Monday, December 20, 2010


Followers alike bless the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.  It's a defense which has kept the Steelers alive and well despite their continued deficiencies on the offense.  This Steelers team reminds me of the first few Steelers teams Ben Roethlisberger quarterbacked; a lot has to go their way to win a football game.  Remember, that the Steelers team that won the Super Bowl showed the ability to come back, while previous teams did not.  This one is much like that one. 

You say how is that so?  They're 10-4.  They're a first place team already locked for the playoffs.

Sure, the Steelers have amassed a 10-4 record bashing down the likes of Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Oakland, Miami, Tennessee and Cleveland.  They barely beat Atlanta in Week One, pulled a fast one in Baltimore a few weeks ago, and squeaked by a Buffalo team that dropped the winning touchdown.  Every other big game: New Orleans, Baltimore, New England and now the Jets, has seen this team fail to win on days where everything doesn't go their way.  And the times things don't go their way equals a defensive lapse or bad special teams play.  See the New England game.  See the Jets opening kickoff return (the difference maker in their 22-17 loss Sunday).  The Steelers have beaten teams with a combined winning percentage of .46 (64-75) and they've lost their four games to teams with a winning percentage of .745 (41-14). This team was 3-1 with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch behind Center. They're 7-3 with Big Ben behind center.

The Steelers offense, inept and predictable in almost every way, was finally called out on ESPN by analyst Jon Ritchie, after months of getting in their own way.  Ritchie questioned the play-calling against the Jets, saying that Mendenhall was running all over the New York defense.  How did he only get 17 carries?  I think Jon let offensive coordinator Bruce Arians off lightly for not taking control of his offense based on what it was achieving.  The Steelers red zone offense was ranked 28th going into the contest and only sunk lower after.

Let's go back to the Buffalo game four weeks ago, a game the Steelers deserved to lose.  With 2:51 left to go, the Steelers got the ball back on their own six yard line, the gift of one Troy Polamalu.  Buffalo has three timeouts left.  So the Steelers get a couple of first downs, and the game is over. 

They're backed up against they're own goal line, so conservatism is a much-supported theory on how to operate from here.  However, it isn't like they have a quarterback the organization is nervous about.  Ben Roethlisberger is now an elite quarterback in the NFL.  He has two Super Bowl rings, one of which came at his own hand, guiding the Steelers from their own 12 yard line after a holding call 88 yards for the victory in the waning minutes of Super Bowl XLIII.  He's 60-26 all time as an NFL quarterback in the regular season. 
So what does the Steeler offense do?

Let's just say I sat on my stool at a bar and called the first three plays before they happened to the person next to me.  Mendenhall to the right, 3 yards.  Mendenhall to the left, 5 yards.  Now third down, and what do you think Pittsburgh will do now?  That's right, pass.  They get a first down on this play barely.  Then run the same two running plays to Mendenhall and Redman, forcing a third down and long.  Naturally, Buffalo dials up the blitz, and Chris Kemoeatu gets called for holding, forcing the Steelers back to their 10 yard line.  Screen to Mewelde Moore on third and 22 for 11 yards.  And voila, the Bills have the ball back and tie the game to force overtime.

This cross-section of Steelers offensive ineptitude is microcosm of their season to date.  I've watched the New England Patriots, a team whose winning percentages the last few years make them a franchise worth emulating, and even without a running game to rely on to eat up clock, they simply continue to attack you.  They don't sit back and hand their destiny to someone else.  They take it upon themselves to keep the defense off the field.

What does this all add up to?  It's not about the QB under center at all.  It's about Arians and the play-calling.  The offensive scheme of the Steelers is so utterly predictable and limited that it forces the team into untenable situations.  With an offensive line already limited in depth that's been beaten down by injury, as well as a QB that's now playing injured, Arians and (Big Ben's) desire to throw downfield seems counter-intuitive, and has often been counter-productive.  When you consider the personnel the Steelers have, a passing offense designed to stretch the field is baseless.  Besides Mike Wallace, who has blazing speed, this team has few receivers to fit that bill.  Hines Ward is a playmaker, but only of short and intermediate value.  Emmanuel Sanders is still learning, and is as undersized as Randle El is.  In fact, the only Steelers receiver over six feet tall is Arnaz Battle, who doesn't have a single catch this season.  Limas Sweed was the only other guy with size at six-foot-four, but he has no hands or discipline.  Bruce Arians has lost the art of the screen, the one play he should have dialed up countless times for Willie Parker, a guy who was designed to run in space, not between the tackles.  Instead, Parker was used as if he was Jerome Bettis, and the results were not surprising.  It was only after Baltimore had stopped every other play in his book that on a third and goal, Arians gave Ben a slant pass option to Isaac Redman (a play that should have been considered on first down) that resulted in Redman's tour-de-force into the endzone to hand the Steelers a much-needed victory.

