Middle East: The hope

Arabs and Jews who refuse to give in

A little house is going up in the heart of the flowering Galilee, its mud packed and patted by the hands of Arab and Israeli teenagers working side by side.

The "House of Earth" at the Givat Haviva center is being fabricated entirely from local soil. "Land is the source of the conflict," says Mike Flax, an American who directs program development, "so earth also can be the source of the solution." It may not be the most beautiful building in Israel, but it is certainly among the most symbolic.

Out of the ugly limelight, there remain scattered Jews and Arabs who stubbornly decline to follow a script of mayhem. They are not politicians, not society's elite. But doggedly, they plug on with unsung dedication.

Media around the globe bombard the world with images of Arab homes devastated by Israeli tanks and blood-stained halls in Israel demolished by Palestinian killers. No one has thought the solitary earth house built of love worthy of even passing mention. Nor do Givat Haviva's other grass-roots coexistence programs draw much media attention, even though the center won UNESCO's 2001 Prize for Peace Education.

At the start of the intifada 18 months ago, Givat Haviva staffers despaired that the achievements of a generation might be erased overnight. But the center has continued to bring Israeli Arabs and Jews together, from small children to educated professionals. Jewish and Arab social workers consult to raise professional effectiveness and design common programs. In the photography workshop "Through Another's Eyes," teens visited each other's unfamiliar homes to snap photos of their counterparts' families.

"We aren't lowering our profile, because we are sure we are right," says Mr. Flax. "Although when you think of what's going on, it's amazing people even show up."

On Israel's seacoast, Arab and Jewish 10-year-olds play tennis together four times a week, as they have for the past 2-1/2 years. "They fight about what kids always argue over – was the ball in or was it out?" coach Dani Meder says.

Buoyed by its success, the Israel Tennis Center has just launched a project for 8-year-olds, mixing Jewish kibbutz children with those of a nearby Arab village.

IN hospitals, "Palestinians and Israelis work arm in arm," report Jewish oncologist Nathan Cherny and Arab surgeon Maher Deeb of Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

"Palestinian physicians help to save the lives of Israelis shattered by suicide bombs. Israeli physicians struggle with the military authorities to attain travel permits for Palestinian patients so they can continue to receive cancer care that is unavailable in the West Bank or Gaza."

These doctors insist that "care is the same for Palestinian or Israeli.... In the microcosm of our hospital, this is not an exception, it is the norm."

For 10 years, the Seeds of Peace organization has been bringing Palestinian and Israeli teens together at its summer camp in Maine to prove that human beings can find a way to live together when they interact on equal terms.

Seeds' alumni continue contact back home. In Haifa, 40 of them met biweekly all year to perform community service and keep up their dialogue. But the Seeds of Peace activities came to a halt early this month when the organization concluded the situation was too dangerous for the teens' safety. US employees have temporarily left the country, but work continues to gather participants for the summer season in Maine. American staffer Ned Lazarus hopes to resume local activities soon: "The kids keep writing me e-mails saying, 'When are you coming back?' "

"Once a Seed, always a Seed," is the organization's motto. Perhaps today the Seeds of Peacers must mimic their namesakes in nature, and bide their time in frozen ground until a thaw allows them to push their way toward the sun. Then they can rejoin the other courageous Arabs and Jews, determined to march to the drum of their convictions.

• Helen Schary Motro is an American lawyer and columnist living in Israel.

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