Israeli and Palestinian women lead peace talk at Alvernia


Since its inception in 2003, Creativity for Peace (a New Mexico nonprofit organization with operations in Israel and the Palestinian Territories) has brought 146 girls, ages 15-17, of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths from Israel and Palestine to the United States for a summer camp program about peacemaking, using facilitated dialogue, art-making, field trips, and social time.

On Wednesday, March 10, Alvernia’s Holleran Center for Community Engagement, the Jewish Federation of Reading, the Islamic Center of Reading, and the Reading Berks Conference of Churches came together to bring three young Creativity for Peace speakers to campus as part of Alvernia’s popular Lecture Series.

During the event, Israeli May Freed (21) sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Palestinians Amira Said (22) and Fairooz Abadi (21) to discuss what it has been like to live in war-torn Israel and Palestine. 

They bowed their heads as Dottie Indyke, Executive Director of Creativity for Peace (CP), told the audience that girls participating in the CP camp do not start out as peacemakers. “Like today’s panelists, these girls come to camp because they have been affected by violence. They’re mad, and are looking for an opportunity to tell ‘the other side’ how much they hate each other,” she explained. Camp participants (all girls) are half Palestinian and half Israeli. They live together for three weeks, learning to talk and listen to their “enemies” about their fear, suffering, and loss. By the end of the three-week program, the girls begin to see that people are suffering on both sides of the conflict.

Amira Said, a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Jenin, explained that she felt like she “lived in a jail.” The Israeli army would make her family leave her home in the middle of the night, or impose curfews that forced them to stay indoors for months at a time. In 2001, her father died trying to get to a hospital after being held up at an Israeli checkpoint. “I hated the word ‘Israeli,’” she said. “I hated each person in this country.” After taking a moment to collect herself, she began to speak of her experience with the Creativity for Peace camp. “I came to camp just to tell [the Israelis] how much I hate them and how much they changed my life.”

“It was really hard for me to meet them in the beginning,” she said. “But when we started to dialogue, I told them about all my pain, all my suffering—and I really felt different.”

Sitting next to her as she talked was May Freed, a Jewish girl from Kahal, Israel. After camp, May refused to go into the Israeli army—a very unpopular decision in her country—and one that often leads to jail. “When May refused to go into the Israeli army, it really changed me,” said Amira. “When I hear that the [campers from Israel] don’t agree with what their army is doing, it really makes me feel very good.”

Three weeks in camp and one brave decision by an “enemy Israeli” made a difference for Amira. “So now I choose not to hate them,” she said. “I choose to meet them. Living together at camp, I discovered that both sides are hurting and that both sides are victims. Through the camp, we are changing ourselves, and we are changing the community. People will hear our voice and see that the solution is in peace, not with violence and killing. I’ve had enough of the killing and pain and suffering. We need to live side-by-side—one country for two nations.”

About Creativity for Peace:

Creativity for Peace’s mission is to nurture understanding and leadership in Palestinian and Israeli adolescent women so they can aspire to and take on significant roles in their families, communities and countries, advancing peaceful coexistence. Programs include a three-week summer camp, ongoing gatherings for former campers in the Middle East, advanced communication and leadership training for young leaders, and academic scholarships.

The Young Leadership Initiative program teaches students self-empowerment and self-awareness skills for healing from the trauma of war. The program offers tools for reducing prejudice and coping with conflict. Young leaders also learn practical skills, such as group facilitation and public speaking and have hands-on opportunities to broaden the circle of understanding in the Middle East and beyond.

After the summer camp, the women return home, but continue to meet year-round to take part in leadership and communication training offered by Creativity for Peace in the Middle East.

The Holleran Center:

Rooted in the Franciscan identity of Alvernia University and its mission as a teaching and learning institution, the Holleran Center for Community Engagement identifies, cultivates and sustains strategic partnerships to strengthen both campus and community life. By making these community partnerships an essential part of the curriculum, the Holleran Center strives to foster the University mission and improve the quality of life in our community and to develop in its students a lifelong commitment to service as engaged citizens.

The Center for Ethics & Leadership:

The Center for Ethics and Leadership at Alvernia University is an interdisciplinary initiative for dialogue on ethics and leadership among members of the Alvernia community, the local and regional communities, and colleagues throughout the academy.

Upcoming Lectures at Alvernia University:

March 25, 2010 (4 p.m.)
“The Challenge of Leadership in our Urban Cities”
Bernardine Franciscan Conference Center

April 12, 2010 (7:30 p.m.)
Annual Hesburgh Lecture: “Deciding to be Green”
Bernardine Franciscan Conference Center

Call 610.790.1725 or email for more information.

Img: lecture series

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