Our annual Israeli-Palestinian children’s summer camp took place at the Baptist Village from the 23-27th of July with 76 Israeli, Palestinian and Sudanese children and about 50 youth and young adult as staff.
We have been blessed with several projects for the youth department this summer, but at the same time we have struggled with recruitment this year more so than previous years. It was especially felt in the weeks leading up to the camp. Every morning, this would be a subject of prayer during our staff meetings. It was almost a challenge of faith as well. And then it began, two weeks prior to camp, children from all over the country were registering.
Two days before the kids arrived, all of the camp staff met at the Baptist Village for final preparations. We usually train the counselors about their role at camp, and how to deal with the different children that come. As we are blessed to have children from all backgrounds, we also recognize the challenges that it brings, especially in communication.
As campers began to arrive at the camp, the counselors’ team welcomed each one into their cabin where they place their luggage, and get to know their fellow roommates. Some of the children came from the North, from Central Israel and others from Jerusalem and the Bethlehem area. Halfway through registration, I get two cases, one from a boys’ cabin and the other from a girls’ cabin where these kids do not want to be in their designated room. “Why?” I asked. “She doesn’t want to be in a room with Arabs,” one of the counselors replied. “He doesn’t want to be in a room with Jews,” says the other.
As prepared as one can be for these situations, it is still shocking to face such a reality. It hurts to know that children at the age of 9 already know who the enemy is, and what their stance towards them is. Quickly I answered each of the counselors, “This is why we are here. Go back and talk with them about it.” I was asked to help with one of them. The boy was not willing to go inside the room, and he was sitting with his luggage, a frown on his face. I sat next to him and he immediately started crying. “I haven’t said anything,” I said to him. “What seems to be the problem?,” I asked. “I don’t want to be in this room,” he replied. “Why so?” “I don’t want to be with Jews,” he retorted. “Why?” “I don’t like them,” he insisted. “Why?” “I don’t know, I just know I do!”
Children pick up so much from their surroundings and they can be so honest. They don’t like the other side and they don’t know why. I wonder if adults are honest enough to answer the same way. After a long conversation with him, I shared with him that we are all children of God and it is a commandment to love everyone, even those we don’t like. It is not a choice we have to make. It is a lifestyle we have to live.
Then he confided in me that the real reason he did not want to be in the cabin was due to the fact that he did not know anyone in the room. Surprisingly, it was the same case with the girl as well. It got me thinking, if we are forced to share a room with someone we don’t know, is it a good enough excuse to say that we don’t like them or even hate them? Does this exempt us from learning to share a room for five days? Again, I was amazed at how much children pick up from their surroundings. The coping mechanisms children choose are learned from adults. If only we could learn from children. After a 10 minute conversation with them, the boy and the girl changed their minds and spent the whole 5 days in their designated rooms. That was the end of that incident. We live in a world that sends out messages of hate and separation to children, and we at Musalaha try to send messages of love and inclusion.
The theme of the camp this year was Target, and each day we chose different aspect of life and our targets in them. We talked about relationships, material possessions and goals we set ourselves in life. Each session asked the question: “Where does God fit into your life targets?” God has given us many blessings in many forms, such as loving families or a good economic status, however, we need to acknowledge that they are a blessing from God and we need to be thankful for them. When God is the core target of our lives, He makes us greater than what we can be on our own – the same with any aspect of our life.
During the Bible study we had a prayer box where children could write their requests, and then everyone could pray for them at the end of the session. Each day, we would get several notes that were very touching, and here are a few for you to see as well.
In Hebrew the prayer is for the child’s family and in Arabic there is a request for healing for a sick friend.
I would like to end with a note that really touched my heart this year, and it makes all of the challenges entailed worth it. This is what I remember from this camp more than anything.
By Shadia QubtiYouth Coordinator