by Brian Freedman, ICCI intern
In a mixed Jerusalem neighborhood a fortnight ago, frenzied Jewish and Arab teens chased and screamed at one another for an hour—all whilst flashing big smiles and cracking jokes.
The pandemonium arose from a spirited soccer match among the recently-graduated participants of Face to Face / Faith to Faith (F2F), a leadership and dialogue program that includes a 2-week summer peace camp in New York, which ICCI sponsors in cooperation with the Auburn Theological Seminary. Before and after the summer camp, the Jewish and Palestinian teens engaged in bi-monthly dialogue sessions that focused on breaking down stereotypes; they also performed community service and worked on developing their leadership skills.
The teens, accompanied by friends, arrived at the Musrara Community Center on the evening of Thursday, December 15th, for the penultimate event of the year-long dialogue program. Before the group facilitators drew the participants into more serious discussions, they gave the boys a soccer ball and the girls green space in which to skip, jump and dance. Linda, a Palestinian girl from the town of Shuafat in East Jerusalem, tried to mimic a improvised dance move that one of the ICCI facilitators was demonstrating to the girls. She discovered ICCI and the F2F program through a Palestinian friend of hers. Although her friends and society sometimes criticize her for meeting with Jews, she believes that dialogue groups are a vital medium through which to build trust between her Jewish neighbors. Her family supports her efforts, and her sister was a camper at the Seeds of Peace camp in Maine.
Hadar, a Jewish girl who participated in the program in 2011 with Linda, also tried with varying success to follow the comical dance moves. She learned about ICCI and the summer peace camp through high school friends. After an ICCI staff person gave a presentation at her school, she decided to enroll in the program. She brought to the event a friend of hers from school, as all the participants were asked to bring friends to introduce them to the peace work in which they have been involved this past year.
At the close of the event, the participants discussed their feelings and thoughts about playing games with the “other side”, a rare and unusual occurrence in Israel. One participant said it was not strange to play soccer with the other side, adding that Jews have more in common with Palestinians than they might imagine. A Jewish student said that he relishes the opportunity to learn about Palestinian culture and religion.