A Summer of Growth: Kids4Peace Jerusalem

I would like to start off by saying thank you. Thank you for giving me the funding I needed in order to make this summer a possibility. I would have never been able to work halfway around the world if it were not for the WOW grant, and I am forever grateful that Brandeis offers its students opportunities like this to help enable valuable work experiences like the one I had.

This summer was a complicated, but it was a summer of growth. As I mentioned in my last post, working within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a fulltime job… and by that, I mean twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. As the intern for Kids4Peace in Jerusalem, I learned an incredible amount about the conflict, religion, how to work with people who come from different backgrounds, and what I want in the workplace as a professional.

Before I started working at Kids4Peace this summer, I hoped to bring what I learned about integration in Israel and Palestine back to America. As an education major, I feel that it is within the education system’s reach to narrow the achievement gap by integrating the public school system. By no means did I want to create a career out of working within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That was mainly because I thought that it would be pretty depressing work. However, after this summer, I am beginning to be more open to working for a peace building organization between Israelis and Palestinians. At Brandeis, I am the coordinator of the Brandeis-Al Quds Student Dialogue Initiative and the vice president of J Street U. I feel very passionately about bringing peace to Israel and Palestine and seeing the Jewish values I was raised with reflected in the Jewish state. It did not occur to me that a career in the peace building was a possibility until I started working within it. I always felt that it is a job that is too unstable for me, but now I cannot imagine myself doing any other work than in this field. When I was not at the Kids4Peace office, I spent my free time organizing steps toward reestablishing the Brandeis-Al Quds student dialogue initiative and in meetings in Jerusalem and the West Bank with J Street U. I completely immersed myself in the conflict because as a Jew, I feel it is my role to do everything in my power to make the Jewish state the best it can be, allowing Palestinians equal and human rights, and ending the occupation. This summer, I truly lived my work. How can I not continue something I am so passionate about?

And then I go back to where I started: this work is too depressing to make it my career. By the end of the summer, I was excited to go home so I could escape the stress and tension in Jerusalem’s mixed city. Admitting that makes me feel selfish because I know that Israelis and Palestinians have no choice: this is their reality. So, I am keeping my options open. The past two summers, I worked with Israelis and Palestinians. The test will be trying out a different kind of career next summer to be able to tell if peace building really is my calling, or if another career path is more fulfilling.

I would encourage anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, non-profits, or NGOs to apply to intern for Kids4Peace. The best part about working there was the community. Kids4Peace is a family. All my colleagues this summer knew everything about each other’s families and personal lives, and they were always so supportive of one another both in and out of the workplace. Experiencing that these past couple months helped me realize how important a community within my work is when I am a professional. Working for an NGO/non-profit helped me realize how much change a small group of people can make. It really opened my eyes and excites me about the possibility of working for an NGO or non-profit in the future. The main piece of advice I would give someone working in activism, conflict, or peace building, is to take care of yourself. It is so easy to get wrapped up in a mix between our work and our own personal activism (because a peace builder practices their values). This summer, I got very overwhelmed because of the things I saw on my time off, including IDF soldiers shooting rubber bullets at Palestinians and Palestinians throwing burning furniture at IDF soldiers at Qalandiya checkpoint. I learned that it was important to give myself a break so I could be productive as both a Kids4Peace employee and an activist working in my own self-interest.

Before this summer, I had never had concrete dialogue with a Palestinian peer. While I have worked with Palestinian children in the past, working alongside Palestinian adults is an entirely different story. I had this opportunity at Kids4Peace and through the Brandeis-Al Quds Student Dialogue Initiative. After befriending Palestinians, I felt a sense of trust for the “other” that I had never thought I would feel. This newfound trust allowed my to visit the West Bank on my own (with just a friend and me) and let the experience take me. Never in a million years could I have imagined doing something like this on my own. I am proud of my ability to break down the barriers between me, a Jew, and “them.” Palestinians. This summer, I truly lived the values the Kids4Peace practices, and that is what I am most proud of.

-Leah Susman ’18

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Kids4Peace campers learning about sustainability at Kibbutz Lotan. The back of their shirts say “peace” in English, Hebrew, and Arabic.
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Kids4Peace campers (Muslim, Jewish, and Christian Israelis and Palestinians) exploring spirituality together at the sand dunes in the Arava desert in Israel.

Midway Point at Kids4Peace

My experience this summer in Jerusalem does not solely revolve around the work I am doing with Kids4Peace. Rather, the work I am doing with Kids4Peace adds to my overall experience of working within the conflict. The difference between last summer, where I worked at a camp in Jerusalem for Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, and this summer, is that I am engaging and working with peers of a variety of backgrounds, nationalities, and religions every day. Last summer, I worked for an Arab-Jewish camp, but all of my colleagues, including the camp directors, were largely American Jews. At Kids4Peace, half of my colleagues are Israeli and half are Palestinian. I am learning just as much, if not more, from these colleagues, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as I am learning about how an NGO operates.

