Secretary of State Colin Powell is urging Arab and Israeli teen-agers wrapping up a conflict-resolution program in the United States to return home and do what they can to help bring peace to the region.
Each year, several hundred teen-agers from the Middle East spend time at a camp in the U.S. state of Maine. It's a program designed to build lasting friendships and perhaps provide a foundation for what could become the next generation of leaders to overcome obstacles to peace.
The program has gained widespread praise as perhaps the only one of its kind where young Arabs and Israelis are able to build bonds and then return home where conflict continues to drive both populations farther and farther apart, as this 17-year old West Bank Palestinian remembers during a recent visit back to his home in Hebron.
"The expression you get on people's faces when you get there is sadness, anger and frustration. People have nothing to talk about but death and Ariel Sharon and war," he said.
His time spent getting to know young Israelis was an experience he doubts he could ever have gained at home, given nearly a year of Arab/Israeli violence.
"Seeds of peace is the only place in the world at this moment where Palestinians and Israelis are treating each other as human beings," he said. "The Israelis are too busy trying to convince the Americans to support them and the Palestinians are too busy trying to convince the Arab countries to support them."
Secretary of State Powell urged all the young people gathered here to return to the Middle East and continue building on the strong cross-cultural bonds they made at their camp this summer in Maine. "I need your help to go back and give witness to what you have learned in camp, to give witness to the reality that if you talk to one another, if you get inside each other's dreams and ambitions you can find ways of bridging the differences, you can find ways forward," he said.
The Palestinian Authority refused to send an official delegation to take part in the Seeds of Peace program. An American source says the P.A. was worried about reprisals against Arab participants when they returned home for having contact with Israelis.