My knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when I was young was very limited. In fact, I didn’t know there was conflict. Palestine was a word I constantly heard thrown around, but it seemed to have a certain gravity to it. I was always too afraid to ask. Israel, I had believed, was some tribe in the region that terrorized Palestinians. I saw children on the news throwing stones at soldiers and large tanks and I didn’t know what to think of it. This was what I knew of the conflict. Shocking, considering I’ve lived in Jordan for most of my life. This perception went on until the summer before ninth grade. This is when I went to Seeds of Peace.
As usual, it was one of my brothers, Abdullah, who introduced me to the camp. I never really learned much about his experience there, so as I applied, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. After I got accepted, there were three days of orientation, in which decades of Palestinian history were crammed into my head. My perception had then become a jumble of dates, facts, events, documentaries, and one single point of view. “This is what you might hear them say, and this is how you would respond.” I felt slightly more prepared, but I still didn’t know what to expect.
After hours of travel, we finally drove into Seeds and were greeted by music, singing, chanting, cheering, and jumping up and down. Three of the most memorable and gratifying weeks of my life began. Each day was essentially split up into two parts: Dialogue and activities. Dialogue was our discussion group, consisting of Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians, Egyptians, and Americans, in which we, of course, discussed the conflict. The latter included things like sailing, baseball, football, basketball, Frisbee, team-building games, and a number of other sports and activities, all of which also consisted of those different nationalities, as well as Indians and Pakistanis, as Seeds also held discussions for the Indo-Pakistani conflict.
That, in a nutshell, is Seeds of Peace. Of course, upon my return to Jordan, there were a great number of criticisms and judgments made on the camp. Some said it was a normalization camp, others said it was a bold move that could take a very bad turn. The opinions were numerous and varied; in my opinion, it was a very fruitful experience.
Keep in mind this was my first experience in talking about this conflict. Since the orientation hadn’t helped much, I was plunged into this decades-long conflict, right in between the two opposing sides. I listened more than I spoke, which was frustrating for many. I heard from one side the stories of the Palestinians, and from the other the story of the Israelis. Not only that, but I was hearing stories of the conflict from first-hand experience, primary sources, not from textbooks or news reporters. By the end of the three weeks, I felt like I had had the best introduction one could have to the conflict. I was not forcefully swayed into believing one side or the other; I listened to both in equal measure.
Seeds of Peace also allowed me to humanize the conflict, so to speak. One thing that frustrated me during some of the discussions was that it came down to a discussion of death-tolls. “You killed 300 of our people.” “Well, you killed 500 of ours.” That wasn’t what I came for. By the end of the three weeks, however, the discussions changed. They tackled the essential questions of what are we to do, what is our role, why is this happening, how can it stop. I’m not saying that we all left the camp with the solution to peace. But in the last few discussions of the final week, the people in the dialogue group could look at one another and know that they all wanted the same things. We were all young teenagers with lives as complex and vivid as everyone else’s. We all wanted people to stop killing each other and to sleep not worrying that a bomb wouldn’t come down on our homes.
There are, of course, downsides to this organization. As some have said, it could be a normalizing experience for some, meaning that one could ignore the atrocities that occur every day between the two sides and pretend all is well. For some, that may have happened. They may have left the camp thinking everything was fine and dandy. Others say that the camp is pointless, that it won’t lead anywhere, and that it was a waste of money. Again, that may be true for some, there is no denying that. I know some who have left the camp just as they entered it. No change. But hey, school can be just the same; you can pay 4-years’ worth of tuition, not do any of the work, and you will have wasted a fortune.
Seeds of Peace is an instrument. It may not be the road to peace, but it certainly ushers people to it, and it is their choice as to whether or not they should follow it.