Effectively, my work at Kids4Peace has taught me how to rely on others when working with a group, to be flexible, and to work with and talk to people who come from different backgrounds. I am not only working within the conflict but living every minute with it on my mind. As an intern for Kids4Peace, my job is not only to work for Kids4Peace directly, but to practice what I have learned as a person who is living in Jerusalem and engaging with Israeli and Palestinian society. Thus, my work environment is not just at the Kids4Peace office but everywhere I go in this region.

My experience has been complicated and difficult because the conflict is inescapable here. In Jerusalem, I can feel the tension. The air is tense and the looks I get from people who do not look like me, a secular white woman, reminds me how segregated and intolerant this city is. When I go to Tel Aviv, it is much better, but that is mainly because many people in Tel Aviv are Jewish, secular, and liberal. Their city is not divided in the way Jerusalem is. But, when I go to Tel Aviv, I still cannot escape this conflict and the impression that my Palestinian colleagues at Kids4Peace have left on me because I remember when I am there that they do not have same rights and freedom of movement. Everyday on the way to and from work, they must cross through checkpoints that are basically life-size metal cages. There, they are treated inhumanely. They must get permits to step foot in Israel proper, and they can only cross into Israel at 6am and come back at 11 pm. They are living in an air prison, and I have a hard time going about my daily life with my rights and privileges without thinking about the freedom that my Palestinian colleagues do not have. In a sense, working within the conflict through peace building is a full time job: there are no breaks.

One of the most important things I have learned about peace programs in Israel and Palestine, such as Kids4Peace, is that they are only successful because they are aimed at youth (and youths’ parents) who are already tolerant and willing to encounter the “other.” As someone who would like to see peace in this region along with a peaceful resolution to this conflict, I would like to figure out how to reach those who are not already in support of dialogue and a peace process.

As an aspiring leader in the American education system, I am thinking about how to apply what I have learned this summer to my future career. One of the biggest issues in American society right now is the opportunity gap between race and class. I am beginning to consider how to bring students from different backgrounds to learn together in order to narrow this gap. However, I keep getting stuck in the same way that I have been here in Jerusalem, about how to bring those who are unwilling. However, I know that my experience this summer with Kids4Peace will supply me with the tools I will need in the future to figure out how to solve these problems.

 

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Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Kids4Peace participants playing a game at camp
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Kids4Peace logo: church, mosque, synagogue

-Leah Susman ’18

My First Week at Kids4Peace in Jerusalem

Since joining the Kids4Peace family, I have grown in more ways than I could have ever imagined. Kids4Peace is an interfaith youth movement for Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Israeli and Palestinian youth. Last summer, I worked at Project Harmony Israel, an integrated Arab-Jewish day camp hosted at the Hand in Hand Bilingual School in Jerusalem. Since working there to provide a space for Arab and Jewish youth to play and just be kids in the midst of the Gaza War, I knew I had to come back and continue doing the work I had begun. In leaving Jerusalem last summer, I felt guilty that I had the privilege to leave this conflict whereas my Arab and Jewish campers could in no way escape it. I am glad I made the choice to continue this effort through an internship position with Kids4Peace based in East Jerusalem.

My favorite part about my work here is that my colleagues are both Israeli and Palestinian whereas last year, I worked only with other Americans. It is exciting and interesting for me to learn about what life is like for my Israeli and Palestinian coworkers who are living within this conflict and also doing work in it. I think am learning the most from them.  Before coming here and after my summer here last year, I thought I had a good idea for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but since speaking with my colleagues, I have learned about the complexities of approaching a peaceful end to this war. Through their experiences, I am gaining a perspective on the situation in Israel/Palestine that I would not have understood otherwise without this dialogue.

horizontal-logo-transparent1-300x71Other than learning about the big picture of the work I am doing through my colleagues, I am gaining an incredible understanding of how an NGO is run. Since the staff is so small, I have been given many great opportunities to do real purposeful and meaningful work. For example, I am working with the director of Kids4Peace on creating a platform for Israeli and Palestinian youth to search for integration, coexistence, or interfaith programs that fit their interests. In addition, I have designed a budget for one of the overnight camps that Kids4Peace runs, allocating grants from USAID, the US Consulate, and the European Union. Most excitingly, I got to write a letter to Natalie Portman, who is one of Kids4Peace’s biggest donors!

As an intern at Kids4Peace, I have learned to stay on top of all of my responsibilities because I know that my boss is not constantly checking up on me. Rather, she expects me to do the work I am assigned without holding my hand. I know this will help me in the future when I become a professional. I am also learning about how to work in a diverse environment. It is an interesting experience to fulfill my duties as an intern alongside half my colleagues who are observing Ramadan. I have become much more sensitive to people’s backgrounds and the way that their personal lives play a role in their job performance. In the future, I would like to go into education policy and my motive is to desegregate the American public school system and narrow the achievement gap. Lofty goal, yes. However, if I want to do this type of work in the future, it will be an important skill for me to understand how to work with people who come from different backgrounds from mine.

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-Leah Susman, ’18