Between penalties and the inept design of the offense, should the Steeler defense go south at any moment during a game, the team will go with it.  And until Arians can get his head wrapped around his personnel and design an offense that uses them to the best of their abilities, the Steelers will continue to struggle to score, no matter who is under center.
Meanwhile, the Steelers defense is tied for third with 40 sacks and is second in the AFC with a +14 Give/Take ratio.  Sadly, with no Troy Sunday, the Steelers record just one sack and zero turnovers.  Need more be said.

No Troy, no defensive punch.  No punch on defense, no victory.

I hate to disappoint all those Steelers fans out there.  As much as I will root for them, this team is not a Super Bowl caliber team.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Is anyone else tired of this?  Haven't we all learned something by now?  Hasn't every relationship played out the same way, starting with ultimate highs, big promises and media hype only to undercut by egocentrism, disappointment and failure.  No, I'm not speaking of politics.  I'm speaking of Terrell Owens and his entire NFL career.

This past week on his reality show, it is being reported that in a conversation with fellow wideout Chad "Ochocinco" nee Johnson, his blustery, loud-mouthed co-conspirator of the supposedly promising new dynamic duo, that T.O. placed the blame for the Bengals 2-11 record squarely on the shoulders of the Cincinnati management and coaches.

In essence, T.O. is right.  Culpability always starts at the top, and the Bengals have been a rather putrid franchise throughout history sans a few solid years of the Sam Wyche/Boomer Esiason era. 

However, what T.O., now aged 37 physically, somewhere between 18 and 22 mentally, fails to realize is that history has a way of repeating itself, and T.O. hasn't learned a thing from it and has thus been its greatest repeater.

We remember his issues which started shortly after he replaced Jerry Rice as the top dog in San Francisco.  The road to his current situation is so fully littered with the waste of his antics, bad decisions, lousy deal-making and overblown self-promotion that the Indian from those classic 70's anti-pollution commercials should appear on one with Owens and should be wailing. 

We remember how this started:  when Owens blew his own horn after he celebrated on the Dallas star after scoring several touchdowns, insulting the entire Dallas faithful and enraging his own coaches.  He was suspended for a week for those antics and eventually wouldn't even speak to Steve Mariucci, his coach.  We remember when he pulled out a pen and signed a ball in the Seattle game, catching the post-game wrath of Mike Holmgren.  Eventually, the 49ers got rid of him, trading him to the Baltimore Ravens after he failed to sign his free agent papers.  Then, when a supposed trade was worked with the Ravens who offered a second round pick, a better offer than the Eagles fifth rounder, Owens failed to acknowledge the deal.  He stated outwardly he wouldn't play for the Ravens and refused to show up for his physical.  Somehow with the NFLPA got involved, the deal was voided and Owens ended up an Eagle like he wanted.  And he was happy, well, for a few months. 

Within a year, T.O. and his QB Donovan McNabb were at it, much like Owens had been with Jeff Garcia before him, and T.O. was soon in Dallas, back to the same place where he stepped on Cowboys' pride.  He had some solid seasons there, and the Dallas faithful embraced him enough to tolerate him.  But age and injury started to catch up to T.O., as well as the dropsies.  A trade for Roy Williams, the acquisition and rise of Miles Austin, not to mention T.O's own demeanor, gave Jerry Jones all he needed to cut him.  One year in Buffalo riding Trent Edwards didn't solve his woes so here he is a Bengal.

An unhappy Bengal.

What T.O. fails to see is that winning won't make T.O. any happier.  It's a convenient excuse that losing somehow brings out the moody T.O., that somehow if only he could show his worth and lead a franchise to victory, all would be right.


Even when he was within one win of the Super Bowl, and returning to a more than odds-on favorite to return the next year, he found a way to destroy that situation.  And make no mistake about it, he destroyed it.  In the wake of Andy Reid's magnanimous behavior concerning Michael Vick, who is now the top vote getter for the Pro Bowl, is there any doubt Reid's demeanor is that of a kindly, giving man who believes in rebirth and tranformation?  Were the coaches to blame there, T.O.? 

Let's take Baltimore, a franchise who had developed into a Super Bowl winner in 2001 under Brian Billick and was simply a treadmark in T.O.'s road to Philadelphia.  So certain was he of how he should run his career that he stepped on a franchise that had as much promise then as they do now nine years later.  And for what?  So he could eventually end up in Dallas, Buffalo and Cincinnati, a downward NFL path if there ever was one.  Yet all T.O. can look around and say is that the coaches in Cincinnati have made this team what it is.  True. T.O. actually played some inspired football this year (noticeably while keeping his mouth shut).  And his friend Chad I-can't-decide-what-my-name-should-be is puzzled that somehow bringing the boisterous and bombastic receiver to Cincinnati didn't result in the next greatest show on turf.

