Though the violence between Israelis and Palestinians seems to intensify each day, a group of young Israeli Arabs and Jews are engaged in a different kind of struggle. They are learning to understand and respect one another. In the first of a two part-series, Ross Dunn speaks with young people from very different backgrounds who are participating in a program called Seeds of Peace.
When Yael Constantin arrived at her school in Kfar Saba in central Israel recently, she and her classmates were told to rush into bomb shelters. An alert had been issued about a possible terror attack. For her, it was just another school day in a land where bombs explode and people are killed every day.
Though she often lives in fear, 17-year-old Miss Constantin says she refuses to stay hidden at home. She continues to join friends at cafes even though they have become targets for terrorist attacks. "I am afraid because you can never tell, when and where it is going to hit, but on the other hand, you cannot stop living. If I choose to live in this country, I need to know that I have to live despite all that is going on. I do go to cafes, yes, I do [also] spend a lot of my time in the cafe, looking around and seeing that nothing abnormal is going on, but I have to live," she says.
Miss Constantin is one of a select group of young Israeli Arabs and Jews who are taking part in a program called Seeds of Peace. Based in the United States, the private program brings together young people who live on opposite sides of a conflict and who, under normal circumstances, would probably never have met.
Were it not for this program, for example, it is unlikely that Yael Constantin and Amir Abed al-Qadir, another participant in the program, would know each other, let alone be friends.
Amir, an Israeli Arab, lives in Taibeh, close to the West Bank town of Tulkarm, scene of some the bloodiest fighting in recent weeks.
The 16-year-old boy says he spends a lot of time trying to understand the pain felt by people on both sides of the conflict. "I am living in Israel, and I feel the pain that the Israeli people feel. And also being a Palestinian it's like in my blood because my grandparents were Palestinians, so I also feel the [Palestinian] suffering and it is also harming me when Palestinians are being killed," he says.
Misa Totry, another participant in the Seeds of Peace program, is a 16-year-old Arab from Haifa. Like Amir, she says she also tries to maintain a balanced view, but she admits to getting upset when she sees pictures of the Israeli army carrying out operations inside the Palestinian territories. "I get very angry but not at Israelis and the civilians who live there in Israel. I get angry at the [Israeli] government because it's the government's fault. And it hurts me a lot. I try to understand the Israeli side," he says.
Despite the months and months of violence, Misa believes that there is still a chance Israelis and Arabs can live together. She says before the killings began 17 months ago, the city of Haifa had become known as a model for peaceful co-existence between Israeli Arabs and Jews. She says even now the two sides are still close. "In Haifa, I can barely see the difference between Arabs and Israelis. And in Haifa, there [are a] lot of Arabs and there [are a] lot of Jews and you can really see the closeness of the two sides," she says.
Listening to young people talk, all of them held one belief in common. Even after all the killings that have occurred in the last months, they still held out hope that the people of Israel and the Palestinian territories could some day live peacefully together.