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Today on Capitol Hill, 50 young Israeli, Palestinian and American youth from Kids4Peace are meeting with 40 Republican and Democratic offices in the House and Senate to request US investment in grassroots peacebuilding efforts.

As beneficiaries of a FY2015 USAID Conflict Management and Mitigation grant, Jerusalem youth will share the impact of US investment in the the Israeli and Palestinian people.  Because of USAID, Kids4Peace Jerusalem has doubled in size and added a teen-led nonviolent action component.

Today, more than 400 youth from across Jerusalem participate in year-round programs of dialogue, leadership and action.  Kids4Peace is showing the power of youth and vision of hope for the future.

Kids4Peace is concerned that FY2017 USAID funding for CMM is still on hold by the administration.

We urgently request that FY2017 USAID funds be immediately released before the end of the fiscal year.  

Organizations like Kids4Peace rely on CMM to fund sustainable growth.  Holding back this money will cause harm to the very people who are working hardest for peace.

We are also seeking long-term investment in grassroots peacebuilding, through an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.  HR 1221 (Fortenberry R-NE) would create this fund and authorize a $50million annual appropriation.  The Palestinian Partnership Fund (in SFOPS19) makes this $50million available in the coming year.

With US leadership, the International Fund would fuel rapid growth of organizations like Kids4Peace and inspire large-scale projects like our organization’s dream: to create a purpose-built Youth Peace Center in Jerusalem, where thousands of Israeli and Palestinian teens can meet after school, to build bridges of understanding, learn about the roots of conflict and inequality in the city, and work together nonviolently to create social change.

In addition to the international advocacy, Kids4Peace youth from Washington State are seeking support for legislation to reduce gun violence. 

For more information, contact Kids4Peace at

From Meredith Rothbart
Development Director, Jerusalem

Dear friends and supporters,

I write to you now from Jerusalem, just easing back into work after maternity leave with my newborn son Yishai.

As I reflect on the growth of my family, I feel determined to help the Kids4Peace community continue to grow at a strong, steady pace. Sometimes it seems that we face more challenges each year.

“Ima, who are the bad guys?” my 3-year old daughter, Shalva, asked me just a few days ago.

As an Israeli child, she hears the chatter around her about division and violence.

While I try to reassure her that the world is not divided into “good guys” and “bad guys”, I know these are the very same questions my Palestinian and American friends, family and colleagues are struggling to answer to their children.

As a mother and an educator, I believe that we must not merely answer our children in words. We must provide opportunities to take action–and in Kids4Peace we are doing just that.

In Kids4Peace Seattle, our community stood up against violencethis weekend at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound, a mosque recently scarred with vandalism.

Our Kids4Peace Boston youth joined together in service by cooking dinner for residents of the homeless shelter at First Church in Cambridge.

In Kids4Peace Jerusalem, 100 youth leaders marched in unity through the Old City, and will take what they’ve learned back to their schools where they’ll share their experiences.

More than 500 youth participate in Kids4Peace globally.

You have the power to help them stand up against violence, join together in service, and march together in unity.

With Hope,

Take action. Donate Now.

Donate today and every dollar will be matched.



11078071_10100879549208157_1799555395257608746_nOver the last week, the deep divisions in American society have risen to the surface, and a wave of hate speech, intimidation and bullying has affected our community personally.

I know a Muslim girl who had a rock thrown through her window, a rabbi whose daughter had swastikas painted on her dorm, and an Episcopal church defaced by racist vandalism.

But we know that love is stronger than hate. I’ve seen an outpouring of love from our Kids4Peace youth, who came together in Boston, Seattle, Vermont and New Hampshire – to reaffirm their friendships, support each other, and prepare for what’s next.

As an interfaith peace organization, our work is more important than ever – and for us, dialogue and action go hand in hand.


In the coming months, Kids4Peace will equip all our youth with skills to stand up against hate, educate peers about other religions, and facilitate hard conversations across difference.

We will work with community partners on campaigns to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, and we’ll help congregations and community organizations develop capacity to address deep conflict among youth and engage them with campaigns for justice.

