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By Matt Hoffman
KPBS TV/Radio/Web
July 25, 2018

Above: Israeli and Palestinian teenagers sit and talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Friendship Park near the U.S. and Mexico Border, July 24, 2018.

This week, a group of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers is in San Diego learning how to work through conflicts and become better leaders part of a peace summit put together by the nonprofit Hands of Peace.

Around 30 teens from the Middle East make the annual trip to the U.S. and stay with American host families. The program is made possible by the nonprofit Hands of Peace which helps participants work through conflicts and become better leaders

“It’s a really difficult challenging program for them where they leave very transformed,” said Hands of Peace San Diego Site Director Sarah Heirendt. “Maybe they have challenges but they come out on the other side, feeling empowered, feeling like know how to use their voice and maybe even be a leader in their community back home.”

Israeli and Palestinian teenagers on Tuesday visited the U.S.-Mexico border at Friendship Park near Tijuana. Hands of Peace organizers said taking participants to the U.S.-Mexico border at Friendship Park helps them see how countries can be so close, yet seem so different.

“Being here at the border is really — I have conflicted feelings,” said Palestinian student Sama. The students would only give their first names for security reasons. “It’s so different from the two sides. You can see people on the Mexican side are having fun and swimming and here (U.S. side) there is no one … Americans and Mexicans have a lot in common but they also are so different. Also, the way they look at the border is different from each point and the same thing goes for the conflict — how Israelis look at the wall and how Palestinians look at it.”

Some of the teenagers tried to talk with people on the other side of the border but were quickly moved away from fences by the U.S. Border Patrol.

“The borders are very different from ours,” said Israeli student Nimrod. “For me personally, I think that the wall is very, very different than our borders.”

After getting a chance to sit down and talk, many of the teens discovered that they agreed on a lot.

“At the end of the day we have a lot in common when it comes to food and we have a lot in common when it comes to pain — because we both suffer from the same pain in the same conflict,” Nimrod said.

People who graduate from the summer program have an opportunity to take a similar trip visiting Israel and the West Bank.