Over thirty Palestinian and Israeli campers joined us for Musalaha?s summer camp at the end of June. At the beginning of a camp like this one there are many barriers to overcome and ice to break. Very few youth knew people from the other side, and they could not speak the same language. At this age (14-18), teens gather in groups and it is hard to break up the groups, even when they are from similar backgrounds. Not only that, but the language barrier (some speak Hebrew and others speak Arabic) made it difficult for the youth to communicate. Messianic Israeli teens did not know Arabic and some Palestinians did not know Hebrew while Israeli-Arabs did.
I saw this first-hand in my cabin. We put Israelis and Palestinians together in cabins, but some of the youth were already friends. This made it even more challenging for the counselors to get the teenagers to interact. In my room, we decided to give an assignment for the girls to get them to mingle. We put three together and they had to answer questions we wrote. We were afraid the girls might not be able to communicate because of the language barriers, but we told them to try and if they had problem we could help.
I stood there and watched the girls communicate. Georgette was speaking Arabic with the Israeli girls as if they understood her, and they replied in English and then Georgette would speak English and the other two would nod. To see them make an effort to understand each other and communicate was very encouraging. They came to the question about what things they have in common, and they all wrote in Arabic and Hebrew: ?Faith in Jesus Christ.? Jesus can break down any barriers and this camp was a living example of that.
We also asked the girls how this camp will affect their view of the other side in the future. Georgette wrote that she used to think of Israelis as different from her but through the camp she realized that they are same; that people think alike. Carmela wrote that she always knew that Palestinians and Israelis are the same and she loved Palestinians equally. This camp has allowed her to meet Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ who have proved that they have similarities, and that through Jesus Christ Palestinians and Israelis can be friends. Grace wrote that this camp has affected her love towards her Palestinian brothers and sisters.
The theme of the camp was facing discrimination and stereotypes. We tried to approach this theme from several angles. The youth did group work and team activities. The Bible studies and discussions were excellent times for them to sit with partners from the other side and talk about what the Bible says about how we should treat others. We also had competitions, games, and a ropes course. The ropes course was a new experience for some kids and the teams encouraged each member to meet the challenge.
As a large group, we watched a documentary called, ?A Class Divided.? After watching it, we split into groups and had a discussion. Some teens? reactions were that discrimination starts in the mind, and that we should try to see people with God's eyes. The atmosphere and relationships, created by doing activities and having fun together, allowed the youth to speak freely and ask what they wanted.
A Palestinian girl took the opportunity and asked: "Can you explain to me why Messianic Israelis go to the army? Why can't they refuse?" Dana, an Israeli counselor, replied that it is not a matter of choice. Israeli Jews as citizens of the country have to follow its laws, and otherwise they go to prison. The subject raised others? interest and a Palestinian from Bethlehem, asked whether it's a sin if a Messianic Israeli soldier shoots someone. Dana said that she doesn't know anyone who has killed so far. She told the story of her friend who is a youth leader and when it was time to go to the army, he prayed that God would protect him and not put him in a situation where he'd have to shoot anyone. Now, he has finished his 3 year service and still does one month a year reserve service and has never so far used a gun. She concluded that she doesn?t know; these are not easy questions. Then a Palestinian counselor affirmed that it's not easy to be stuck in such a position and we, as one body in Christ, should pray for them. We should pray that God protects them and grants them wisdom to use their weapons. Teens responded by praying together for their brothers and sisters in the army and for their Palestinian brothers and sisters in Palestinian areas whose lives are directly affected by situation. The youth were able to grapple with very difficult questions and to lift both sides to the Lord in prayer.
I don't know how to explain how great this camp was; everyone had a good time. I hope they are able to maintain these friendships as time passes no matter what the situation in this land. The purpose of the camp was that these teens won't generalize about those on the other side, and that they will be able to see the other as God does. In a few years, and already now, many of them face situations that will challenge these lessons. Some will go to the army, some may become victims of violence, or in difficult situations that can lead to anger, resentment and even violence. It is our prayer and hope that in those days they will remember this encounter with the other side and remember the lessons and discussion about understanding, acceptance and love for others.
The following are some testemonials from the camp.
Ok, so the camp was totally amazing. Just the fact that we got to know the Israeli believers is very encouraging because we got to learn to put our differences aside and see that although we are so different we are more alike. I personally love and cherish each moment in which I get to praise the Lord and pray with people that have a different background but the same faith. I'm very thankful for this camp. It's really awesome and powerful and simply fun. For us, teenagers, being with other teen believers is important, and also as Jewish and Arab teenagers its even more important for the love of God will spread peace and tranquility?" (Palestinian participant)
"The camp will affect me personally in the future in that I will love my Arab brothers and sisters more. As time goes by I get to meet more Arabs and that has brought me closer to them" (Israeli participant)
"I think the camp will have a good affect on me because I never had the chance to connect with Arabs and I had a lot of fun with them." (Israeli participant)
"I think the camp will have a good affect on my relationships with Jews because now I can understand the people from the "other side," connect with them and have fun with them, despite our differences." (Palestinian participant)
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