Yet what both of them fail to understand and may never get, is the Greatest Show on Turf, the Rams vaunted offense under Mike Martz with Kurt Warner at the helm, didn't have one player out there spouting there mouth.  They didn't record a music video.  They didn't worry themselves with reality shows all about them.  They just played football as a team, a concerto of speed and agility, no one part more important than the other.

T.O. will go down as a fantastic playmaker in the NFL, one that could actually make the Hall of Fame dare I say.  However, his legacy will fall far short of being a winner.  He'll never be mentioned among the great names like Rice, Carter, Belitnikoff, Largent and Swann.  It's hard to believe but even Michael Irvin will get greater props and he's broken the law too many times to count.

No, T.O. will go down being known for his blow, not his show; for his ability to deteriorate any coaching staff, locker room and press conference into a situation all about him.  And now, it truly is about him.  And he's 2-11 on a directionless team.

But that's the coaches fault.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


And now dear reader, the conclusion of my article.  Two notes of interest:

1) On a personal note, this was a painful post for me.  Thousands of dollars went into this research.  I did so on my own with no publication backing me because I felt any company financing this trip could institute their own agenda, which in turn, could make those that were suspicious of my intentions to begin with, only more so.  I had hoped this would lead to more articles.  I have many stories I've considered doing and wish to do.  I had hoped this article would not only be published but would open some doors.  Unfortunately, to that end some folks made promises they couldn't or didn't live up to. 

2) On a professional note, it was pointed out to me, and was completely my omission, that Project Triumph was also brought into existence with the help and assistance of the Rotary Club of Haifa, without which the Project could not have started.

and now part 3....


If there's one thing every program agrees about it's that follow-up after the initial camp process ends is a must. It has taken years for SOP and SCG-BBfP to build a presence in the areas of conflict itself.

“It's true the follow up program can't recreate the intensity of camp,” says Mailhot, “They've had a very unusual, special experience, which isn't shared by a lot of their friends….so the best forum that they can have is the kids with whom they were at camp.”

Through field offices in the region, Mailhot says SOP has created peer groups and field trips to keep the campers acquainted when they return. They also have facilitators on staff should campers need them. SOP even had an office in Gaza until it was recently forced to close, but their offices in Ramallah and Tel Aviv remain.

Project Triumph already had a presence established through Beit Hagefen. However, many personnel departures and changes created all sorts of issues in coordinating any follow-up programming. The fact the delegation finished in May and returned to their final exams before the summer break didn't assist in matters. Thus, the participants found continuing their journey beyond the two week camp to be too difficult.

Steinberg believes though the programs do no harm, in the end, reinforcement won't penetrate the likes of a person's narrative.

“When you're through with it you have a personal relationship. You have 'some of my best friends are Jews, some of my best friends are Arabs. But when the conflict gets tight, then everybody goes back to their separate corners and feels like they've been betrayed by the other side.”


Rawan doesn't look like an angry person. Her dark and penetrating looks often give way to a bright smile, so it's surprising that she once considered herself completely closed off from even hearing about an Israeli's point of view. Her parents, originally from Hebron, were displaced to Beit Hanina in the West Bank during the war.

“If I compare today's kids to that group that I was with, we were just angrier, but we were also angrier in a way that we actually voiced it… so I would go to and say to an Israeli, 'you are the reason people are shot.' It's not because of me, it's because of you.”

Rawan's first year in SCG-BBfP saw her return home to the Second Intifada. However, she found herself being able to see the conflict from both sides.

“I was being shot at, harassed at checkpoints and sort of had to take a two-hour detour because the soldier decided for that day I wasn't allowed to be there, so that was one side. The second side, I went to an Israeli college and I was taking the buses and they were exploding. Missed a couple of bombs myself so in a sense I went through both sides of fear in Jerusalem.”

However, it wasn't until a particularly bad day during the airstrikes in Bethlehem that everything changed for Rawan. An Israeli teenager named Adva, one who she hadn't been particularly close to at camp, phoned her house to find out if Rawan was OK. Though Rawan wasn't there, her mother relayed the message.

“I was like, who the hell is that? I didn't even remember her because my interaction with Israelis was very limited to, 'this is my story, goodbye.' You know, so from that point I was like why the hell would an Israeli care to call?”

Adva, the caller on the other end of this relationship, is not necessarily your typical Israeli either. Her family is Jewish, but is considered very secular, even with her family having lost members to the Holocaust.

“They were bombing Bethlehem University. I heard it on the radio and I remembered that Rawan was there, so I called her house phone….I wanted to make sure everything was OK.”