I know we can rise to this challenge, because I see our inspiring young peace leaders – now more than a thousand strong – who are lighting the way to a better future.


Kids4Peace’s mission has suddenly become more urgent, and dozens of new communities want to start local chapters. To make this happen, we will need your help.

Would you consider a special gift this year, to help expand our work in the USA? We’ll need to train local youth leaders and educators, hire community organizers, and design cutting-edge curriculum to most effectively engage youth.

And if you know congregations, universities, organizations, denominations, foundations or donors who might want to partner with Kids4Peace, please introduce us!

Let’s make interfaith cooperation, respect and understanding the norms in our society. And let’s partner with inspiring young leaders to create a more just and peaceful world.

Fr. Josh Thomas

PS – If you donate between now and #GivingTuesday (Nov 29), your gift will be doubled!  And check out the inspiring video from Kids4Peace Jerusalem youth, talking about what your gift means to then.

The Kids4Peace International Board of Directors elected three new members this week.  Welcome to the Kids4Peace Team – Rokas Beresniovas, Jesse Raben & Kevin Rachlin. 

????????????????????????????????????Rokas Beresniovas

Rokas Beresniovas works as a Vice President at the State Bank of India (California) in Washington, DC.

Born in Lithuania, Rokas emigrated to the U.S. in 1999. From there he worked his way up the corporate ladder, and in 2006 he began work in the financial services sector at Bank of America. In August 2007, Rokas became a Vice President of Business Development for Eagle Bank where he helped grow the bank by double digits. Following this, Rokas was recruited by HSBC Bank USA, one of the largest banking and financial services organizations in the world. As Vice President of Global Business Banking, Rokas helped grow and sustain their international presence in the Washington DC market. In 2013, Rokas was recruited by the State Bank of India (California) to head its east coast commercial business expansion.

Giving back to the community is also important to Rokas. In 2007, he joined the Georgetown Business Association (GBA) and was elected VP in 2011 and President in 2012. Currently, Rokas is a board member of Pebbles of Hope, Kids 4 Peace International, the Joy of Motion, and an honorary board member for The Embassy Series. In the past, Rokas served on the Board of Directors for the CSAAC Foundation, the GMC and Global Tassels.

Recently, Rokas was awarded the 2016 SmartCEO Washington DC Executive Management Award and was a finalist for the 2015 SmartCEO Washington DC Money Manager Award. He also won a Global Tassels Community Innovator Award (2015) and The Eurasia Center Golden BRICS Award (2014).

Rokas is the founder of the Lithuanian nonprofit organization Global Lithuanian Leaders (GLL) and was recognized by the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2015 for outstanding leadership in youth mentoring.


Jesse Raben

Jesse Raben is the Associate General Counsel in the Office of General Counsel at the American Psychological Association where he has been for over 15 years focusing on intellectual property, internet privacy and technology issues, corporate compliance, contracts, corporate governance and general business and legal risk management. Before joining APA, Jesse clerked for the Supreme Court of Hawaii and worked pro bono for an environmental watch dog group in Israel in 1994 before becoming an associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson and then at Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan in Washington, DC. In 1998, Jesse started and operated his own internet retail company but came back to practicing law in late 2000.

He earned is J.D. from Georgetown University in 1993 and his B.A. from Tufts University in 1988. He is admitted to the District of Columbia Bar.

Kevin Rachlin

unnamed-3Kevin Rachlin currently serves as the Director of Government Affairs for the Basic Education Coalition, advocating for expanded and equitable access to quality basic education so that all children around the world have a chance to learn. Prior to this, Kevin served at J Street, a pro-Israel pro-peace lobby in Washington, DC for over six years as the Deputy Chief of Staff as well as the Deputy Director of Government Affairs. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Kevin received his BA in Political Science and International Studies from The Ohio State University and his MS in Health and Medical Policy from George Mason University. In 2006, he studied in at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he witnessed the 2006 Lebanon War and Gaza conflict, which deeply impacted his commitment to peace in the region. Kevin currently lives in Arlington, VA with his wife, Jennifer and is expecting their first child in December 2016.


