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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Envisioning and Living a Better Present: A Reflection on This Year’s Musalaha Camps

Envisioning and Living a Better Present: A Reflection on This Year’s Musalaha Camps

Each year, Musalaha holds one camp in Israel for Israeli and Palestinian children.  Since many of our Musalaha children are growing up and still want to participate in our camps, we decided to hold two camps in Israel this year, one for junior youth ages 12-14 and our regular camp for children ages 8-11. 

Theme of the camp for this year was Road Signs. 

This year as we approached the Musalaha camps, Israel was in the midst of an ongoing operation in Gaza resulting in daily military attacks by the IDF, and Israel faced daily rocket attacks by Hamas.   We faced new fears by Israeli and Palestinian parents questioning whether to send their children.  Israeli parents were afraid of the possibility that the camp location might be hit by rockets coming from Gaza. Palestinian parents were afraid of the possibility of an attack at the camp location by right wing extremists targeting Palestinians. Both fears were very strong, especially since Israeli and Palestinian media outlets fed these fears. Additionally, I myself was afraid of the danger and responsibility I hold over the children and my team of counsellors. Initially I thought that the camps will be cancelled because of the political situation.

Camp Invitations
This camp is one of my favorite projects that I look forward to each year. I enjoy planning it and it is an understatement to simply say I was disappointed as I contemplated the reality that our camps might not take place. After studying the situation and taking into account key sources, we decided that both our camps in the Baptist Village would be held as planned.

Announcement to parents 
The first fear I had to overcome was my own. I had to overcome my fear of this cycle of violence, and put it in the right perspective.  In the process of doing that, I realized what it means that our conflict is an intractable one. In part, it means that our political leaders are not interested in solving this conflict in the same way I would want it solved. I questioned why then they should be allowed to control my response to this cycle.

So, my conclusion was that I either allow this fear to paralyze or mobilize my response to this conflict.  My fear can paralyze me by letting our leaders dictate how and when we, Israeli and Palestinian believers, meet each other. We should wait until the fighting is over and there is no more violence to meet again. We should only meet when our leaders allow it.  On the other hand, my fear can mobilize me and my commitment to meet despite what our leaders are dictating to us.  During trying times, they often call us to identify with our national and ethnic group, and that loyalty is expected to exceed all others.  By isolating ourselves from contact with the other, we allow our society to dictate what our brothers and sisters are experiencing and feeling.

To go against your society is the harder choice for several reasons. First, it is hard because I am asked to bypass the fear that my society builds in me. If you grow up here, you are well aware that each side believes there is no partner for peace. “They are not interested in a peace. We gave them so many chances,” is what each side will say about the other side.

At the camp this summer, one Israeli child borrowed a counsellors’ head band and put it on his face and said “Look! I’m an Arab terrorist!” Our image of the other side is crystalized at a young age, and our natural response is collective fear of the other side. And this is where we can use this chance to plants seeds of change. Sana, the counselor who heard his comment, took this young boy aside and had a conversation with him about making generalizations and breaking stereotypes. She stated that when he generalizes about Arabs, that hurt her feelings because she is an Arab. The child understood what he had said and apologized, and that was the end of it.

Second, it is hard to go against society because we are dependent on others to succeed. The camp cannot happen without children or counsellors. I may be willing to overcome my fears surrounding the camp, but would the parents do so too? Much of the success of this camp relies on the parents who courageously trust our judgment, and send their children to our camp. This is a loud statement that we, as a segment of believers, stand firm together despite these dark times. Through our ten years of work in children’s camps, we have been successful in creating a community where Israeli and Palestinian parents send their children to a reconciliation camp. We acknowledge and appreciate the parents who send their children regularly, and especially this summer.

Finally, it is hard because of the physical fear itself. During the camp we heard sirens. We were well-prepared for them, and all of the children and staff were in the safe room on time before we heard the Iron Dome launch its anti-missiles to strike down the rockets. Similar to sleeping time, Palestinian and Israeli children were in the same room together with their counsellors. They would wait in the room lying on the floor with their hands over their heads for ten minutes. And during this time, the counsellors decided how they would pass the time. Some of the counsellors decided to pray together, others decided to sing, and others to play a game. It didn’t matter who these children were, they were sharing the same experience. One of the children noted, “At first I was nervous when we were under our beds, waiting on the boom, but then we started singing ‘Jesus Loves Me,’ and when we sang ‘We are weak but He is strong,’ I knew He was strong enough to take care of us, and then I was comforted.”

After the ten minute wait, I would knock on the doors to the rooms and ask them to come out. There wasn’t a single room where I saw tears, but rather smiles and laughter. It was as if nothing had happened and the program would continue. I was inspired by the children’s level of resilience and readjustment

We have many reasons to fear in times of conflict, and at the same time we have many opportunities to transform this fear into a glimpse of hope to those around us. One of the counselors summarized this with a moving observation. In this camp we had an Israeli counselor whose brother had just been deployed to Gaza with his army unit, and in the same room we had a Palestinian camper whose grandparents live in Gaza.  This counselor took care of this camper and watched over him all day.

 There is no other camp in our community that brings together Israeli and Palestinian children, especially not in times like these. I am proud to have been part of this camp, and grateful that I had the support and encouragement to face my fears. There are hopeful opportunities awaiting us if we are willing to stand up to the challenges in front of us.  Our societies offered us fear and division, but in the Messiah, we envisioned and lived out a better present that can make a difference toward a better future. 

By Shadia Qubti

p.s. you can find the same article in Arabic on linga. click here 

1 comment:

  1. great article! Keep up the good fight. You guys are doing amazing work! Kimber