That one act between these two SCG-BBfP graduates solidified a friendship that continues to this day, and it all stemmed from this program. Rawan, 26, worked as a facilitator and coordinator at SCG-BBfP and now has a Masters Degree in social work. She works in Jerusalem's Moslem Quarter for a Palestinian Community Center advocating for equal rights. Adva, 26, is obtaining her bachelors in education for social justice, environmental justice and peace education. She just finished up working for another NGO, 'Windows for Peace'.


When it comes to determining the success of SCG-BBfP, (and perhaps any of these programs) Feldman says the measuring cup isn't as simple as turning on television news, seeing a Hamas terrorist act or an Israeli reprisal and thinking these programs aren't having any affect.

“We've been able to measure a difference in attitudinal change and attitudinal behavior towards the other….it's very interesting how many times the parents report back to us. What they'll say is we're not quite sure what you did at camp but one thing we've noticed is our child is able to listen better, they're more willing to sit at the table and to hear me out.”

For the 20 teenagers who graduated Triumph's third class in 2009, even in a mixed city such as Haifa, the journey towards true co-existence is an uphill battle. Six months after their graduation, only a few of the 20 had come together afterwards. As I met with members of the group for a dinner in December '09, the relationships still kindled a spark for all them, but none of the projects they committed to starting when they returned had come to bear. Some blamed the inconspicuous timing of returning to final exams and then summer break. Others blamed the project and Beit Hagefen for not being organized in their follow up. And a good portion take full responsibility for it themselves, realizing that nearly all of them have computers, phones and time if they wanted to see each other; a true sign of the leaders they will someday become.

It's hard to know what the outcomes of these programs will be. Project Triumph is re-organizing after a divide in philosophy with Beit Hagefen and expects their next curriculum to take place in Israel. With the first SOP 'Seeds' and SCG-BBfP graduates just reaching their 30's, the day may finally be arriving where their voices will enter the public debate. Already some are taking positions in places of law and government, but many of the graduates I spoke to admit not wanting to go directly into politics. However, they acknowledge it's more optimistic than what goes on between their respective leadership.

“It's like 50 years we've been doing through arms and what not and it hasn't worked,” says Rawan rather directly. “Today, 68 years later we're still using the same methods and the same tactics. Are we so surprised it's not working?”

Klein no longer believes it's about tactics at all, that frustrations with the peace process have left no demand for peace, particularly among Israelis. He cited as evidence a 2009 campaign run by a Palestinian organization trying to garner Israeli support for the Arab League Peace Initiative.  “Two weeks ago, there was a poll by the Truman Institute asking Israelis how many of you read or saw the ads. Seventy-five percent did not read, did not see the ads despite that the ads of the Arab League were published on a whole page, a few times in every Israeli newspaper.”

While academics such as Klein and Steinberg are still skeptical that a bottom-up approach can ever work, none of them can suggest a better idea, and agree the status quo top-down approach amounts often to not much more than a formality. The real peace takes place between people. Certainly, if Iris and her Palestinian motivators are reminders, it's that leaving the past behind and looking up may be the only way to an eventual breakthrough.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Below is the continuation of the article.


When the Triumph teens first arrive they are whisked from LAX on a driving tour of Los Angeles, which includes moving up the Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu on the way to Newbury Park and the West Hills. They are hosted for an introductory barbecue by a Rotary family, and meet some of the people who brought them there. For a lot of them, this is the first time in an environment where English is the prevalent language. It serves as a uniting force for the kids, who can communicate via Arabic and Hebrew amongst each other, but a reminder to their hosts of the barrier they must break through in short order.

Not only that, but the West Hills provides a safe environment and luxuries the likes of which many of these kids may never see. Upon asking them what they think initially, most of the teens can’t help respond that it’s what they see in American movies, which posits the question: Is the United States, governed by people who donate billions of dollars in aid to Israel, a place any Palestinian could truly feel at home? After all, SOP gets some of its funding from USAID grants. Certainly, as much as those teens might wish to see America, their participation could easily be dismissed by peers as the West once again pushing its agenda on the Middle East.

And that’s where critics like Kalman and Nasser Edin levy their strongest issue: the failure of these camps is solidified from moment one -- because creating a neutral environment for conflict resolution is simply impossible.

This is somewhat acknowledged by Aaron Hahn Tapper, himself a former volunteer for both SOP and SCG-BBFP, and creator of Abraham’s Vision, an educational program that seeks to educate American high school teens and college students from Jewish and Muslim religious backgrounds about their commonalities and differences. As an administrator of his own program, he’s believes finding a neutral space is next to impossible, as all environments reflect some form of ideology in some way.

