On July 23, participants in the Hands of Peace program met at Glenview Community Church and worked in groups with a filmmaker to create films about their experiences and takeaways from the program. Hands of Peace brings together Palestinian, Israeli and American teenagers to discuss the Israeli Palestinian conflict and become leaders of change.
A group of Palestinian, Israeli and American teenagers spent most of July in the Chicago-area listening and learning how to share their opinions about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
Through Hands of Peace, a six-phase program designed to help young adults to be leaders of change, the 43 participants “learn to speak their narrative” around the military and political struggle in Israel and Palestine, said Rick Rosenfeld, executive director of the Chicago chapter.
“They spend their time in the United States focused on dialogue, getting to meet the other for the first time, to share their realities, their narratives and to learn to listen,” Rosenfeld said.
The first phase of the program consists of 19 days in the United States and focuses on discussion and building relationships among the participants. They spend mornings with facilitators talking through their experiences and learning about the other side, Rosenfeld said.
“That’s where they’re getting into the deep issues, where they’ll talk and argue about history. They’ll share personal stories. They learn to speak their narrative better,” Rosenfeld said.
In the afternoons, the youths are in workshops and seminars that allow them to “express their creativity,” like filmmaking, he said.
On July 23, the teens met at the Glenview Community Church and were paired with filmmakers to create videos to air during the farewell ceremony.
Phase two kicks in once the youths return home and is intended to ensure they continue discussions about the conflict and maintain their relationships, he said.
“You can’t expect when you remove Palestinians and Israelis from their home and bring them to the United States, which is an artificial bubble in which they can talk, and then you send them back to their societies, where they encounter their daily realities, you can’t expect to just pat them on the back and wish them well and hope that they succeed,” Rosenfeld said.
Three bi-national seminars bring them back together and feature a variety of speakers “meant to challenge them,” he said.
One seminar will feature a speaker or field trip that highlights the Israeli narrative of the conflict, while the next highlights the Palestinian narrative.
“We challenge our participants, and everyone associated with our program, to become comfortable being uncomfortable,” Rosenfeld said. “There’s nothing comfortable about Israel Palestine. What we’re so proud of about our participants is how brave they are to take this leap to leave their homes … and take this chance to meet people who have a different life, who have a different perspective and to try to learn.
“What I do expect is that they are beginning, each in their own way, to make room for other narratives, not just the one that they know from home,” Rosenfeld said.
In phase three of the program, 25% of participants have the opportunity to return to the United States to learn leadership skills. The final three phases focus on participants beyond teenage years.
Tomer, an 18-year-old from Israel, is participating in a second summer in the United States through the program. She said she applied a year ago after a friend participated in a similar Israeli Palestinian camp and shared “inspiring” stories.
“I don’t want to be afraid anymore,” Tomer said. “I really enjoyed meeting the other side and having friends on the other side.”
Tomer said she has met people and developed skills that she wouldn’t have been able to gain anywhere else. As a youth mentor in Israel, she has used the skills to teach students younger than her “how to see the other side.
“You have to learn how to sit quiet sometimes and not react right away. I learned to be a better listener,” Tomer said.
Najil, a 17-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel, also in his second summer with the program, said he applied because he has always been “passionate” about the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
He’s now been exposed to a different culture, and it taught him to become a better listener, more open minded and more confident, he said.
“I live this conflict. I wanted to be in a safe environment to express my opinion without judgment and in a free way,” Najil said.
Israeli, Palestinian and American youth participating in the Hands of Peace program were encouraged July 23, 2019 at Glenview Community Church in Glenview to learn to listen to other opinions and better express the realities in which they live in the Middle East. (Alexandra Kukulka / Pioneer Press)