BY MEG BARONE | KENT The significance of the man who delivered a message of hope for peace in the Middle East Sunday was perhaps lost on the 85 high school students at Camp Kenwood.
The teen-agers were born more than a decade after Henry Kissinger made his mark on U.S. foreign policy, trying to broker a peace deal between Arabs and Israelis.
But Kissinger’s optimism for peaceful co-existence among the long-time enemies was shared by the teens—many of them Arabs and Israelis—who are attending the seventh annual P2K Summer Peace Camp, sponsored by Seeds of Peace is an international conflict resolution program, with offices in New York and Washington.
More than 1,000 students from the Middle East, the Balkans and Cyprus have participated in the Peace Camp, usually held in Maine, but moved to Connecticut this summer at the request of the Jewish Federation of Greater Waterbury. Most of this year’s campers come from Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
About one dozen of the campers are Connecticut students.
“I never meet Arabs and Israelis in the same group. I’m glad to see you all here because you’re the ones who have to bring influence on governments, you’re the ones to make sure it actually happens,” said Kissinger, national security adviser and later secretary of state in the 1970s during Nixon administration.
“I’m actually quite optimistic that peace can be made … [but] it’s not as simple as wanting to make peace. You have to be concerned with security and you cannot afford one mistake,” Kissinger said, urging the students to treat each other with dignity and respect.
That might have been a difficult request to honor one week ago, many of the campers admitted.
“To be honest, yeah. That would have been difficult because I had all these opinions that Palestinian people are terrorists. That’s what I felt. Now, no,” said Tamer Omari, 16, of Israel. “I changed my opinion because I hear the other side. I really understand their feelings too,” he said.
“I like this experience. I listen to others and share their ideas,” said Palestinian Mohammed Herzallah, 14.
“I’ve learned many things I never realize before, like not everything you hear about people in Palestine and Israel is true. I also learned about the true feelings of the people of Israel and Palestine, and they understand what I feel,” said Afaq Zraikat, 14, of Jordan.
Zraikat said it was painful to listen to some of the tragic stories of loss some campers had experienced because of the violence in the Middle East.
Caribeth Klemundt, 13, Middlebury, said the campers have spent a week playing games and participating in workshops aimed at teaching them mediation skills. “The challenge was learning to be neutral as an American because I am also Jewish,” Klemundt said.
John Wallach, founder of Seeds of Peace, said governments have ignored the necessity to make peace between ordinary people.
“They are only interested in political and economic elites, and as a result peace never survives,” Wallach said. “Treaties are negotiated by governments. Peace is made my people,” said Wallach who believes the seeds of peace are being planted in the youth who attend the camp.
“The message I will take back to my peers in Jordan is the most important thing you can do is listen, never judge a person before you meet him or talk to him,” Zraikat said.
“I know we will be friends and there will be peace between us,” Herzallah said.
“It starts with two persons and gets bigger and bigger,” Omari said.