Some of them have families that support what they are doing. Others talk about how their families are divided--some aunts, uncles, cousins, think that peace is possible; others think it is not possible. Most of them said their hopes rise and fall--sometimes they are hopeful; other times they despair that anything will ever change here in Israel/Palestine. Some of their families support peace; others do not think it will change anything.
We are sitting in a meeting room at the Ecce Homo convent in the Old City of Jerusalem and the young people we are meeting all have found a home by being part of Sulhita, the youth outreach of the Sulha Peace Project, a grassroots organization that "aims to rebuild trust, restore dignity and move beyond the political agenda." "Sulha" means mediation.
It is our first night in Jerusalem and, miraculously, we are beginning with the hope here on the ground in a part of the world where conflict is usually what makes the news.
They all believe that change will come if everyone gets to know one another at a young age. But they don't just sit around and talk. One young woman wants to make this dream a reality. She is setting up a peace camp this summer for Bedouin and Jewish children. They will come together to play and learn for a week of day camp. She is doing a year of voluntary service, between graduating from high school and before her mandatory service in the army. She is living and working this year in Beer-sheva, in the south of Israel.
Sulhita trains young people to be leaders, to empower them. They tell us it is easy to control people who are afraid. But these young leaders believe there is another way. They want the world to know that Israel is doing something good. 12,000 young people have participated in Sulhita since its beginnings. And they want us to come home and "Tell the truth."
They all shared their favorite part of what they are doing:
- looking into the eyes of the other and knowing them
- knowing that others share feelings of peace
- having friends, singing
A Palestinian young man tells us, "When I see how the soldiers treat people, I don't believe in peace. When I see what is happening, I can't believe in peace." But when he comes to Sulhita, he finds others who share his desire for peace and he has hope.
So do I.
If you would like to share in their hope, take a look at their website: http://www.sulha.org/ There is even a way to donate to their work online! (click on "donate" and then look for the page for donors from the U.S.). When I get home (or find a computer with a USB port) I'll upload a picture of these amazing young people.
This is Compassionate Listening in Palestine/Israel.
Shalom....Salaam....Peace be with us all.