BY TAMAR HAUSMAN | Seeds of Peace opened the doors of its new Jerusalem home yesterday in a ceremony at which U.S. special envoy Dennis Ross and Education Minister Yossi Sarid had words of encouragement for several hundred teenage participants from throughout the Middle East.
The new center will be the world headquarters of Seeds of Peace, which was started in 1993 to bring highly-qualified Israeli, Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian children together to develop meaningful relationships in a summer camp in Maine. Previously, founder and president John Wallach managed the program from the US, and the children convened only in the summers.
Now, the center will serve as a place for youth to meet throughout the year and to participate in projects in coexistence learning, cross-cultural dialogue, and leadership training.
“You give us inspiration and guidance,” Sarid said to the throng of green-shirted teenagers, many of whom were holding hands or had an arm thrown around a friend’s shoulders. As the leaders work towards achieving peace, he said, “You show us the way. You have the courage and enthusiasm. We won’t let you down.”
Sarid also said there will be a Palestinian state, and he hopes that Syrian youth will soon be able to join the program.
Dr. Naim Abu Hummous, deputy minister of education for the Palestinian Authority, spoke of the need to improve coexistence and peace education in the PA and abroad. And Ross, who was accompanied by his deputy, Aaron Miller, said, “Ultimately you will be the seeds of peace.”
Eight graduates of the program spoke to the crowd of several hundred, which included donors, diplomats, and politicians from the Middle East, US, and elsewhere. Jamil Zraiqat of Jordan gripped the crowd with an eloquent speech about his vision of bringing his grandson to Jerusalem to show him the Seeds of Peace building as a piece of history, like any one of the city’s many historical structures, a necessity no longer.
The building in the French Hill neighborhood has a computer laboratory, several meeting and classrooms, an art studio, and other facilities.
Last summer, 435 teenagers attended the camp and graduated from its conflict resolution program; that’s nearly half of the total who have graduated since the program’s inception. Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot children are also among the Seeds, as the participants call themselves.