Program Report: Friday, March 11th, 2016

Goal: Introduce the K4P community to sacred places in Jerusalem.  Understand the importance of Jerusalem for each faith tradition – and why the old city is a place of so much conflict.

Original Plan:
“Jerusalem 360” – Interfaith Walk through the Old City (rescheduled due to violence)

Revised Plan:
Dialogue for 30+ youth, parents and staff about daily life in Jerusalem, with guest facilitator Jay Rothman


IMG_0029We just finished our meeting today and I have to tell you that we feel the support and we are thankful that Kids4Peace is a real community where people feel safe and obligated to. We will continue to do our work inshala and will continue to inspire and be inspired.
– Mohammad, Co-Director


It is not easy to keep living in Jerusalem with the amount of daily violence. Everyday, our kids4peace staff must make decisions about our lives: should we go to the office? should we keep the meetings and risk our children, young adults and ourselves or not. Each day I have the question: does my peace work really deserve to risk my life? if anything will happen to me (and too many times I have seen/hear the violence) — do I really believe that my work was deserve this risk?  I admire our team.


I feel holiness each day to be next to them, to hear the stories of their daily lives and see how they risk themselves for creating change. Each staff meeting looks as both: a special unit military meeting, which deal with life/death decisions and also as a seminar lead by the Dali Lama, full with mindfulness, spirituality, compassion, love and care.
 – Yakir, Director of Dialogue to Action project.  



This morning we had a unique event of Kids4Peace, for parents, staff and children who decided to join together to deal, together, with the trauma of these days, to support each other and keep the work at homes, schools and in kids4peace for change and peace.

K4P children shared that they suffer at schools since they are youth for peace. Almost all of our staff had to deal with violence next to their eyes because of their decision to keep working in Kisd4Peace. We are all called with names – “traitors” is the most known.

We all lost friends and people we love because we demand to see the other side as humans too, since we demand from ourselves to feel their pain too (and not on the account of feeling the pain of our “natural” side). 

There was an attack close to my home in Jaffa. And we have a what’s up of the parents of my child’s kindergarten. I have sent a message about being ok, and no one answered. There are 35 people in this group and no one answered. And in K4P, always people write and care and call.

I feel there are two Jerusalems. In the Jewish one, no one really cares what is happening in the other side. You can live and not care and know what is happening a few miles next to you. Even during the shooting and stabbing I don’t talk about it.

I want to talk about feeling numbness. As an Arab, we are so using to hearing about shooting and stabbing and it sounds that the people are interchangeable. I was one of these people who just “heard about things.”  But 2 days ago, the shooting was next to the shop of my grandfather who is 80 years old. So, when it affects your family, it affects your personal feeling. I am so thankful for the meeting and have the place to express the feeling. I know that it will be taken in consideration that it is fragile, and I am thankful for feeling supported.

I had a bad experience at my school and class. My classmates had a debate with the teacher about the events from two days ago. We spoke about these crimes. But they didn’t even call it crimes – they supported the actions. The teacher called it a crime. I didn’t want to join the debate, since most people were against my opinion. The teacher closed the debate, since people were shouting.  So, I am glad to be here and to share my experience, and here I can express my feelings and make my hope stronger.

I was born at the heart of the old city in 1966. The place where I was born was called, Halti Sharaf. A few months after I was born the war of 67 happened, and it became part of the Jewish quarter. My parents and myself became refugees. And we got a place at Shuafat refugee camp, but when my parents saw the situation there, (and it is till today) they decided not to live there and they went to Siliwan.

And I grew up there as a refugee at this place in Silwan. Back then, as a child, I didn’t see the war, but my childhood was ok, but my school was at the old city, so I walked by the western wall and walked by the mosque (everything was open then) and went to my school. I have walked this way everyday. There was a monastery and we played there football and learned languages. Till they put walls.

Later, my father bought some land in Beit Haninah and we went there, but when the separation wall was built, our home was in Palestine, and it is all empty area and no one can live there because of the military.

