Peace It Together is a non-profit charitable organization that empowers youth to promote peace through dialogue, filmmaking and multi-media. During the summer of 2008, thirty Israeli, Palestinian and Canadian teenagers got together at a camp near Vancouver, Canada to participate in an extraordinary dialogue and filmmaking experience. Building on the success of the 2006 and 2004 programs, these kids lived and learned from and about each other for 3 weeks, culminating with a group of short films that can only be described as inspiring. They reflect the necessity for reconciliation and forgiveness in the peace process.
|Adhi Hamael and Reena Lazar (Peace It Together)|
Peace It Together was founded by Reena Lazar, a Montreal girl educated in Jewish private schools, and Adri Hamael, a Palestinian Muslim whose family currently lives under Israeli occupation. These brave girls have been transformed by meeting the “other side” and realizing they are also human beings with similar wants, needs and concerns for their families and cultures.
For Reena it happened in 1999 when she spent weeks listening to both sides as part of the Compassionate Listening Delegation, on a trip to Israel and Palestine. It opened her eyes to the concerns of the Palestinians and taught her about compassion. She realized, “one doesn’t have to agree with someone to show compassion but that it will be the source of an eventual peace.” Reena then studied conflict resolution at the Justice Institute of British Columbia and in 2003 volunteered at the “Creativity for Peace” camp in New Mexico that hosted Israeli and Palestinian girls. It changed her life so profoundly that she decided to start a camp just like it in Canada.
|Camera Crew (Peace It Together)|
Meanwhile, her future partner’s transformation happened much like it happens at the Peace It Together camps. Adri met Jews under normal circumstances while on holiday and found them to be pretty normal.
|Sharing their stories. (Peace It Together)|
What happens at a Peace It Together camp? Reena explained, “The first step is conflict transformation and communication skills so that by the time the kids start creating films they have gone through a pretty intense emotional process and their creative juices are ready. They get to a place where they trust each other and are comfortable to start making a film. Films are such an amazing collaborative process… visuals, acting, writing, music, editing, etc.” There are guidelines regarding the content of the films… they must in some way reflect the Palestinian/Israeli conflict but can be narrative, animation, documentary, experimental… whatever they want. Interestingly enough, all the films are about peace in some way. Reena said, “What they get from their experience here is that Peace is actually possible."Before coming together and engaging with each other, most Palestinians only see Israelis at checkpoints or as settlers who are usually segregated and hostile. As for the Israelis, they don’t really ever meet a Palestinian but only know the stereotypical image and therefore see them as either aggressive or as people they are supposed to pity. The kids all spoke about the stereotypes that the mass media perpetuates and that most people believe because they have no other reference. The two sides so rarely get together. Ghada, a 2004 participant from Bethlehem said, “My perspective about Israelis has changed because now I know how they live their real life and that most of them want peace.” Tom, a 2008 camper from the Kibbutz Kfar Aza put it this way, “Life is a long way; you can work and study but it won’t help you until you learn to stop. Peace it Together taught me how to stop and to think about the ‘other side’.” These kids have never been taught to look at the other side as peacemakers and are surprised to learn that the other side is willing to give up things… to come around. Reena said, “It’s surprising for Israelis to discover the extent of the Palestinian suffering, their lack of freedom and daily harassment.” And on the other hand, “the Palestinians can’t believe that Israelis are afraid of them.”
|Peace It Together kids camp making movies. (Peace It Together)|
One wonders if there is opposition from the homes of these kids from Gaza and Israel. Will it reflect badly on them when they are back home? Reena explains, “Obviously, the families that agree to send their kids for this kind of experience have a certain amount of open-mindedness, even though their extended families might not like it. Once they return, for some communities it is difficult to show the films, especially in the West Bank.” Which leads to the question: How much ongoing opposition is there for this “getting together” process, from both the Jewish and Palestinian sides?
Tarik Chelali, part of the Peace It Together team says, “The power of these films is youth talking to youth, without the filter of adults. They are learning from their peers.” He screened the films recently at a Peace Forum in Vancouver. “I think people are surprised and delighted this project exists. The films really hit home with the youth. You don’t need to know much about the conflict to GET these films. They have simple, universal themes… freedom, compassion and communication.”
Education is a large component of Peace It Together and they have an all-encompassing strategy, including project-based learning, creativity and transformation, and action. (See extra information below) Their Educational DVD is suitable for use in a wide range of curriculums and encourages students to: broaden their understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, identify with their peers in the region and make a difference in their communities and in the world.
|Getting to know each other. (Peace It Together)|
You have met so many amazing and inspiring people on this journey for peace… Do you have a hero? Reena initially tells me that at a recent conference someone said that her generation has no heroes, never really identified with the idea of heroes. After a few seconds of thought she says, “When I participated in the compassionate listening delegation, I met so many Palestinians and Israelis that have lost loved ones to the conflict and still managed to go beyond, towards peace. So I would have to say that my hero is Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish, the Palestinian Doctor whose three daughters were killed during Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip. He is going around the world promoting peace and bridge building.”
When asked what she’s learned from kids at the camps, Reena replies, “So many things. I love how brave they are. Some are trying to show the films to audiences not interested in watching them. Some of them give up but some of them persevere. Bottom up peace. They get they have a role to play and understanding each other is so critical. They feel they are being listened to and it makes them want to listen back.”
Peace It Together has made strides to bring peace into the lives of so many that have had so little. Given the chance to enunciate the organization’s message to the world, Reena is quick to respond, “I’d say, really we are wasting our resources… they need to be invested in Peace Education. If our youth and adults learn more about how to communicate, trust, let go and engage with the other side we could save a lot of lives and a lot of money and trauma, hardship and suffering. It’s pointless and avoidable. What would we do? Show a movie, at least.”
Reena dreams of a time when she can replicate this model in many different parts of the world. “The idea of people coming together to learn about each other and then share this information by making films. I hope to make this grow and to empower other groups around the world to do it to.”
We’ll be watching.