By Cameron Gonzales
For more than half a century, there has been a massive conflict in the Middle East known as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even in the United States, it is a highly polarizing issue, but one that the majority of the population know almost nothing about. Despite regular conversations regarding how to bring peace to the region, not one solution has arisen as a clear pathway out of this conflict. Here is the issue: no matter what high-up decisions are made, peace between the actual populations of Palestine and Israel are necessary for any solution to actually work.
Creativity for Peace was born during the second Intifada (Arabic for uprising), when Rachel Kaufman graciously opened her home to both Israeli and Palestinian women fleeing increasing violence in their homelands. For 16 years, Creativity for Peace has worked to help end the conflict by inviting 15 Israeli and Palestinian teenage girls to develop leadership and peacemaking skills. During the three-week camp, the young women break down their preconceived beliefs about the other side as they work alongside those they have only known as the enemy. They go to high schools, news stations, and other public spaces to share some of their most painful stories, all while being in a completely foreign culture, speaking their second or third language. These brave young women do it all for the sake of peace.
Last week I sat down with Dottie Indyke, the Executive Director for Creativity for Peace, to inquire about the program. I left inspired and hopeful for the future of Israel-Palestine thanks to the stories and training of these young leaders. My first question was, why girls? Dottie shared with me an old African proverb, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation”. She explained to me that study after study found a huge cultural impact when women were the changemakers, but also explained that a lot of it has to do with logistics. Due to the diversity of religion, belief, and culture, it would be difficult for some of the girls to be vulnerable and comfortable around men. Some might require different garments, and some might just feel uncomfortable, but all were deserving of being comfortable in the program so that they may return home and create genuine cultural change.
I was taken aback by the skills taught to these young women, wishing I could take the camp myself! They start by learning compassionate listening and authentic speaking, something we all could use more of. These young women are taught to speak without making generalizations, to take the opinions and experiences of who they have only ever known as their enemy to heart, without abandoning their personal beliefs and strengths. They are instilled with the belief that they can make a change, and taught to be kind, resilient, courageous peacemakers within their community. The power and strength of these young women is palpable when you hear them speak. I had the honor of meeting a few girls from the program when I was a Junior in high school, and the experience has stuck with me since. If you are interested in listening to these young women, I highly recommend attending their Picnic for Peace event at the end of this month.
It was clear after speaking to Dottie that those who work for and with this organization are dedicated to lives of activism and efficacy. There is no doubt that real change is happening thanks to the courage of activists reaching out and these young women taking their hands. To teach these women to not be afraid, but rather to be a leader is an invaluable experience, preparing them to be some of the most effective politicians if that is the path they choose. These young women will help spearhead the beginning of the end of this decades-long conflict and they will have done it through the support of activists and the tools of resilience, courage, persistence, and a genuine want to and belief that they can change the world.
If you want to learn more about this wonderful program, please check out their website here.