Khetam Kalash, 16, from Nahda High School in Kufr Kara, spent 2.5 weeks this summer at the Jerusalem Peace Builders camp in Houston followed by the Debate for Peace extension in NYC. These are her reflections from the trip:
“I don’t know from where to start, it’s just too much to tell, but the most important: it’s unforgettable.
On the 2d of August, it all started.
My parents left me with the JPB (Jerusalem Peace Builders) participants in the airport after a lot of hugs and instructions; I’m leaving them for 3 weeks! And after 15 hours of flights, we finally arrived in Texas, USA to start the journey or you can call it a challenge too, for two weeks.
Now you’re probably wondering what is JPB? JPB is an American organization that picks all different (and unique) Muslim, Jewish, and Christian students from Israel and the US ages (14-18) and brings them together to discuss how things go in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how people see it, what’s the point of view for each one of us and how can we bring peace and live together in one country, or maybe two in the future!
We heard from an imam, a rabbi and a priest, we prayed together, we ate together, we slept together, we shared everything together, we had no hate for anyone, we were such a family! And yes, it was amazing and brought hope for each one of us that this is gonna happen! That we don’t have to hate each other because of political reasons that have no sense maybe, we’re all humans who bleed the same blood, we’re all equal! What made me strongly believe in this, once during the program we went to a church, the imam and the rabbi sang there like we’re all the same belonging to the same god, religions can’t divide us!
After these beautiful 2 weeks, me and Omri (a Jewish student my age) got to travel to New York to share and talk about a program we have in Israel called “Debate For Peace” for high school students (aged 15-18), which brings Arab and Jewish students together in different (Arab and Jewish) cities all around Israel through the school year, and sometimes in the summer vacation too! We debate and discuss different topics that usually students don’t think about or don’t have the chance to talk about it.
In this program we have a conference every 3 months on average, and each conference has a topic like religions/ peace/ refugees.. and it’s divided into committees (25 student for every committee). Each participant has a random country to represent in some topic, and should represent it well even if its policies don’t agree with our beliefs, and in the end we have a best and an outstanding delegate for each committee. But the main goal is not about winning and debating, it’s mainly about gathering Arab and Jewish students together, as well as improving our English (as a third language for Arabs and a second language for Jewish students) and raising our self confidence by challenging ourselves to stand up and speak.
So what did we do in New York City for a week? We visited 2 mosques and 2 synagogues, the embassy of Kosovo, the Center of Jewish History, and did a lot of other interesting and fun things.
We got the chance to introduce our program (Debate for Peace) and talk a little about our experience in JPB, and as you would expect, we had a lot of support and a lot of questions about Israel and Palestine, and how Arabs, Muslims and Jewish people live together.
For me it was such an unforgettable experience that changed me in a good way, how to see and deal with things better, and how “physical age” can’t stop you from accomplishing “big things” or things that older people don’t have the courage to do. For instance, I was the first non-jewish Arab speaker in one synagogue in New York to come talk about peace, and I’m only 16! What you only have to do, is to believe in yourself and then you can achieve great things!”