“If you’re working with Group X and Group Y and you take them to a place where it’s Group X and their symbols all over the place, I’d say that’s going to be disempowering to Group Y. And I’d say that’s a challenge to some of the groups in our field.”

Hahn Tapper's organization is based in Northern California and offers programs which focus on educating Jews, Muslims & Palestinians – both in the U.S. and Middle East –on viewing old conflicts in new ways. However, most of the American-based conflict resolution groups pull students from the actual conflict area and seek as neutral a site as they can on American soil. For Seeds of Peace, the playing field is a camp in Maine. For SCG-BFFP, it’s a camp outside of Denver, and for Project Triumph, the teens’ taste of the good life at the estate is immediately replaced by wooden cabins of the Brandeis Bardin Institute in L.A.'s West Hills.

The directors of these programs also are inherently sensitive to growing their facilitators from within. Melodye Feldman, the recently retired founder of SCG-BBFP says 98% of her staff is past participants. SOP estimates that 10%-15% of its 4,000 graduates have gone on to leadership positions within the organization. Thus, as it may be the first time abroad for many of the participants, they are met by peers who speak their native tongue.

When I sat down with Paul Mailhot in December 2009 he was the Director of Global Programming for Seeds of Peace in Jerusalem (he has since become Director of South Asian Programs). He argues that taking the kids out of the area of conflict is necessary to provide a stress free environment which keeps the teens focused to the goal at hand. Not only that, it introduces them simply to each other as human beings, something that isn't done very often.

“It’s about three and half weeks, their experience with camp. And it is removed from the region so that the kids can sort of set aside some of the daily pain from this. But because that’s so, it changes them in ways often that make them want to continue to at least explore the idea of the conflict.”

Mailhot, a former U.S. Diplomat and Foreign Service officer, concedes there is a fall off particularly as the kids reach age 18 and the Jewish kids head to the Army. Feldman echoes Mailhot's sentiments, and adds that the change of scenery is necessary when the politics of your home country are in flux and violence can erupt at the drop of a hat.

“Since 2002, there have been no peace accords. And kids are going back into situations where there's no support in the communities for what they're doing, or little support.”


To address Israel as having Statehood lies at the very root of the problem when it comes to Israelis and Palestinians addressing each other. For the Palestinians living in the territory prior to 1948, Israel's birth was a slap in the face because many of them feel original “Israelis” were really Jews from Eastern Europe and not natives. Not only that, but the process that occurred after the United Nations passed resolution 181 calling for the partition that created a Jewish State in Palestine – that of the subsequent Israeli Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948 and the new Israelis creating the borders of their new country (an event which Palestinians refer to as The Nakba or “Cataclysm”) – is for Palestinians a story they compare to the Jewish displacement in Europe. The numbers vary depending on who is relating the tale, but Palestinians insist that 650,000 – 750,000 people were forcibly exiled from the new state. Israelis claim that many left willingly due to the impending invasion by Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. And the tales of racial hatred and violence perpetrated by the new Israeli armies pervade nearly every Palestinian narrative, and involve anything from simple taunting to violence.

In Project Triumph's curriculum, debating the past is a useless gesture, fraught with circular discussions that often degenerate into argument about right and wrong.

“In my view, all peace begins within yourself,” says Tom Voccola, leadership instructor and program co-organizer of Triumph. “And if you're not at peace with yourself, you can never be at peace with anybody else. What does being at peace with yourself mean? In our view it means being clear with who you are and what your life's purpose is, and being confident you are fulfilling this purpose in alignment with your values.”

Voccola and his co-organizer/wife Francis Fujii both found themselves as successful young chief executives, yet both were unfulfilled. They eventually founded CEO2, conceived from this idea you need a 'Purpose and Passion' to train and transform CEOs with the objective of reversing the productivity downturns that often follow company leadership change. Not long after, the two of them figured these methods could work in a larger forum, i.e. conflict resolution. Thus, Triumph focuses on self, and participants begin by creating a mission statement of who they are and what they hope to do with their lives. It is something they take home with them so they can be reminded of it during times of trouble.

“In our video, Ilan [Migdali] puts it very clearly, that when you know who you are and you connect to that part of yourself, there's no need to go to war with another person.”

Triumph's philosophy is to help teens distinguish their own truths from the narrative their parents and grandparents have fed them, which is usually system of truths or half-truths steeped in the bitterness and resentment of the past combined with unwillingness to focus on now, and more importantly the future.

“Over the years we found the great divide is rooted in the past,” Voccola points out rather emphatically. “There is no common future for the two sides coming from that place. It's a lot of finger pointing and a lot of 'you killed me and I'm going to kill you.' And so, much like in this country, the two right and left wings are screwing it up for everybody in the middle, which is most of the population.”

