Typical teens living a life less ordinary

23rd July 2010 at 01:00
Report from the Windows for Peace summer school

Students at the Windows for Peace summer school appear just like any others around Scotland. They giggle, whisper, and hurriedly switch off their mobile phones when they go off in the middle of a presentation. But the reality behind their visit is starkly different.

"We wanted to let our voices be heard in the world and express our ideas," says Rimah, a 15-year-old Palestinian girl from the West Bank town of Jenin.

The 15 young people have come to Edinburgh for two weeks, but their days are not spent in English language tuition or wandering the Royal Mile. Instead, they take part in activities to bring Israeli and Palestinian students together to discuss the issues their families face back home.

They are here to talk about matters the politicians in their home countries will not address, say their adult supervisors.

"What we are doing here is not easy. The community . not all of them like what we do. Except for our families, there are not so many people who support what we are doing," explains Roni, a 15-year-old Israeli Jewish girl from Givatayim, near Tel Aviv.

"On every side there is fear and curiosity. Because of this conflict, people are afraid to talk and afraid of us when we talk. But we are still here and we still do what we do because it is important."

The students come in three groups - Jewish Israelis like Roni; Israeli Arabs, or "1948 Palestinians" who have Israeli citizenship; and Palestinians like Rimah from the Occupied Territories of the West Bank.

At home, the groups meet separately to work on a joint bilingual magazine, Windows, run by the non-profit organisation Windows for Peace. They write about the conflicts in their home countries, and the difficulty of making bonds. Then once every three months, a seminar is held for all the participants.

The West Bank Palestinian group needs permission from the Israeli Army to travel to these seminars, so their time in Scotland is a welcome opportunity to spend longer than two days together.

The seminars are a rare chance for the participants to meet young people who, even though they are the same age and live in the same place, would never meet otherwise. With a separate education system, even Palestinian- Israelis who don't live in Occupied Territories would not meet Israelis.

"We don't come from different parts of the world, but come from different things inside of us," says Marah, 14, an Israeli-Palestinian from Tamra.

So how did they feel, meeting the other groups for the first time? Through a translator, Rimah says: "There were strange feelings on both sides, and no immediate integration and bonding, because we didn't think we would ever in our lives meet someone from the other side. Now we know each other better, it doesn't feel like that."

Roni, speaking in confident English, says: "Before every meeting I was excited, but also nervous because I know there are hard stories to talk about - our families' stories of the Holocaust or the Nakba (Arabic for "catastrophe", meaning the 1948 war that destroyed Palestinian homes and villages).

"Sometimes it's about bonding and sometimes it's about the peace process. These subjects are so important, and I am excited to talk about them with these people."

The trip to Scotland also introduced the Windows students to young people from Edinburgh's Blackhall Mosque. They went on a nature walk together and played kickball, but they - like the Windows students when they first met - were surprised by how different, and yet similar, their lives were.

Asim, a 17-year-old boy from Edinburgh, says: "We can't imagine what it is to live with their fears and cautions. But in terms of religion and being kids, we are the same. We like football, we like playing Xbox."

Although Roni, Rimah and their fellow students talk about serious issues with adult gravity and courage, they have not left their teenage characteristics behind. They are thrilled and excited at having their photographs taken for a newspaper, and are rapidly distracted when a supervisor calls out it's time for pizza.



Windows is a bilingual magazine produced in Hebrew and Arabic by young aspiring journalists from Israel and the Occupied Territories of the West Bank.

It was founded in 1991 by Palestinian and Israeli educators and artists, including the current co-director Rutie Atsmon, inspired by a South African trilingual magazine produced for children.

Windows for Peace UK supports their work by raising funds for the Edinburgh summer school.




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