Palestinian children at a United Nations run school in Gaza City, Nov. 21, 2012.
Rocket fire over the Gaza Strip halted Nov. 21. However, with both sides willing to retaliate if the other does not keep the agreement, long-term peace still remains shaky, according to USA TODAY.
“Both Hamas and the current Israeli government have ignored the peace process and have been rewarded by their electorate for doing so,” Hunter Hall said, a senior studying international affairs and history at University of Georgia.
If the countries’ leaders cannot create long-term peace, who can? Some organizations think they might have a starting point.
Many international organizations are running programs in the Middle East, or domestically, that offer activities for Palestinian and Israeli young people. The only catch — they have to participate together.
“Changing the status quo will require young leaders whose personal experiences differ from those who came before them,” Tal Alter said, director of operations with PeacePlayers International.
PeacePlayers International is a non-profit organization, which has teams of employees stationed throughout areas historically in conflict to help bring young people together.
The organization’s Middle East program offers several year-round leagues in Israel and the West Bank that bring together young people through basketball.
This year, the organization’s Middle East program will have just under 500 participants and more than half will be girls.
Alter believes the program in the Middle East is especially powerful because of the ability to bring kids together on a frequent basis. In parts of Jerusalem, Arabs and Israelis live very close to each other, but generally never interact. By bringing them together multiple times a week for nine months, friendships can grow and strengthen.
“Through our program model of long-term, frequent, integrated basketball activities, young people develop friendships across existing divides, and when they do, their perceptions of the ‘other’ group as a whole also start to change,” Alter said.
NBC journalist Ann Curry has been to the West Bank with PeacePlayers and highlighted the organization’s work in O, The Oprah Magazine.
“While there [West Bank], we asked the Jewish and Palestinian kids on one team if they ever hang out, and they all broke out laughing and said, ‘Yeah, duh!’ In places where young people are often encouraged to think the worst of others, these are the kinds of relationships that give hope for a more peaceable future,” Curry said in the magazine.
Gwen Cummings, a sophomore international relations major at University of Oregon, sees programs for kids as a positive first step in conflict resolution.
“Since children have yet to fully understand the opinions of their parents, they can see past it all and can form positive relationships,” Cummings said.
Seeds of Peace camps bring young people from regions of conflict to its international camp in Maine to discuss differences and create relationships.
Campers enjoy all of the perks of a traditional American summer camp but are also required to spend two and a half hours a day having dialogue about the region of conflict they’re from, according to camp counselor Nadia Osman.
“I like to think that Seeds of Peace is a community of idealistic leaders with realistic visions for the future,” Osman said.
She believes campers leave with the ability to make an impact on their home region. However, as time goes on and conflict continues, she acknowledges it is harder for people to continue to pioneer change.
“As years pass and camp becomes more of a memory than a recent experience, as well as with current events as we just witnessed in Gaza and Israel, it becomes ever more difficult,” Osman said.
“I think it’s a great idea to have these youth unification programs, and they can be very significant for many individuals. On the other hand, do they or will they have any effect on politics? I would have to say no,” said Sami Jarjour, a senior anthropology major at University of Georgia.
Jarjour sites The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra as an example of positive impact, but not one that will lead to future peace.
The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is a youth orchestra comprised of Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Iranians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Jordanians and Spaniards.
“[The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra] has very flatteringly been described as a project for peace. It isn’t. It’s not going to bring peace, whether you play well or not so well. The Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance,” Daniel Barenboim, a co-founder of the program, told The Guardian.
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