The situation in Jerusalem has made everyone to lose the hope and dreams. I really want for real peace. Only then we can live together.




Welcome to Dr. Dany Bahar, our newest Kids4Peace International Board member, elected January 2016. 

Dany Bahar is an economist affiliated with The Brookings Institution and with Harvard’s Center for International Development. His research is focused on topics related to economic growth and development.

Dany Bahar was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela to second generation Jewish holocaust-survivor immigrants from Europe. At age 22 he immigrated to Israel, where he served in the Israel Defense Forces, worked for several years in both the public and private sector and received an MA in Economics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During his time in Israel he was highly involved in the pro-peace camp. He later moved to Cambridge, MA where he completed a PhD in Public Policy at Harvard University in 2014.
As of today, while he resides in the US, he visits Israel regularly. He blogs on topics related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in and is a fierce believer of the two state solution as the only way to achieve sustainable peace in the region while respecting the rights of self determination of both people. 
“I’m excited to join an organization that builds the future while not ignoring the present. Our kids in K4P represent the best of both the Israeli and Palestinian society: they represent hope, but not naiveté. They are represent hope because they are part of the solution and not the problem, and because they embrace co-existence and respect as a core value. But also, they do not act out of naiveté, because through their involvement in K4P they understand the complexity of the situation they inherited from the previous generation. I believe that the teenagers that are part  of K4P today represent, potentially, the last generation that can solve the conflict in a sustainable manner. Therefore, I am aware of the importance of K4P in the future of the region.”

A Message from the Executive Director

Download as PDF

For the past 13 years, Kids4Peace has provided life-changing interfaith peace education programs for Israeli, Palestinian and American youth.  More than 1,800 youth, parents and volunteers have participated in summer camps and year-round programs.  In the face of conflict, we remain a strong community – inspiring hope – thanks to the dedication of so many. 

11221555_702556333183765_537692727224051429_oToday, we face a new reality.  The surge of violence in Jerusalem, longstanding injustices, a deteriorating political landscape, and the lack of negotiations bring a new mandate for peace organizations.  It’s no longer enough to support a peace process; today, we must lead it.

That will require fresh vision, and an even more serious, focused and strategic approach.  In the USA and across Europe, we see the rise of xenophobia, discrimination and hatred toward religious minorities.  Solidarity among people of faith is now a matter of global urgency.

Two years ago, we adopted a new mission statement for Kids4Peace.  The first part, to embody a culture of peace, has been our strength.  The second, to empower a movement for change, is now our challenge.  We have taken some first steps, with the launch of the new young adult pilot project in Jerusalem, called Dialogue to Action.

But our youth are asking tough questions now – and they ask them at a younger age.  Through media, peer influence and personal experience, the hard issues of violence and conflict are already part of their lives by age 12 or 13.

It is no longer possible to create a community of friends outside of conflict.  Instead, we are building this community in the midst of conflict.  That community must be strong at the local, national and international levels.

In all our youth programs, we need to bring a new level of honesty, seriousness and skill.

This challenge comes with a great opportunity – to create a large and powerful interfaith youth movement, which can lead the way to peace, in Jerusalem and other divided societies around the world.  To be successful, we will need to build a program that can grow to scale – to welcome the hundreds of families who come to us each year, and the thousands more who long for peace.

To accomplish this, we will make three major changes to our six-year Pathways to Peace youth program.

First, we will shift our signature International Summer Camp from sixth to seventh grade.  This will offer youth one year in Kids4Peace at the local level, before adding the global component.  Youth will forge interfaith friendships at the chapter level, with time to prepare for the unique opportunity to share their culture and learn from new friends.  The new seventh grade International Camp will include deeper interfaith engagement and expanded sessions about self-expression, understanding conflict, and nonviolence.

