning. A future without fear is a long way away, but you can help bring it nearer! Check out this week's MAD to see how your thoughts and drawings can help transform a fearless future from a vision into a reality!

Kavitha

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...kavitharao@bigfoot.com
 



Reader Comments: Check them out and share your own!



Kavitha - Kavi Gets MAD With Art
Kevin - Tomb of the Well-Known Soldier Part I: The Birth of a Nation
Kevin - Tomb of the Well Known Soldier Part II: Hard Lessons Learned in the Promised Land
Monica - Seeds of Peace
Monica - 15 year-old Liat: A Young symbol of the Future
Monica - The Other Side: Young Israelis and Palestinians Struggle to Understand Each Other

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