Window hopes to open minds

1st July 2005 at 01:00
The opening of a new youth centre is hardly a big deal. But when the location is Tul Karem, an impoverished town in the West Bank with precious few amenities for its young people, it is an occasion for rejoicing - and hope.

The centre was opened in June by Windows for Peace, a unique non-governmental organisation run jointly by Jews in Israel, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

Since 1991, it has worked to break down barriers between young people in the three communities. It does this through what it calls dialogue through media: children exchanging information about their lives and perceptions of each other through meetings, a jointly produced dual-text magazine, drawings, poems and letters.

The results can be painfully honest. In one issue of the magazine, a boy named Islam wrote: "I hate the Israelis because they killed my brother in our refugee camp and broke my father's arm." Michal, an Israeli girl, replied: "You are afraid of Israeli soldiers. But we are afraid of Palestinians coming to let off suicide bombs."

In another exchange, a girl from the Ma'ale Adumim settlement wrote: "I want to talk to Palestinian children about how we Jews think." A boy from the Tul Karem refugee camp responded: "You are not welcome in Palestine because you live illegally on land that doesn't belong to you. But I respect you as a human being."

Such "conversations" are meant to be a precursor to children meeting. But the fraught security situation means Windows, launched during the first intifada, has had no face-to-face meetings for the past few years. Young people have met only at summer camps and conferences in Europe, though they have continued to communicate by email, letters and phone.

Mahmoud Tanji, who runs Windows in the Territories, has children coming from all over the West Bank to take part in arts, letter-writing and discussions about issues such as the wall, the history of Israel, the Holocaust and their ideal Palestinian state.

In a town with a refugee camp that is home to around 20,000 people with no play facilities, parks or gardens, the newly-refurbished centre is an oasis of space and stimulation.

Ruthie Atzmon, founder of Windows and co-ordinator of its Tel Aviv centre, is reliant on donations from Europe and on hundreds of bilingual volunteer facilitators.

She believes Windows is a ray of hope. "I marvel at the ability of Palestinian children who have lost brothers or fathers and are able to differentiate between individual Israelis and the government or military.

In Windows, we all accept each other and accept the belief that Jews and Palestinians can live together."

To find out more about Windows, email winpeace@netvision.net.il

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