In the blog last week, my colleague wrote about his recent trip to Israel with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC Boston’s) delegation of Labor leaders from Massachusetts. He reflected on “the generational shift that [Israeli and Palestinian] societies are undergoing. Many speakers referenced the iconic image of Bill Clinton looking on as Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House Lawn in 1993. The number of people who do not remember that moment is growing, they are reaching adulthood, and their entire attitude toward peacebuilding and the ‘other’ is different from previous generations. We do not know exactly how this new attitude will crystalize, but we should be hopeful about the rise of a generation that can re-imagine the possibilities of peace and human-to-human connection.” This newer generation of Israelis are more familiar with wartime than hope for peace. After decades defined by unrest and mistrust, many Israeli and Palestinian youth live separate lives motivated by fear of the “other.”
Peacebuilding organizations have noticed this trend in society. Summer is a critical time for peacebuilding as children are not enrolled in their schools and can get to know one another outside of the classroom. This is particularly important for Israelis and Palestinians who often attend separate schools. Summer activities provide a unique opportunity to develop the next generation of future change agents.
For example, each summer Ultimate Peace brings together Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Ultimate Frisbee players that are Palestinian, Israeli, and American, for one week of tournaments. The rules of Ultimate Frisbee are almost tailor-made for this type of encounter. There’s no time limit, so people can learn to play with each other in a stress-free setting. There is no referee, so players need to handle disputes on their own. You cannot touch another player, and you can only move the Frisbee down the field by passing it to a teammate. Players must work together to score points for their team. Most importantly, the game transcends nationality. At Ultimate Peace teams are divided by t-shirt color. Over time, through playing together and living together, they come to learn about each other’s backgrounds, customs and cultures, and create lasting connections.
This summer, Squashbond is also running their “IsraelConnect” program that brings together diverse youth to play squash. In addition to their year-long program, Squashbond brings together Jewish-Israeli, Arab-Israeli, and American varsity squash players for a three -week intensive training program and shared educational experience. This program also encourages American participants to challenge their own their own perspectives about Israelis and Palestinians. This year, eight Americans from NY, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Miami and Philadelphia joined the program to learn about Israel from a different viewpoint and will be hosted by families both from the Jewish and Arab sectors.
Encouraging Arab and Jewish youth to come together and share experiences creates an openness to diversity that could impact the thinking of future generations around the conflict. If there is ever to be a peaceful solution, exposure to diversity is crucial in order for groups to live peacefully side-by-side. Younger generations may not remember a time when there was hope for peace, but they are the ones regenerating that hope, one game at a time.