SOP and SCG-BBfP choose to approach the issues of the past head-on, feeling that any attempt to talk about the future without confronting the past is futile. Because their facilitators are often program graduates, they have Jewish Israelis and also Palestinians there for each side of the discussion. After each discussion with the facilitators, there is a debriefing, or down time, to let the kids voice their feelings with facilitators one-on-one.

Gottschalk says these talks are very necessary because the kids don't come to the camps empty-handed.
“They've been coached by their governments about what they're going so say, so for awhile they just have to get that out, because they feel obligated by their governments to say these things. And so all that stuff gets kind of regurgitated, and that's when they start to hurt each other's feelings and you see some crying…then I think they start taking another look at the words they're using and the impact it's having.”

SOP graduate Tomer adds that the two sides have passed down such similar anti-narratives about the other, that with no contact, they don't even realize how similar those narratives are.

“The most common narrative you’ll find on both sides now is we’re defending ourselves and they’re vulgarian, blood thirsty people who just want to kill babies. And it’s remarkable how similar it sounds when it comes from both sides.”

While SOP graduates over 300 students in two camp sessions per summer, SCG-BBfP works in slightly smaller groups, maybe 100 per summer in part because of funding and in part because of their desire to address the concerns and thoughts of each camper fully.

“Our program isn't about the fact we agree,” says Feldman, “and it's not about the fact that they even walk away making peace with each other. It's about the beginning process of learning how to listen to the other.”

Kalman asserts the elation achieved by this communication is lost quickly because the purpose for each teen being there is so different. For Jews their kids go because they want Israel to be safe and secure, and just wish to be left alone. For Palestinians, they hope to go and convince the Jews that the situation they are in is a discriminatory one, and persuade the Jewish teens away from joining the army.

Professor Menachem Klein, a teacher at Bar Ilan University's political science department, was involved in many of the Tract II discussions regarding the two-state solution, and is a board member of B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. He sees the recent trending of Israeli politics as something that supports Kalman's assertion. When I sat down with him, the Gaza conflict was just heating up in December 2009.

“I don't see any NGO or know of any party or organization that has graduates that have a voice here in the public debate. That's not the case. It exists on the memories of the participants but it does not exist in the public sphere.”

For Project Triumph's 2008 class, the topic of the past continues to rear its ugly head within the first week of their activities. Voccola and Fujii are left with no choice but to let the kids have their discussion. It's the first time in Triumph's three years this has happened, and the discussion is pointed but doesn't divide the kids. However, as they go back and forth, it's clear the issue can't be settled in any short term forum, and Voccola's sentiment about arguments of the past leading to nothingness manifests itself.

In the case of these two societies, the narratives are heavily ingrained by the time these kids reach their teens, relates Gerald Steinberg, professor at Bar Ilan University, and founder of NGO Monitor, a group that specifically monitors and exposes any of the political agendas behind NGOs. Though Israel is a more pluralist society, the Jewish narrative isn't any less permeating. The Palestinian para-military group Hamas simply continues a theme that runs deep into the heart of Jewish history, that in every generation someone seeks to destroy the Jewish populace. And for Palestinians, particularly from areas of the West Bank or Jerusalem, the society is completely different.

Unlike Jewish society, “it [Palestinian Society] is very homogenous -- you tow the line, you don't ask questions,” Steinberg points out. “You don't even think about asking questions. There's something strange about people that don't ask questions.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

TRIUMPH OVER HATE? - The uphill battles of conflict resolution camps as it pertains to Israel & Palestine

In May 2008, I stumbled upon a new program in the West Hills of Los Angeles.  A former Israeli paratrooper named Ilan Migdali had engaged in trying to change the face of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict first hand.  Through the Rotary Clubs of Southern California, the Brandeis Bardin Institute ande Beit Hagefen, the Arab-Jewish cultural center in Haifa, he launched Project Triumph, which brought teenagers out to Los Angeles of both Palestinian Christian and Muslim descent, as well as Israeli Jews, from probably the least conflicted city of Haifa.  The approach was almost the exact opposite of the in-your-face, direct dialogue programs like Seeds of Peace.  At the same time, the San Francisco Chronicle released a rather simplistic article by a local journalist proclaiming every single one of these programs a failure.  Six months later, I traveled to Israel to track down the teens and find out if anything had stuck. In an effort to get a true sense of these teens lives, and because of the kindness and generosity of many families, I stayed with them in their home environments for a few days.  I interviewed the teens, and then separately their parents.  I met with some academics, and graduates from other programs, as well as meeting with some key players amongst the biggest programs of these kind.  What follows is the 2000-word article I attempted to get published discussing these programs as a whole: what the experience was for the participants in Los Angeles, what some of the graduates think, and the comments of those that actually create the programs.  Keep in mind, what isn't discussed is the millions of dollars these programs take in from donors and private funds. 

