Wednesday, December 8, 2010

THE FINAL INSTALLMENT - TRIUMPH OVER HATE?

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....


THE NEED FOR REINFORCEMENT

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.”


SMALL SUCCESSES – A SIMPLE PHONE CALL

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'.

WHAT WILL DETERMINES SUCCESS?

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.