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Conflict Resolution Program Holds International Youth Conference in New York - 2003-10-11

Young people from conflict-torn countries are meeting this week in New York to try and find ways to improve relations through better understanding of the media.

Seeds of Peace is an organization that brings together young people from some of the most violent parts of the world in the hope that they can make friends with those they consider their enemies, and forge paths toward peace.

Mohamad Nassaddin, a 17-year-old Palestinian, joined the program last year, and attended its summer camp in the northeastern United States. He remembers his apprehension at meeting Israelis for the first time.

"Being with Israelis, it was like so scary, because I had never talked to an Israeli before. We had to sleep in the same room, and to eat at the same table, and stuff," he recalled. "But later, when I left camp, it was like, I don't want to ever leave those guys. I want to keep in touch with them the rest of my life, because we really had nice relationships, and we shared a lot of things together."

This week, 118 young people, aged 15-to-19, from the Middle East, South Asia, Cyprus and the Balkans are meeting in New York City. Their purpose is to learn about the media, including freedom of the press, the difference between truth and propaganda, and how war photos affect people's perception of discord.

Sixteen-year-old Adar Ziegel, from Israel, became friends with Mohamad Nassadin last year. She wants to become a journalist someday, to help improve relations between Israelis and Palestinians. "Media really shapes the way we see things, what we know about the conflict. And there are a lot of things the media can show and doesn't, and I want to learn how to change that," she said.

Journalists from CNN, The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera, National Public Radio and The Wall Street Journal will be among those who speak at the six-day conference.

Aaron David Miller, head of Seeds of Peace, and a longtime government adviser on Arab-Israeli relations, says, in the long term, the press must change for peace to occur.

"There's no issue that has more of an impact on the way these kids perceive the world, the way their societies perceive it, than the media. And we have a landscape of misinformation, misperception and misunderstanding," he said.

The teenagers make new friends during Seeds of Peace conferences. But when they return home, they are confronted with the long-standing beliefs of their families and friends back home.

Mohamad Nassadin, the Palestinian youth, remembers feeling powerless when he first left the Seeds of Peace summer camp in the northeastern U.S. state of Maine and returned home.

"When I went back last year," he said, "my friends told me, 'You made peace in Maine, but you didn't change the country, you didn't do anything here.' When you go back, when you hear the bad news is still happening, you feel like, 'What have I done there? Did I make such a change?'"

During the week, the teens will write newspaper stories, produce news for television and radio, and write press releases. Their final projects will be showcased on the last day of the conference.

Photos courtesy Seeds of Peace