Second, we will not recruit a new cohort of Jerusalem youth in 2016.  Welcoming new families is the most challenging part of Kids4Peace’s work, and we need to take one year to invest in organizational infrastructure: curriculum planning, staff training, communications, fundraising, and impact evaluation.  We will recruit both sixth and seventh grade youth in 2017, so current sixth-graders will still have the chance to join next year.  American sixth-graders can join new interfaith Day Camps and other programs in their local chapters. 

Third, we will launch a new, signature program: the K4P Global Institute for 9th grade youth.  The Institute begins with an eight-day intensive program in downtown Washington, DC, where participants will meet with political, religious and public policy organizations; interact with inspiring leaders and grassroots activists; and practice skills in political advocacy, religious leadership, grassroots organizing and media engagement.

After their eight days in Washington, Jerusalem youth will accompany their American peers back home, for visits to local chapters.  Over the next weekend, youth will speak to religious and community groups, visit cultural sites, and share their stories with the media – as ambassadors of peace.  This will be a very special opportunity for US chapters to host our most passionate and articulate youth from Jerusalem, in order to begin new conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and interfaith cooperation in American society.

Kids4Peace remains an interfaith youth movement.  We are committed to fostering trust, understanding and friendships among youth of different religions and cultures.  But now, in addition to a focus on friendships, Kids4Peace will emphasize faith-based social change.  We will equip youth to draw upon their religious traditions to promote interfaith cooperation, resist violence, contribute to the end of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and advance greater justice and peace across the world.

Our program changes are driven by a single goal: to prepare all our youth to be agents of change and influential leaders for peace.  

We are a grassroots movement. We believe that everyone has a part to play. And together, we will help to end the conflicts that tear our communities apart. Together, we will build a future of peace with justice for all the children of Jerusalem and the world we share.   This is our work ahead.

Thank you for your courage and commitment –

Fr. Josh Thomas, Executive Director
Kids4Peace International


New Summer Program Sequence – Beginning 2017

Grade Jerusalem North America Program Focus
6th Local Programs Interfaith Day Camps
in Chapter, or other local programs
Interfaith learning, friendship & Community
7th International Camp
For Jerusalem and American youth, in USA
Launches in new format in 2017, Location(s) TBD
Cultural exchange, understanding conflict, dialogue
8th National Camp National Camp
For youth from all chapters
History, identity, justice, and religious sources of peace
9th Global Institute
For Jerusalem and American youth, in Washington, DC
Faith-based social change, advocacy and public leadership
10th Specialized programs based on interests of youth:
politics & diplomacy, human rights, arts & culture, education
Practice skills. Explore vocation.

Chapters will continue year-round programs for youth and families, including after-school programs, overnight retreats, public events and community service projects. 


Transitional Year – 2016

Grade Jerusalem North America
6th No Programs in 2016
Current sixth-graders can join next year.
Interfaith Day Camps
in several chapters
Information will be posted January 1
7th National Camp
Nes Ammim
National Camp
Burlington, VT
Registration open
8th National Camp
Kibbutz Keturah
9th Global Institute
For Jerusalem and American youth, in Washington, DC
followed by homestays in local chapters
Registration open
10th No Programs in 2016

Download as PDF

Visit the Kids4Peace website for details & registration information.

A Message from Jerusalem

As a community of Palestinians and Israelis, we feel the pain of both sides like almost no one else. And most painfully of all, we see children – so much like our K4P youth – caught up in the violence and suffering.

We cling to our common humanity, our hope for peace, our rejection of violence.

This is a blessing and a burden.Because ewe refuse to be defeated. Because we know that before the dawn, the darkness is most deep. There is so much work to do.

We need you now more than ever, to hold our hands, to stand with us, to pray for peace, to keep the flame of peace lit. We will pave the way together, as a community.

We will not be defeated. Thank you for keeping the hope alive.

Donate today:


A Jerusalem Program for Understanding Feels Strain and Carries On

CA-USIP-LogoBy Fred Strasser

Originally published by the United States Institute of Peace (

To hear voices of peace challenged by a surge of violence, simply listen to a conference call held by Arab and Jewish parents in Jerusalem who are involved in the program Kids4Peace. The bonds formed over the years their children attended the group’s dialogues and camps are at once strained and sturdy, resolute and despairing and frayed by fear. For the program’s staff, one posted message reflects their defiance at this moment in the Arab-Israeli conflict: “We will not be defeated. Nothing is cancelled.”

