My mother always told me that there are at least two sides to every story. But my experience working with Seeds of Peace over the last two years has shown me that just about everyone has a different side of the story to tell, and they are all worth listening to.
The late journalist John Wallach founded the non-profit organization Seeds of Peace in 1993 during the peace negotiations in Oslo. Seeds of Peace runs a camp in Maine for young leaders—called “seeds”—from regions of conflict. In this neutral and idyllic setting, former enemies can meet face-to-face, build relationships, and gain the tools necessary to advance reconciliation and coexistence in their own communities. Last summer I worked as a counselor at this camp to help create a safe and supportive environment for these brave young leaders to talk openly and honestly about their experiences in the conflict—to share their pain and suffering, their hopes and dreams.
To deepen my understanding of the historical, religious, and political factors that fuel the conf lict in the Middle East, I decided to spend this past spring semester studying at the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I studied Hebrew and Arabic and took courses on the history of the peace process and methods in peace building and conflict transformation. I stayed for the summer to work with Seeds of Peace in the region, traveling throughout Israel and the West Bank to meet with Seeds of Peace campers in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ramallah, Hebron, and Jenin.
Face-to-face encounters in the region are challenging because of the physical barriers that divide the two sides. Israelis are not allowed into Area A, areas of the West Bank are in full control, and Palestinians are not allowed into Israel without a permit from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior. Because of these barriers and in spite of these barriers, I worked with three other former Seeds of Peace counselors to help the campers develop photography, film, journalism, and creative arts projects to document the most pressing issues in their communities, in order to share their perspective with the other side.
The “seeds” presented their projects at a three-day, bi-national seminar on “The Art of Communication” and had intensive dialogue about the issues they raised and the differences in the types of problems their communities face. Their projects ranged from women’s rights, gay rights, and environmental protection, to checkpoints, house demolitions, and discrimination. One boy showed a video about life inside his settlement while another showed a photograph of the separation barrier cutting through his backyard. The variety of projects brought forth a number of voices that have often been quiet and a diversity of issues that our generation will have to address. I was inspired by these young leaders who had the courage to meet the other side face-to-face, despite the barriers, and act as a voice for their community.
After eight months living, studying, and working in the region, I bring back with me to Davidson many memories, experiences, pictures, and stories: the stories I read in the newspaper, the stories I was told, and most importantly the stories I saw with my own eyes. I bring stories from many different sides with a responsibility to remember, to reflect, and to share them with others. Davidson has always been a place with many voices and perspectives, a place for hearing and telling stories, a place for learning from one another, and from our experiences near and far.
It has been an amazing journey, but it feels good to be home.