Thank you for you interest.  And here is PART I

Jonathan Phillips


Sixteen year-old Eliana is staring up into a blinding California sun, which is pushing an obtrusive beam of light into her eyes. “Yella! Yella!” (Go On! Go on!), she encourages. Standing next to her, teenagers Jamele and Rawan also are yelling up words of advice. The object of their attention, Iris, is fighting not only her long straight hair, which is being blown into her glasses, but a crippling fear of heights. She is harnessed by a rope while attempting to climb a seventy-five foot tower and is petrified. Twenty feet up she has frozen, looking down as if to say, that's where I'd much rather be. All of this would seem like a normal ropes exercise except that that Eliana, Jamele and Rawan are Palestinians. Iris is a Jew. And in this particular situation, Iris has put her very goal in the hand of these three supporters. It's a fitting metaphor for the situation these teens are surrounded by every day in their home country of Israel. The Jews of Israel are outnumbered and surrounded by Arab countries. They have nowhere to go, and looking down will lead to shattered hopes, past miseries and unsolvable discussions. The only road may be to look up and plow ahead. For Iris, the moment is an eternity. Yet at the behest of her new cohorts, she turns her head skyward as well. An hour later, she has reached the apex. The cheers from below are audible and her smile tangible.

This is Day Nine of a two-week delegation called Project Triumph, which fosters conflict resolution through these kinds of self discoveries. It's the kind of moment that programs like these treasure verifying that limiting beliefs (self-doubts that cause people to put road blocks in their own way before addressing a situation) do exist and can be broken.

“All my life I felt that I'm less than my age group in terms of physical abilities,” Iris tells me later, “It came out the most today in the Tower Challenge. I had a huge limiting belief in my physical ability and I did it… it helped me, and another thing I now know I can be independent.”

Triumph is in just its third year. Its goals are lofty, perhaps too lofty, and its means, meager. For its founder, Ilan Migdali, its ideals are symbolized in the three girls standing below encouraging their new friend to exceed beyond her own limits.

Migdali is no stranger to conflict. In fact, one might say he was an antagonist of it. In 1982, with Lebanon on the verge of a civil war, and Israel's security to the north in question, Prime Minister Menachem Begin decided the only way to protect Israel from their troubled neighbor was to flex their muscle and invade. Migdali was one of the paratroopers who moved in with the initial invasion. However, much like the United States has discovered from its recent Iraqi dilemma, there's a difference between winning the initial battles and occupying a country. World opinion waned quickly on whether Israel was holding the moral high ground.

When the Oslo peace accords broke down, and the Second Intifada began in 2000, Migdali felt he had to do something. With the assistance of the Rotary Clubs of Southern California and Beit Hagefen Arab Jewish Cultural Center in Haifa, he went to work on coordinating a program that would plant seeds of acceptance into teenagers, hoping that as they move into adulthood, those notions of tolerance would challenge their own behavior in moments of high tension, and perhaps even the rest of their lives.

This is not a novel idea by any means. In fact, many conflict resolution programs have cropped up since the first Intifada in 1987, with a good portion of them coming out of the United States. Each of them propose their methodology will work in providing youth with the tools to stave off the dangerous fervor that really lies within of us. The prototype organization is Seeds of Peace (SOP), founded in 1993 by journalist John Wallach. Having viewed the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through a reporter's eyes, Wallach figured the adults were lost, and the only way the objective of peace would be achieved would be through children. Through family connections, he obtained permission to use a summer camp in Maine to ignite a world movement which many have sought to emulate; that of beginning conflict resolution through communication skills using elements of Contact and Social Identity theories with kids before they reach adulthood. Since then, over 4,000 students have attended the SOP camp sessions, and the board of advisors boasts such names as Israeli President Shimon Peres, Queen Noor of Jordan and former President Bill Clinton.

In October 2008, an article published by correspondent Matthew Kalman in the San Francisco Chronicle proclaimed that there were little results, if any, from such peace camps. The conclusions were based primarily on, at the time, an unpublished report initiated by PALVision, a youth empowerment organization that attempts to educate young Palestinians in skill sets that will advance the culture from within. The report itself addressed the Palestinian side directly and reported overwhelmingly that the majority of Palestinian youths who attend such camps have little or no change in their belief systems, or that it simply strengthened their resolve against changing the narrative. The article set off a series of strongly worded responses, both from SOP and Seeking Common Ground, an international program out of Denver, Colorado, whose flagship program Building Bridges for Peace (SCG-BBFP) originally for women has also seen thousands of graduates of its own come together from both sides of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Both organizations lambasted Kalman’s findings and went on to debunk what they considered a loosely researched and rather simplistic article for a very complex subject.

