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Spring-peacecamp 2005:
Identities unsolved?

Touring Israel together: March 31st - April 7th, 2005

by Evelyn Böhmer-Laufer

A very special group of people boarded the El Al flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv on this early Thursday morning: 10 teenagers from the Carinthian Alpen-Adria-Gymnasium with their two teachers Elfriede Kopeinig and Heidi Jausovec. A warm welcome awaited them at Ben Gurion airport when they were picked up by 9 young Israeli Arabs from the Arab town Kalanswa and their 8 Jewish friends from the nearby Ramot Hefer high school in the Israeli Sharon area. They were accompanied by their Arab teachers Hosnia Matani and Otman Hatit and the Jewish-Israeli project manager Nili Gross.

It was the second meeting of this group who had already spent ten days together in Austria last summer. There, they had come to know each other and had performed workshops dealing with the complexities of their respective personal and group-identities, had tried to cope together with various challenges and had experienced themselves as efficient problem-solvers and as multi-talented young artists.

This second encounter was meant to explore the multiple historic, cultural and religious roots of the ethnic groups involved even further and into more depth. A bus took us from the airport to southern Negev desert, where we were guests of the Bedouins in Kseyfe, a recognized Bedouin village, and Um El-Hiran, an unrecognized Bedouin village. Sleeping in Bedouins' tents, sharing meals served with no cutlery in large bowls for five, sitting on the floor, participating at a political and culinary feast in a Bedouin village, a camel-ride through the blossoming desert were some of the highlights of the first two days and gave the group some insight into the way of life of the Bedouins, as well as into the problems they encounter in their attempts to find their place within the modern state of Israel to which they belong. A few centuries seem to separate these people from modern Israeli society - modest living conditions in aluminium huts partly without water and electricity and a way of life built on patriarchate, polygamy and the strict adherence to religious codes and rules.

Click to enlarge!

Passing the Negev with its colourful stony mountains and craters, the fortress of Massada and the Dead Sea with a brief stop at the shore of Ein Gedi, we pursued our way up to Jerusalem, this fantastic modern city with its millennium-old history, its monuments and sites holy to all monotheistic religions. Having to put on a kippah (a kepi) when entering a Jewish site, having to take off your shoes before entering a mosque and knowing how to behave in a Christian church turned out to be a challenge for most of the adolescent, as well as adult, participants. Is it appropriate, is it allowed obeying the rules of another group's religious site, or would this betray your own set of beliefs and rules as dictated by your own faith and religion? And what if you unknowingly and unwillingly hurt somebody's feelings, because you simply do not know what is appropriate and what is wrong in the religious context of this other person?

The visit to Jerusalem ended at Yad VaShem, monument and memorial of the Holocaust, a sinister and uncanny place for every person of whatever origin or religion. It was touching and impressive to see these young people hugging and holding each other as they silently marched through the new museum, as they stood shattered and silent in the children's hall or in front of Janos Korczak's memorial.

The next stop was Herzliah with an invitation to the Austrian Ambassador Dr. Kurt Hengl whose wife was relieved at the good manners of her young visitors. A real Viennese Jause was served to our delight, with Apfelstrudel, Sachertorte and delicious Palatschinken. The Austrian pupils presented the ambassador a drawing depicting Austrians efforts to weld Arabs and Palestinians together.

The following days were marked by the amazing generosity and hospitality common to all groups and people in Israel: The families of Kalanswa invited all the kids in their houses for a day and a night, where they were hosted in mixed groups of three to five by the families of the Arab participants. After dinner, the kids decided on their own to spend part of the evening as a whole group and met all together in the house of Allaa, one of the Arab girls. During this time, the adult team was invited for an abundant dinner at the house of the school's principal, Mr. Nihad Zmiro and his wife, Nazarin to which other personalities of the Israeli-Arab world were invited and where an interesting conversation on important political issues developed. On the next day we were all invited to the headquarters of the Arab Democratic Party in Nazareth, whose male as well as female, religious as well as secular, Arab as well as Jewish members have opted to follow Prime Minister Sharon's new political track and to give a chance to peace and coexistence with the Jews. After a meeting with former parliament member and present chairman of the party, Mr. Abd Al-Wahab Daraushe, and other party members, we visited the Annunciation Church, strolled through the Shuk (market), bought souvenirs and delicious baklava and finally headed for an overnight-stay at Ben's house in the magnificent blossoming and green Galilee, at Harashim observatory. Ben's parents received us all - 35 youths and adults - to their house; a copious dinner and breakfast framed a night on mattresses and sleeping beds and pampered us generously until we left on the following day for our last stop in Israel, in a Kibbutz.

It was Eilam's mother who hosted us at Kibbutz Gaash, located at the Mediterranean near Natanya; a fabulous dinner, prepared as a joint venture by the mothers of three Jewish participants, was served to us in the garden near Eilam's house; a Kibbutz member of Austrian, in fact Carinthian origin, was there to relate to the Austrians' questions in perfect German; a walk to the seashore led us there just in time to watch a fabulous sunset, before a bonfire was lit to warm us on this last night before departure.

On the way, wherever we went, friendliness and generosity: Apart from free meals and lodge offered to us by parents of Jewish as well as Arab participants, road-vendors offered us free boxes full with strawberries and fruit when Otman went off the bus and told them who we were. It was as if the whole country with all its people had united to host and pamper us through the 8 days of our stay.

