Saturday, October 13, 2007

Peacemaker's Camp

All I know is that I was so friggin' cold that first day of Camp Towanga, high in the Sierra's, that I wanted to go back to Jerusalem - immediately!! It was raining savagely and I guess God did it on purpose so that we'd all huddle together - about 90 Palestinians and Jews - over the fireplace in the dining area/lounge. As I tried to defrost over a pizza lunch, there were 20 minute instructions on how to deal with your cutlery, plates and meal time organization that I looked over at my friend Aliza and asked "Why do I feel like I'm in rehab?". There were more warnings and how to deal with snakes and black bears if we should see any. I zoned out after 10 minutes of instructions and looked around. Most of the campers were half my age and there were a few smatterings of "elderly" campers - over the age of 45. I wondered how the ones even more senior than that managed in this cold. I ventured out on the porch only once because of the darbuka playing outside. The musicians had already found each other and the musician lovers like myself were happy at the spontaneous jam and I was glad I bought that Monterey sweatshirt with a hood at the kitschy tourist shop in Monterey. Otherwise, I would have been in trouble clothes-wise.That evening, back at the bunk, any part of my body that was out of my sleeping bag was painfully cold - like my fingers and my nose. As a result, I woke up at dawn and was one of the 5 who decided to go on a morning walk on top of the mountain ridge. Fortunately, these people weren't the young 'uns, and I had a good conversation with our group, one an English teacher who lives in the Bay area, who, though she is in between cancer treatments, was able to walk way ahead of me without huffing and puffing and a lovely Palestinian American whose cousin owns the beautiful and quaint Jerusalem Hotel in East Jerusalem. I was quite pleased at myself for getting good at playing "Arab Geography." We hardly noticed the vistas as we were so engrossed in our conversations but I did notice the sun coming up finally warming my cold bones. The camp looked lovely today, and was set amidst large acorn trees which would drop acorns on our heads if we sat under one. There were workshops on Compassionate Listening, lots of organized group talk, hikes to the waterfalls, shorter hiking to the river, boating on the lake, analogous games were played, like trying to steal each other's treasure and in the end we found the treasure was the same, which brought out 2 1/2 hour discussions on borders and the conflict and the feelings each of us felt about it. I could hear heated discussions coming from other circles and it was good to be able to hear what everyone had to say. During our workshop on how to effect Change someone mentioned the book the "Tipping Point" that 20% of people are waiting to see if a product/something will work and then will join in if they see that it does. And then it grows from there. So we have to market our peace efforts so that we reach out to those not yet involved, which will happen naturally if they see successes in our grass roots endeavors. I'm not so much worried about that as I see it will kick off eventually. There were a few Palestinians whose stories I heard - one was from a refugee camp in Jericho. He thought he was going to a convention, not a camp. It would be difficult for him to say to friends that he "partied with Israelis" because others in his refugee camp are not into "normalization processes with Israelis" - at least not yet. I mentioned other Palestinians I knew who were at the All Nations Cafe meetings from the Dehaisha and Anata refugee camps, and thought he'd be ok there. Another was a woman who spoke about her husband and brother who had been killed by the IDF, after her brother-in-law was killed by a stray IDF missile on his way to his wedding to her sister. So in revenge she recruited her brother and husband for attacks against the IDF and she herself was in prison for 2 years leaving 3 very young children with her mother. She decided that fighting against Israelis isn't the answer but joining a grassroots peace movement is - so she is now part of Combatants for Peace. I heard the story of a young man from Gaza whose home was destroyed by the IDF and he wanted to strap on a belt of explosives in revenge, but thinking about it decided that he'd cause more damage than good to his people and is now part of the Arava Institute in the Negev. I spoke about my own transformation from being a member of Rabbi Kahane's Kach party in the 80's and partying with them in Jerusalem, but the hate was eventually so uncomfortable for me that I had no community for a while until I found myself so heavily involved in the interfaith dialogue movement in Jerusalem as The Answer to the conflict and became a peace addict. In the evening, the mood was lighter and on Saturday night and Sunday night there was dancing for three hours while the DJ's spun American, Israeli and Arabic dance music. My rather conservative American-Palestinian bunkmate from Tulkarem thought the Arab girls wouldn't dance but most of the Palestinian girls did get up to boogie and could put me to shame in the belly dance department. The last day, we walked down to the river to wash each other's hands as a cleansing ritual and we blessed each other as we did it. We were amused to hear a Palestinian quote Herzl saying "If you have the will it is not a dream" and explained that he quoted Herzl because he had such a good track record. That morning I had a lively conversation with a Palestinian from Jerusalem who made my day by talking about how Sephardic Jews should call themselves Arabs and then there would be no problem getting into the Arab League as the Arabs would then have a mindswitch, as Israel would be considered "mostly Arab." I laughed and told them the city I live in, Maaleh Adumim, is then 80% Arab - Jewish Arab. "See? No problems then." laughed my friend. And I teased him about being a Zionist. "King David (I think) coined the term Zion in his Psalms. Therefore, the land is called Zion from ancient times, it's not a modern term. So anyone who loves the Land of Zion, even if he's an Arab, is a Zionist!" And we laughed at each other hysterically because our suggestions are absurd and true at the same time. We exchanged email addresses with those we felt connected to, took more photos and planned for the future as we hugged and kissed each other goodbye. I do hope the Bay area residents take me up on my offer to visit Jerusalem and stay with me. A reunion for the Mideast participants is already being planned for the Spring in Jordan, a neutral meeting ground for Palestinians and Israeli.

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