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Learning to Live Together - Through Writing
Last uploaded : Wednesday 1st Oct 2003 at 16:09
Contributed by : Imtiyaz Delawala


19 September 2003

As violence continues unabated in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one
group of youths is trying to erase boundaries. The teenagers - Israeli Jews
and Arabs, Palestinians and Jordanians - are working together on a magazine
called Crossing Borders, a joint venture begun in 1999 that brings together
youths of different backgrounds to produce a full-color, 32-page magazine
published every two months, and distributed for free to schools and youth
organizations in the region.

The magazine is part of a project called "Learning to Live Together in the
Middle East," launched by the International People's College in Elsinore,
Denmark. Since 1999, the magazine has produced 17 issues, and it recently
received additional funding from the European Union and the Danish Foreign
Ministry in order to continue publication for
two more years.

The magazine features pieces by high school students who provide diverse
opinions on all issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in
addition to stories related to teen interests such as music and technology,
as well as poetry and creative writing. Some 28 teens are involved in the
magazine, which has an editorial board of four adults who coordinate each
group of youths, and who edit the magazine on a rotating basis.

Coming together

Shimon Malka, who coordinates the Israeli youth involved in Crossing
Borders, says he recently interviewed over 100 Israeli teenagers interested
in being part of the program, selecting 10 of them for the program for the
upcoming year. "Every year we recruit new kids - from different countries,
regions, religions, left-wing, right-wing - and bring the different
backgrounds together," Malka says.

Hanna Siniora, a publisher of a weekly newspaper in Jerusalem who helps
coordinate the Palestinian youths involved in Crossing Borders, says the
goals of the program reach beyond simply putting together the magazine.
"What we had in mind was that in order to create leaders of the future, we
have to educate youth in knowing and understanding each other," Siniora says.

One of the main ways Crossing Borders does this is by bringing together the
group for weekend seminars several times a year in countries such as Turkey
and Cyprus, so that the youngsters can meet and exchange views in person.

"At the beginning, the meetings are always full of tension," says Malka,
explaining that verbal clashes and arguments are common in the first few
days of each new group seminar. He adds that the Jordanian teens often
serve as a bridge between the different groups. "It's easiest for them to
be friendly, because they are not as involved in the conflict."

Part of the process

But Siniora explains that the debates are part of the education
process. "At the beginning, they try to express their background, and each
side tells the other that we are in the right," Siniora says. "But slowly
they come to understand that each side has a part of the truth, and they
understand the position of the other groups, and then become good
friends." In addition to the four-day seminars, the program holds a
two-week journalism seminar each summer. The group recently returned from a
14-day seminar in Denmark, where they participated in conflict management
seminars, while also meeting with professional journalists as well as
Danish government officials such as Denmark's minister of foreign affairs.

17-year-old Palestinian Jihan Abdallah, who has been involved in the
program for three years, speaks about the seminars; "There were lots of
things I needed to get off my chest," Abdallah says. "Crossing Borders
facilitates that, and lets us listen to others and say things we need to say."

"The fact that Crossing Borders doesn't concentrate on just talking about
what's happening brings us together as people, as young people," she says.

`It wasn't easy'

Despite the friendships that have formed, organizers and participants say
the violence of the last three years has made the work of the magazine more
difficult. Malka says that after the Intifada broke out in the fall of
2000, the group held an emergency meeting in Turkey to discuss the
situation. "The tension was so high," Malka says. "We had to make them
understand that none of it was their fault, or their responsibility. It
wasn't easy."

Sometimes, however, the ongoing violence is too much to overcome. Members
of the group had planned to meet in Jerusalem recently for a picnic, but it
was canceled after the wave of violence that week.

"The whole point of Crossing Borders being here is because of the
situation," Abdallah says.

"When things get worse, we don't talk as much, which is a shame - We try to
forget about it, but it?s hard to do sometimes."

Garba Diallo, Crossing Borders project manager, who helped develop the
concept of the magazine recognizes that "The biggest challenge has been to
continue positive activities under the increasing violence and to get
enough funds as the international community despairs and looks helpless,
making funders less inclined to invest in peace when the local leaders are
concentrating their energies and national resources on mutual destruction.?

But he is hopeful about the continuation of the project and its future

"The kids have been much wiser than the local politicians. They have
managed to keep their contact and constructive dialogue going," Diallo
says. "By focusing on achieving the task of producing the magazine, they
learn how to cooperate, and through working together they get to know and
understand each other's perspectives on the situation."

In a recent issue of the magazine, 18-year-old Israeli Liat Margalit - who
is about to begin service in the IDF as an army reporter - proudly
proclaims the impact her involvement in Crossing Borders has had on her,
saying the seminars she attended allowed her to reach "new terms of
understanding" about the conflict, while changing her outlook on the
future. "I now know that I have the power within me to do whatever I
choose," she writes. "My choice is to change things for the better."

The Voice of Peace

And the program continues to grow. As part of the new EU grant, Crossing
Borders will branch out this fall to create "Voice of Peace," a radio
program featuring Israeli and Palestinian youths, which is scheduled to
begin broadcasting on November 4, the anniversary of former Israeli Prime
Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. The program plans to broadcast
three hours each day (one hour each in Hebrew, Arabic and English) and may
expand its schedule in the future.

Siniora says the goal is to "show the possibility of coexistence," and to
overcome restrictions on travel that keep many youths of different
backgrounds in the region from meeting each other. "To have a greater
impact, we need to use a medium that will reach the other side without
barriers," he says.
This article first appeared in 'Ha'aretz.' JewishComment is grateful to Common Ground News Service for copyright clearance.



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