Young Palestinian sows seeds of peace where peace seems impossible
Mahmoud Jabari, who attended a Seeds of Peace camp, has learned to better understand both sides of the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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At the level of world leadership there seems to be stalemate. But at the grass-roots level, a variety of organizations are working to tackle inequality, anger, and generations-old mistrust or prejudice between Palestinians and Israelis.Skip to next paragraph
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Seeds of Peace is an international summer camp in Maine that brings together youth and adult leaders from areas around the world marred by conflict to learn resolution skills and develop empathy for each other. Over the past18 years, participants have come from Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt, Cyprus, South Asia, and the Balkans.
After the participants return home from the summer camp, they ideally maintain ties to Seeds of Peace through regional initiatives, where they exercise their new knowledge of dialogue and mediation. The hope is that the participants, who are referred to as “Seeds,” sow peace among their communities at home.
Mahmoud Jabari attended the Seeds of Peace International Camp in Maine five years ago. It changed his life.
Jabari’s mother originally encouraged him to apply for Seeds of Peace. At the time, he had set up what he calls a “magazine” on a wall at school, where he posted news clips that reflected both the Palestinian and Israeli perspectives. His mother, who speaks Hebrew, helped him to translate the Israeli news.
The school didn’t like it, Jabari explained to Dowser, but he struggled to defend his freedom of speech.
“I always wanted to hear the other side’s story,” he said. Watching Israeli news was the first step toward that, but it wasn’t enough. So he applied to Seeds of Peace to attend its camp.
“It was my first experience meeting Israeli peers. I had read many books to try to learn more about the history of the conflict. So I was filled with what I had read,” said Jabari of the experience.
At first Jabari found himself insisting on the Palestinian perspective’s correctness over the Israelis’ views at camp.
“But over time – this is one of the benefits I got from Seeds of Peace -- I discovered that these were not just soldiers, settlers, tank drivers,” he said. “These were people similar to me. We have common dreams. I was seeing people differently than I did in the media.”
At camp the participants were challenged to work together through physical and dialogue-based group exercises. But Jabari and a few Israeli campmates went further: They created their own nighttime “negotiation room,” where they would meet before bed to role play real-world situations from their home region.
“We would meet at night and talk, and try to perceive ourselves as leaders and discuss issues,” said Jabari. “We would make negotiations – you might laugh – as if we were leaders. So, what would you give me to release prisoners, we might ask each other.”
Over the course of camp, Jabari began to develop empathy for his Israeli counterparts.