Monday, June 29, 2009

Finding Peace at Summer Camp

In my ongoing quest to find common ground between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, let's go to camp!

Not just any summer camp. The Seeds of Peace camp where each summer, Israelis and Palestinians, and teenagers from other warring nations come together in an idyllic setting in Maine. To play sports, to laugh at the same jokes, and to engage in spirited, intense, yet respectful debate about the issues in the Middle East. Exactly what the "adults" on all sides have not been doing.

Just as teenagers are the people to turn to when your computer is acting up, they are also the ones who have a better handle on how to "fix" the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Consider this hopeful comment reported today by the New York Times:

"After the dialogue sessions have ended, everyone's really OK. We get together, we hug, we kiss," said Marian, a Palestinian from Ramallah who attended camp in 2007 and returned this year to help the newcomers."

For the past seven years, Palestinian-American comedian Dean Obeidallah and I(a Jewish-American comedian) have performed our comedy show "Standup for Peace: The Two Comedian Solution to Middle East Peace at colleges, theaters, Jewish Community Centers, synagogues and mosques across the U.S.

And one of our most gratifying and memorable performances was in 2005 for an audience of Israelis and Palestinians in their 20's who had returned to the Seeds of Peace camp in Maine 10 years after their initial visit. The same material we perform for American audiences was equally well-received at the camp. And of course, as usual, we crafted routines specifically geared for the Israelis and Palestinians in attendance. We still fondly recall the positive comments we received after the show from Israelis and Palestinians alike, who were thankful for a chance to spend an evening together laughing, and to walk away from the show with renewed hope for a better future. Dean and I especially cherish this quote from Vera Chang:

"I had the honor of working at the Seeds of Peace International Camp in Maine for the Leadership Summit, where I was captivated by your Standup for Peace show. It was not only incredibly funny and entertaining, but also carried peaceful messages of understanding. It was truly amazing to witness the Israelis and Palestinians come together after the performance later that night and reenact jokes, making both sides laugh."

I think we can all agree that the status quo in the Middle East isn't working for both Israelis and Palestinians. The rocket attacks from Hamas and Israel's bombing of Gaza only contribute to a cycle of violence that keeps both sides further away from peace. The only way to achieve peace in the Middle East is to talk. Some people say, "We tried talking; it didn't work". That's like saying, "I tried breathing; I didn't care for it".

When it comes to breathing new life into the quest for Middle East peace, the best place to start is the Seeds of Peace camp. And the Israeli and Palestinian teenagers there right now, know the best way to bring about peace is to talk to each other, listen to each other, express their varying points of view, and in the end, as Marian from Ramallah says, "We hug and kiss."

Now that's the kind of common ground we can all share.