Over 12 years, Kids4Peace, a U.S.-based nonprofit, has brought together more than 1,100 school-age youths—Jews, along with Muslim and Christian Arabs—in Jerusalem and at international summer camps to support them in “embodying a culture of peace and empowering a movement for change.”

The kids engage in dialogue, trust-building workshops, games and joint projects aimed at bridging the often-violent chasm that separates them in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Parents must also commit to the program when their children join, creating a sustained, family engagement that project leaders say is key to creating a sense of community; 80 percent stick with the program through all six years.

The work is never easy and the opposing narratives of the students’ backgrounds leave them without a firm base to even begin a dialogue, said Father Josh Thomas, an Episcopal priest who leads the organization. But as children from families that are at least motivated to reach out to the other side, they make friends, learn about each other’s religions and, by the end, are pushed to see themselves as something bigger than just an intercultural youth group: they are trained to become a community of peacebuilding leaders. A U.S. Institute of Peace grant is helping the group evaluate the potential of that process to have long-term impact.

The latest violence in Jerusalem is testing the resilience of the organization and its participating families in new ways, Thomas said. The one-on-one nature of knife attacks on soldiers, police and civilians, as well as the response from Israeli police and defense forces in Jerusalem and the West Bank, have deepened fear and suspicion on both sides beyond what the group faced—and overcame—during the last Gaza war in 2014.

On the conference call, set up in mid-October by Kids4Peace facilitators to discuss the personal effects of the current violence, parents talked about their feelings during the tense time and how to help their children through it. The conversation was transcribedon the group’s website.

  • “All of us are feeling unsafe,” the mother of a Muslim 7th grader said, concerned she’s infecting her son with the “panic” she feels walking in Jerusalem. “Someone with a gun might shoot you because you are an Arab and thus you are a suspect! Or someone stab you, thinking you are a Jew.”
  • “We are torn because we want to trust, but we are frightened,” said a Jewish 7th grader’s mother.
  • “Should we speak about being scared to our children?” posited a parent facilitator at Kids4Peace and father of a Muslim 8th grader. “Yes. This reality, they see it, they hear it in our voices.”
  • “We at Kids4Peace, what can we do?” asked a Jewish 8th grader’s father. “How can we move forward? I do not know how we can change the situation.”

‘Difficult Days’

As a group of Israelis and Palestinians, Kids4Peace participants “feel the pain of both sides like almost no one else,” Thomas wrote to the community on Oct. 14.  He said staff and parents would “reconnect with our sisters and brothers across the lines of conflict,” in person or virtually; the fall programs for 120 students would begin as planned the following week, meeting together if it was safe; online or in homes, if not.

“We had difficult days last week,” Thomas said in an Oct. 22 interview. “I’m hearing new ways of mistrusting the motivations of the other side, even in our group.”

Publicly, he declared: “We feel called to take leadership in building a new future. Division, despair, hatred, fear, injustice—this cannot be our future.”

As comments posted on the organization’s website make clear, kids who participated  in the program’s monthly meetings, quarterly overnights and summer camps in the U.S. over the years, say it opened them up in new ways. In one of the most poignant remarks—unattributed by religion or ethnicity—a student said: “Kids4Peace broke the wall of hate in my heart.”

In sixth grade, the students explore each other’s religions and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through dialogues, workshops, volunteering and a summer camp. In seventh grade, the focus shifts to fostering relationships and solidifying commitment to peace. In eighth grade, a year for coming of age, students tackle historical narrative and personal identity and how they relate to the broader community. The ninth grade program centers on leadership skills and issues of living in a conflict zone. Finally, participants are offered opportunities to become counselors in training with the Kids4Peace program in the 10th and 11th grades.

