Arab, Israeli Officials Dedicate US Peace Camp | REUTERS
BY ALLAN DOWD | OTISFIELD Despite rising tension in the Middle East, Arab and Israeli officials Saturday helped dedicate a summer camp where children from the region are learning to live together in peace.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering said at the dedication the latest violence was proof that enemies of peace were growing desperate.
“There is a tiny silver lining that even the people who would destroy peace with bombs and violence now understand that peace is coming closer,” he said.
The privately-funded “Seeds of Peace” camp on a lake in western Maine hosts 160 teenagers from Israel, Palestinian territories, the United States and five Arab countries. It was founded in 1993 and used temporary locations in Maine before moving to Otisfield.
“If we can (learn to live together) here we can do it anywhere,” said Tomer Perry, 15, an Israeli from North Jerusalem, who was playing his guitar and singing with an Egyptian teenage friend.
The campers gave the officials tours of the facility, sang songs and read short speeches. At one point, the Israeli ambassador to the United States and a senior PLO official stood together as a girl explained a mural on the need to end violence.
“I came here wanting to tell Israelis they don’t know how much the Palestinians have suffered. But I’ve learned there are many things they know and many things that I don’t know,” said Shoug Tarawneh, a Jordanian girl who has attended the camp for three summers.
The official representatives had agreed to avoid politics in their remarks, but all said peace could be achieved. “We will live together because we will get used to living together,” Israeli Ambassador Eliahu Ben-Elissar told the gathering.
Officials said more than 1,800 students competed to attend this year by writing an essay entitled “I Want to Make Peace with my Enemy.” When not talking about politics the teenagers do traditional recreational activities of a summer camp.
“You are standing on special soil. There is probably no other place in the world where youngsters and leaders (from the Mideast) are standing together and not fighting,” camp co-founder John Wallach told the ceremony.
Wallach, a former newspaper editor, has said he decided to found the camp because he wanted to do what peace treaties cannot—bring together youth who have only been taught to hate each other.