Report from Shadia on the Masalah Summer Camp
"The story of Jonah teaches us that God's love embraces everyone, even our enemies. For a camp of 50 Israeli and Palestinian kids, it is a fitting theme for children coming together with people from the other side. Our special guest speaker was the whale. We were reminded that God's love is unconditional and embraces all, and would like to believe that we succeeding in implementing God's love throughout this camp.
This year the number of participants almost doubled, and some say that was the best Musalaha camp so far. The program was slightly different than previous years, the counselors more experienced, returning campers even helped the program flow smoothly. This age group of 9-12 year olds is a perfect age to bring kids together, and there are few projects that bring together Israeli and Palestinian kids of this enthusiastic age.
The situation in the country does not allow both sides to interact one with the other on a daily basis. For the most part, Israelis only see Palestinians on a television screen. The only interaction Palestinians have with Israelis is through the check point. Although there is a Palestinian population in Israel names "Israeli Arab," they too live segregated and in their own neighborhoods. Living side by side does not necessarily mean that both sides interact. Holding a camp like this one is something unique. We spend 5 whole days together depending on each other and building the unity of the camp.
A counselor noted, "The part I enjoyed most was taking a step back to watch the kids interact with each other. At this age, they are very social, dependant on friends for approval, and it seemed to be easy for the kids to connect with each other, across all perceivable barriers, to create a week of unforgettable memories."
By the end of the camp kids could sing worship songs in both Arabic and Hebrew. They went home singing songs not in their language and parents praised our work. We also had one section during Bible study where we would say words and the kids had to find them in the Bible. For example, they had to look up “stone” in the Bible. So, the first group that found one reference to a stone in the Bible won.
There were two levels of reconciliation in the camp: one between the children and the other between the counselors. This year, the counselors’ level of interaction and commitment stood out to me when one of the Israeli counselors, Avi, chose to spend his last week before enrolling in the army with us. The last evening, we held a party for this event. At first we all shared a nice snack and then some cultural dancing. It was moving to see Israelis attempt to dance to Arabic music, but mostly funny. I felt like the distinction of Palestinian or Israeli was removed and we became one group of brothers and sister. However, at the end of the evening, we decided that we wanted to pray for Avi as he goes onto the army. The Palestinians’ view of a soldier is very negative because often their only encounters with soldiers are at check points or in conflict situations. Palestinians view soldiers with fear, and perceive them as aggressors. However, to Israelis a soldier is someone who could be their brother, sister or parent; someone they love and admire. Once every Israeli Jew turns 18, he or she is drafted into the army. I was somewhat concerned about how Avi's party and his step into the army would be received by the Palestinian counselors. When we gathered to pray, many prayers were raised for Avi. Most of these prayers were said by the Palestinian side and they were in Arabic. I imagine it wasn't easy for them to pray for him, however, their love and care for him surpassed this fear. At that moment I felt like the group had made another step in reconciliation.
The counselors were a great crowd of young people to work with and I appreciate that they came and volunteered with us. For both the counselors and the campers, this camp ended with a high. I know that each kid who participated will remember the great friendship that evolved among the counselors and will take that friendship as an example of reconciliation for themselves".
~ Shadia Qubti, project coordinator