‘From Personal Transformation to Societal Change’

“The value of this project is the embrace of self-reflective practice,” said Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, USIP’s director of programs on the Arab-Israeli conflict. “They are asking the tough questions of themselves and their work at a particularly trying time in the field—how do you move from personal transformation to societal change?”

An interim report on the research paints a complex picture of Kids4Peace outcomes. Participants value their relationships, the experience of respectful cooperation and the model they’ve created of peaceful interaction. They have found Kids4Peace a sane sanctuary amid war and violence.

But fear is high: almost everyone is more afraid for physical safety than at any point in their lives. Confidence in a peace process is low: emotion and frustration are taking a growing toll even on committed peacemakers.

Almost every Jewish Israeli said their time in the Army is a turning point in their lives and, for many, one that can sometimes force compromise with their values. For Palestinians, Jewish Israelis’ mandatory military service leaves them asking why friends would agree “to occupy us,” since their only association with the Israeli military is likely of soldiers serving at checkpoints and within the West Bank.

The general climate is such that “people are more drawn to extremes now,” Thomas said. “They have to be demonizing the other, totally pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli.”

Yet, on Oct. 22, with the violence unabated, Kids4Peace’s fall session began as scheduled. More than 100 grinning kids and 50 of their parents gathered in Jerusalem for an evening of music, dance, and tough dialogue, Thomas reported to his supporters, sending along photos. The meetings were moved to avoid locales perceived as most dangerous, and a conference line was set up for people too concerned about security to come.

“Everyone says similar things,” Thomas said. “Kids4Peace provides a place to be honest, to share, to disagree. In the end, they come and see again, yes, there is an alternative.”

The guiding principal, he said, is stubborn optimism.

October 28, 2015

This sounds like such a simple concept. But it is a remarkable fact of life in Israel that Arab and Jews who are sharing the same air and the same space and the same hot, daily grind, whose lives are so intricately bound up on one another, for the most part barely speak to each other.

One of the most precious aspects about the Kids4Peace parent meetings is the discovery that, as parents, we are all pretty much the same. We all try to get our kids off the computer, we all try to get them to clean up their rooms, we all live for school plays, academic presentations, sports games, and we all really just want a nice life for ourselves.

Still, Thursday night, October 22, was a little different. This was the first time we were meeting in a context of violent tension. Many people at the meeting said that they don’t remember a time when Jerusalem was this edgy: when life had completely come to a halt as everyone seemed to be staying home.

People are so anxious right now that Kids4Peace held a phone meeting for parents a few days earlier, under the assumption that most would not want to come in person. Significantly, Thursday’s group proved them wrong and, despite the surrounding events, some 60-70 parents turned up, from all sectors of society.

As people began sharing feelings and experiences, one Arab woman described a scene that really shook me. She had been looking after her elderly father in the hospital for the past few weeks, which gave her a ringside view of the comings and goings in the hospital around terror attacks. One day, when a female soldier had been stabbed and badly injured, the hospital staff made visitors make room for them to wheel the victim through the corridors. As she stood with her 8-year-old son she had a jarring conversation with him. He assumed, she told us, that the victim was an Arab woman. The mother said, “No, she’s Jewish”

“I don’t understand,” the child replied. “Why would a Jew stab another Jew?”

“No, no,” she gently explained. “The attacker wasn’t Jewish. He was an Arab.”

The boy could not comprehend this. His mother recounted that in his mind, the only violence that exists is Jews hurting Arabs. This is all he knows, and it’s all he has seen. He had no idea that the violence goes the other way, too.

When he realized his mistake, he said, ”That’s okay then.”

The woman, who is a long-time peace activist from Jerusalem who currently works in hi-tech, was also shocked by part of the conversation. And she said plainly, “I failed as a parent.” How can her son ever justify violence, she painfully wondered out loud.

Still, I don’t think she failed at all. First of all we cannot control everything our children see and experience. Second, she is trying to have compassionate conversations with her son and instill in him a deep sense of shared humanity — which is I think what many of us are trying to do. And let’s face it, considering the social and political tensions we are living through, it is a hard task. I told her, in the way so many of my female friends are constantly telling one another, to be kinder to herself. Still, she was shaken by the discovery that her son had it in him to believe that sometimes violence is okay, if it sort of “balances the scales” so to speak.

