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.
-Leah Susman ’18