Yet, when I sit down with Iris six months later in her modest bedroom in Haifa, Israel, she spoke of that same moment as if it happened in a 3D theater and now she had misplaced her glasses. “I barely remember it,” she says. “It doesn't have so much impact. Back then it looked like a big thing to me, but now when I think of it it's not so significant.”

What had been a life-altering breakthrough for Iris had dissipated in the whirling dervish that is these teens' normal everyday lives in an area of imminent conflict. For these organizations, her response represents the most disturbing of notions that somehow their message didn't stick. What went wrong?

For the sponsors of Triumph, turning on the television to see last year's Gaza conflict was already unnerving enough. But with Triumph’s small scale viral approach (they’ve graduated 60 kids in three years), the idea of these breakthrough moments simply being dismissed within six months is what many would consider a failure. Yet therein lay the bigger problem. How does one define these groups in terms of success or failure, and what does either mean on a playing field as large and varied as the participants themselves? While Iris claims to have a more informed opinion and lays some of the blame on herself for not staying in touch with some of those Palestinian cohorts that urged her to success, she is a microcosm of the major issues that plagues these groups at the outset; political narratives, societal influence, education, parental influence, and the direct or perceived intent of the specific conflict-resolution group. Are the goals of such a program misplaced on teens, whose impressionable lives are already entwined within self-discovery, hormones and fashion fads, much less solving a peace problem that has existed for over 60 years?


Rami Nasser Eddin, the head of PALVision, purposely waltzes into the King David Hotel. He is a tall and rather lanky man, dressed in westernized denim wear, all of which seems to suit him. It is December 2009, and his group has since published their 38 page report debunking such programs, and he is not shy about laying out his argument. He says a lot of the problem is that there are so many Non-Governmental Organizations (he estimates over 5,000 NGOs in Palestine alone) and often they are tied financially to companies with agendas. He also believes that teenage recruits are too young and too undefined as human beings to be adequate agents of change.

“We realize we can affect more on the kids, you know when he [a child] is 18 or 20. The issue is not just about selecting, the problem is the planning of the program. We shouldn't meet with kids at all because frankly speaking they don't know anything.”

Nasser Eddin makes it no secret he is pessimistic about these larger organizations, claiming their follow up is limited and that the children are helping the groups more than vice versa because rarely do the teenagers know what they've signed up for.

I spoke to graduates from SOP, SCG-BBFP and of course the recent Project Triumph graduates of 2009. Nearly all of them concurred that they didn't completely understand what they were getting into.

Lama, now age 27, who is a Muslim Palestinian Israeli graduate of SOP put it this way, “They tried to explain it but I think at fifteen years old all I heard was America, America. I knew that there would be Israelis, but I didn’t think that they would be right next to me or they would be sharing the bunk or whatever.”

SOP Haifa coordinator Bashar is also a Palestinian Israeli graduate, and he puts it more bluntly, “…most of it came out cause I wanted to get the hell out of my house and just go have fun.”

Tomer, a Jewish Israeli graduate echoes these thoughts except he thinks most participants think they got the better of the deal. “I think most of them [the participants] feel that they tricked the system into going.”

Nasser Eddin also points out that the programs recruiters don't investigate the language barrier thoroughly enough. While Israelis have it in their educational system to be taught English, Palestinians do not. Nasser Eddin worries that this creates an uneven playing field between Israelis and Palestinians once in the United States, and that some Palestinians aren't educated enough to even know how to express their own point of view, especially in English. It also means that these programs are generally unable to tap into the deepest radical areas.

Bobbie Gottschalk is the co-founder of SOP and former Executive Director. She's a rich mixture of Jewish and Quaker backgrounds, has a Masters of Social Work from the University of Chicago and believes that the foundation has to be laid when participants are teens.

“During that time of life they're [teenagers] wanting to have their own experiences and wanting to test what they've been taught. They're starting to trust their own opinions, even against people who are supposedly very knowledgeable….their minds are not completely closed yet.”

Ironically, Nasser Eddin is a graduate from the same type of programs he criticizes. In 2001, at age 24, he attended a forum called Peace Boat, a Japanese-based NGO whose website states their cause is to “promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment.” It was his first time abroad and also his first time meeting an Israeli. He admits that at this point of his life he was ultra sensitive, having participated in the Second Intifada and served prison time. He credits an Israeli woman named Keren Asaaf for changing his life. They began working on bringing Palestinians and Israelis together and were recognized internationally with the Mount Zion award, a German Prize given for cross-cultural programs enhancing tolerance in the Holy Land.

These days Nasser Eddin works independently because of his belief that Palestinians need better education about the issues, and has set up many programs within Pal Vision to educate and facilitate Palestinian youth to claim their identity and educate themselves in dealing with societal issues living in the West Bank and Jerusalem.