I was shocked because I could not believe how different the world looks for Arab children and Jewish children living in the same city.

For Jews, the only violence that we see or that “counts” is violence perpetrated against “us.” Against Jews. Meanwhile, for Arab children, apparently the only violence that they see is violence perpetrated against them. There is a symmetry here that would be charming if it weren’t so utterly tragic.

Jews like to deny this. When “numbers” of killed and injured on both “sides” are counted, Jewish pundits will go immediately to arguments of self-defense. Israeli news outlets frequently report only numbers of Jews dead, not Palestinians. News reports say, “There was an attack. No casualties reported; three terrorists were eliminated.” So actually, three Palestinians are dead, but their deaths don’t count as deaths if we can call them terrorists. Nobody dead means nobody Jewish dead. It is chilling that this is standard reporting in Israel.

Why are we then surprised that in the Palestinian community, they do the same thing? Why do Jews have so many media watchdogs to correct Palestinian narratives when our own narratives are just as skewed? It’s all messed up.

Plus, there is something even more chilling in this new round of violence in that so many of the terrorists are kids. I cannot conceive of a 13-year-old boy as a terrorist. I don’t know how he got to be a knife-wielding, but we cannot simply label a 7th or 8th grader as a “terrorist” without asking difficult questions about how he got to where he is. I don’t know the stories of these teenagers committing acts of violence, but I do understand that their families and friends will mourn their death regardless of their weapons. Israel may not count Palestinian dead as dead, but we should not be surprised that 8-year-old children witnessing events certainly will count their dead as dead.

One of the opinions shared by almost everyone in the group was that there is an awful lack of leadership — on both sides. When Palestinians said that Israelis need to elect better leaders, I could feel myself sinking into my post-election depression. Bibi again? What’s worse, he won precisely because of how successfully he instilled a fear and hatred of the other in Jewish Israeli minds: Run to the ballots because Arabs are voting in swarms, he effectively told voters on Election Day. And it worked! When people in the group last night said, “Elect different leaders”, all I could think was, I wish I knew how.

Significantly, it seems from our discussion that the Election Day experience has had a powerful impact on this current wave of violence. The dreadful validation that Arab Israelis — citizens and taxpayers of Israel — are still viewed by Israeli leaders as “the enemy” was a slap in the face to so many people. I totally get that. Rather than embrace Arabs who want to create a normal life for themselves in Israel, rather than look for ways to build bridges and find common ideals and passions, Bibi time and again reverts to the narrative that all non-Jews are potential enemies. Bibi created this nightmare that we are all living in.

Still, I said that I also came out hopeful. And that is because despite all of this, there are still many people (many? I don’t know exactly what many means, but enough to fill two large rooms with engaged conversation) on both sides who believe that another way is possible. There seems to be a growing number of people who are willing to think differently from friends around them, who are willing to challenge traditional narratives that we have all been fed about the “other” in society, and who are willing to consider perspectives other than their own.

This makes me hopeful because, previous elections notwithstanding, I think we are living in changing times — times when social media creates blink-of-the-eye awareness of events and at times unexpected relationships. Although researchers are mixed about whether social media makes people change their views on things or whether it creates millions of echo chambers, I think that it is impossible not to be influenced, even a little, by the volumes and volumes of ideas and perspectives that come through our personalized news feeds. It’s just not possible that we are not all changing, even a little, as we learn more about others. We are exposed to so much stuff all the time. And sociologists generally confirm that we are all becoming a little less driven by traditional communal affiliations and are instead redefining boundaries of affiliations, creating our own customized connections and communities. I think maybe this creates new opportunities – like the Kids4Peace parents meeting – for all of us to come to new understandings and new awareness.

At least I can hope. Hope itself is an idea worth hanging onto at times like this.

— Elana Maryles Sztokman, PhD is founding firector, The Center for Jewish Feminism

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