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Middle East Monica Dispatch

The Other Side: Young Israelis and Palestinians Struggle to Understand Each Other
January 26, 2000

"In coexistence, we agree, we disagree. But the most important thing is to understand." -Overheard at Seeds of Peace

When some Seeds of Peace participants try to explain SOP to their classmates, teachers, friends, even sometimes to family members, they often face resistance. A lot of times, they're accused of being brainwashed.

In the "Coexistence Hotline," a part of their newsletter, one SOP from Jerusalem talks about presenting SOP to her classmates: "In the beginning they asked nice questions and everything was OK. But then, suddenly some kids started to attack us and say how Seeds of Peace is all fake, that we did nothing for peace, and that we're just saying all these things because that's what we were told to say... they just kept yelling at us that we're fake and camp is fake and everything we did is fake."

I visited a school near Eilat with Seeds of Peace members who spoke with 7th, 9th, 11th, and 12th graders. One high-school student asked, "Do you really make friends at camp? Or do they just tell you to say that?"

An SOP member immediately answered the question. "Yes, they DO tell us to say that we make friends at camp," she said. "But you really DO make friends through Seeds of Peace." Seeds of Peace attempts to show students how to coexist. It shows students that the "Other Side" has a name and a face, and that trying to understand a Palestinian or Israeli student your own age doesn't mean you're "an Arab-lover" or that you're "talking with the Israeli enemy."

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Raouf, Razan and Matan are three members of SOP
It's not easy. I sat in when some SOP's were talking about politics with Israeli students: Emma, Raouf, Razan, Muhammad, and Matan represented the SOP's. The Israeli students were Carmel, Lior, Yoav, and Yuval.

The first comment was that camp is "the first time to see the other side. Israelis and Palestinians meeting [each other]. How do they live? What are they like? You don't have to agree but to understand and to respect. But maybe you'll change your opinion."

Another SOP continued, "It's not about changing minds but understanding. The most important thing is when you sit for coexistence sessions for two hours, you're going to fight."

One of the others in the group interjected, "No, you don't fight."

"Yes, you do," she replied. "There are people crying. But at the end of camp, you look around and make friends all around the world...friends from the other side."

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A group of SOPs talk things over
I overheard one of the SOP's saying that what really brings people together is color games. But it's not all fun and games in the Middle East, as any of these young people can tell you.

"This is what's good about coexistence," an SOP commented. "One Palestinian girl was saying her brother was killed and she was crying. I can understand, I can sympathize with what they feel."

The talk between the students turned to the Golan, and the status of talks between Israel and Syria. It's an argument that's played out daily in the press and that affects each of their lives in a direct way. One 14 year-old Israeli student stated a familiar argument. "In my opinion, peace is worth everything. But not by giving up a part of land for peace."

In response, a very articulate young woman from Gaza said, "One side gives land but the other side makes demands. But for Palestinians, they are trying to negotiate. We're trying to get, like, nothing percent of our own occupied lands, for six years now. There's refugees. There's nowhere for them. We're not asking for too much. It takes from both sides...What can we do to live together and to coexist in one place?"

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Members of Seeds of Peace face off about important issues and learn that on the "other side" there are human beings
"But what do the Palestinians want?" asked the Israeli student.

"What do I want? I'm Palestinian," she answered.

This realization--that the "other side" is actually another human being--is oftentimes a shock to people who may spend their whole lives without meeting anyone from that "other side," only hearing about it or having negative experiences with it. I get a glimmer of how much of a challenge coexistence will be, but the SOP's recognition that "we are two people in one place" with different facts and different histories is a first step to understanding.

Later, during a group discussion, one of the teachers praised Seeds of Peace, saying "What I've seen ever since I met the first SOP was young people who say, 'I can make a difference. What I do with my life makes a difference.'" Positive feedback like this encourages young people who don't know what the future will be, but know they will work towards it with hope.

Coexistence - living together without fighting
Articulate - well-spoken
In "The Olive Branch" newsletter, the SOP who said her classmates called her "fake" continued. "All along your life you will bump into people who don't believe in peace or in what you do, but you have to stay strong! Sometimes hate controls what people say and they don't even think about what the consequences are going to be. You have to look past that."

Wise words--coming from a young person who really will make a difference in the world.

For more information, check out The Seeds of Peace website.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Kavitha - Kavi Gets MAD with Art
Kavitha - Pieces for Peace
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

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