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Palestinian, Israeli, American Teens Wrap Up Gathering In Glenview

Hands of Peace, a program founded in Glenview, continues to bring together teens from Israel, Palestine, and the United States for dialogue in a neutral environment, both in Glenview and California. Three 16-year-olds visiting Glenview — Saleem, a Palestinian; Iddo, an Israeli; and Izzy Randaezo, from Park Ridge — discussed the latest Hands of Peace gathering with the Journal before Iddo and Saleem returned to the Middle East last week.

Hands of Peace organizers asked the Middle Eastern teens’ full names not be published out of security concerns.

The teens arrived in Glenview from Israel and Palestine on Wednesday, July 6, returning Monday, July 25. During their time in Glenview, a primary activity was engaging in guided group conversations at Glenview Community Church, to better understand each other’s cultures through dialogue.

Israeli and Palestinian teens stayed with host families, both in Chicago and in the suburbs. Besides the talks, teens participated in trust-building exercises, art, music and theatrical programs, and visited downtown Chicago.

“I’ve met Palestinians in the past, but the dialogue process here was a more controlled environment,” Iddo said. “Back home there is less talk about politics, while here it is a neutral ground where people feel safe sharing their experiences.”

Saleem said he does not meet many Israelis in his hometown, and said of the group discussions, “It’s OK to disagree. At the end of the day, we’re just people. We can discuss (issues) without becoming emotional.”

Twice a day, teens participated in group discussions guided by Hands of Peace facilitators.

“I thought it was interesting meeting people from so far away,” Randaezo said. Hearing emotional and personal stories from Israeli and Palestinian teens themselves brought those experiences home “on a deeper level,” and led to shared empathy. “The facilitators push us to delve deeper than we might be comfortable with,” she said.

The group visited downtown Chicago, where they saw the city in a new way. “With a group, you see things through their eyes,” said Randaezo.

The Highland Park parade shooting, which occurred two days before the students’ arrival, also did not go unnoticed.

“Back home it is not surprising to hear about violence, but coming here two days after a tragedy, really close to the (Glenview Community) church,” Iddo said. “It was all my host family talked about. It’s a saddening reality we live in.”

“Such a tragedy on such a big holiday, it’s really sad,” Saleem said. “Hands of Peace always had their doors locked” at the church.

Randaezo said she was in her room on July 4 when her phone lit up with notifications about the shooting.

“It could have been my neighborhood. Only a few months prior, we had Uvalde,” she said referring to the recent mass shooting at a Texas elementary school. “This is awful on so many levels.”

“The people I have met here, I hope to stay in touch with, many have the same interests. We can talk about other stuff besides the conflict,” Iddo said.

In 2002, Glenview native Gretchen Grad founded Hands of Peace in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 with the goal of bringing more peace to the world. The first exchange brought American, Palestinian and Israeli youth to Glenview in 2003.

Since then, more than 700 Hands of Peace alumni have worked to create positive change in their communities around the world.

Today, Hands of Peace holds summer retreats in Glenview and San Diego, and alumni programs in Israel, Palestine and the United States. It has full-time staff working in the United States, Israel, and Palestine, along with a team of volunteers.

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