OTISFIELD, Maine | On the same day an airstrike near a school in Gaza killed ten people, there were teenagers from Israel and Palestine meeting in Maine, singing each other’s national anthems, raising their country’s flags, and planting the seeds of friendship.
For the last 22 years, the Seeds of Peace camp in Otisfield has been bringing teenagers together from conflict zones.
This session, about half of the 180 campers are from either Israel or Palestine.
“I came seeing everything black and white, but I realized how complicated it was for my nation, and for the Palestinians across the border,” said Nitsan, an Israeli teenager returning to Seeds of Peace for the second time.
The campers, called seeds, spend three weeks together, doing outdoor activities and having daily dialogue sessions.
At the end of the session, each camper will have 70 hours of facilitated dialogue.
“It was tough for me,” said Salma, a teenager from Gaza. “I didn’t know how to deal with the other side, but I managed to.”
Since the Seeds of Peace opened in 1993, there have been 5,200 graduates. Some have gone on to work for news organizations in their home countries, others are peace process consultants to the United Nations. Camp staff says everyone leaves changed.
“I think everyone is feeling the tension,” said Nitsan, at the start of the session. “You can also feel the urgency of what we’re doing. It’s so important to be here now.”
The other countries represented at the camp this session include: Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, India, Pakistan, and the United States.