The last day of the peacecamp was dedicated to group-psychoanalytical workshops. This offered a good opportunity to discuss and elaborate on topics which had come up during the week, issues related to people's identity and (sometimes hurt) feelings, on the conflicts between people and generations and on questions which have ever since been the focus of interest of the young. This was the time to put emotions and feelings into words, to ask questions and to experience one's own, specific and unique being. Discussions dealt with the similarities and differences between groups and people, and with each person's own and individual perception of the world, a perception free of prejudice and preconception. We talked about love and affection, about learning from experience and asked questions that youth must ask and left unanswered until they can find their own, individual answers.

A tearful parting at Ben Gurion airport at 3 o'clock in the morning left many of the kids with broken, but full, hearts and with the feeling that something very meaningful has happened, something which would stay with them and which has really changed their vision of the world forever.

What it is like to be an Israeli Arab girl in Israel

by Reem Matani

first of all i am proud that i am an arabian girl, it is hard to be an arabian and to live in israel or in another country that arabs are not a lot.
first of all it is hard for us to live in a jewish country because we dont take all of our lows and they dont respect us, for example when an arabian woman goes to a center she has to give his identity and they look at all of her things but the jewish woman they dont ask her any thing why??
second it is hard for us because we can't study what we want, we cant study before we are 20 or 21 years old because arabs wont go to israeli army.
these are just two examples of the hard things that we faced there are a lot of things but i cant write all of them.
about the positive things to be an israeli arabian are a lot and i just want to talk about few positive things.
first this land is ours and we born here so we have to continue ourlife her wth the jewish and we dont have to give up. second we will know the jewish traditions and culture and we will have a back ground about them. third we will be the best people in the world because we didnt left our homes and land and we stayed in our lands so we didnt giv up.
israel is a good country it gives us a lot of things and it takes of us a lot of things, for example we dont pay for studying at schools, our grandmas live good life because israel gives them money so they dont have to work or to do something like that.
at the end i just wanna say that i am proud that i am arabian and live in israel because it is cool but i want to live in an arabian country called palestine because i am arabian and i have to live in an arabian country that have the same traditions that i have, that believe in God and something like that but we cant do anything i hope that the situation here in israel wil change to the best and i hope that we will live a good life.

Reem's evaluation:

Describe the peace camp which took place in Israel from March 31 to April 7th. What were its main parts? Describe what you have seen, experienced and learned.

I think that the peace camp in Israel was a great peace camp and I enjoyed it very much. We had a lot of experiences and we learned a lot of new things from our experience in the peace camp. First of all the peace camp was great because the program was very good because Austrians saw all the main cities of Israel they saw the north, the south, and the center of Israel and also they saw the Jewish and the Arabs cities and they saw the traditional of every one of them and they saw the Bidwen so they have a back ground about the Bidwen, the Arab and the Jewish. For me it was very kind to meet these kinds of people because I have new ideas about all of them, and I hope that the situation will be better than now. About my experience it was a great experience because Israel is a great country and exactly Jerusalem because in Jerusalem there are three religions, we saw the churches, we saw masques, and special holly places for Jewish, it says that we saw the three holly places in Israel and we just saw them in Israel. I think that it is a great experience and I learned a lot of things, first of all I have new back ground and new information about Arab, Jewish, and Bidwen, also if I will get abroad I can give the people back ground about my land. Now I think that this experience gave all of us a special meaning and it is very meaningful for every one of us. I don't know what to say but I enjoyed the trip a lot and I learned a lot of useful things about my country and its people.

Describe your personal feelings and thoughts related to this camp. What did you receive from the camp? What was missing or unsatisfying?

Oh, it is a hard question; I can't talk about my real feelings because they are in my heart. But I can tell you a little bit about my feelings. I am very happy and satisfied from my self and from the experience that I did because it is a hard experience because every one of us had to show of his/her self and every one had to make good relationships with others, and another think I am satisfied from my self because my feet were hurt and I continued the peace camp in Israel and I didn't mind about my feet, and now I am very happy because I have new friends and I like to be in a contact with all of them, and also my relationship with my old friends came better. I learned a lot of useful things, I show off my self and I had good things. I don't know what to say but it is cool to had this feelings and experience but there were something missed that we didn't talk a lot about the main subject peace, we had to talk about the peace and every one of us have to show off his/her main ideas that connected to peace. But I never mind because I received a lot of things from the peace camp, like friends, seeing places that I didn't see them before, making good relationship between the 3 groups of the camp.

What was left open and unresolved and with what open questions do you find your self now after the second peace camp?

There were a lot of left open questions that they are still open for ever and we didn't solve them or talked about them. For example, we were in the peace camp but not all of us know the real meaning of peace, and between who we have to do peace. So, I think that we didn't solve the main problem that we worked for solving it. I didn't was in the first peace camp in Austria for this I don't know what happen there and about which subjects they talked, but in Israel we didn't talk a lot about peace between Israel and Palestine. So the question is: how can we make peace? And how can we live without problems and frightening?

What would be your wishes, expectations and suggestions for another peace camp?

I have a lot of suggestions for the next peace camp, but before I write my suggestions I would like to join the peace camp in Austria to talk about the main subject "peace". I hope that all the new participants will enjoy the peace camp and I hope that they can change a little bit in the situation in Israel, or to change a little bit in the relationship Jewish and Arab to the best. My suggestions are to add another group from an Arabian country, and for the teachers they have to choose good students to participate in the peace camp that they can show off there ideas and be helpful for the group. Another thing is that we are brothers and sisters for this we don't have to look at the religions and the nationality; I think that the new participants have to be one hand and from this point we can build a new world by love, every one have to love the other and we will build a new world stands on the love. I hope that every one will have fun and enjoy, and I am sorry because I talked a lot but I love talking and I hope that the things that I wrote are not boring and good luck for every one.

Yours truly
Reem Matani- Arabian participant

More informations: 14-04-2005

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