Summertime is always a season that is eagerly awaited by children all around the world. Summer is a time of rest, fun, swimming and sweets, and full of trying new things. Many children are also given the opportunity to go to summer camps where they are able to participate in fun activities and build new friendships. For those who have attended summer camps or sent their children to them, they understand camp can have a profound and lasting impact on a child’s life.
There are hundreds of summer camps throughout Israel and the West Bank. However, it is extremely rare that you would find a Palestinian and Israeli at the same camp. Many of the summer camps mirror the segregation found in the surrounding society. Musalaha is proud to present a unique experience that differs from the many other camps in the area. At Musalaha summer camps, you can find both Israeli and Palestinian children – splashing in the pool, playing sports together, eating meals at the same table, and working together on different projects. Many other summer camps promise and advertise an escape. Musalaha also promises a fun time away, but invites children to engage. To engage with their neighbors they know little about. To meet and get to know children that live in different neighborhoods, go to different schools, and take different busses. To engage with the “other” who speaks a different language, has a different culture, and maybe even a different religion.
It is important to understand the context these children are leaving as they enter the summer camp. Children are leaving behind their separate school systems. These schools teach these children about the “other”, both in implicit and explicit ways, whom they are about to meet at Musalaha summer camp. These children have been raised with a certain narrative of the other side. This narrative has been given to them through textbooks, family stories, and the media. With little interaction between the two groups, schools are where they learn the most about this other child who they are supposed to dislike or distrust. Both educational systems present an absence of images and information of the other. If they do provide information, the content is usually filled with harmful images and stereotypes which instill fear and suspicion. If left unquestioned and unmet, these young students will grow up never knowing anything that challenges their racism and prejudice.
Musalaha summer camp gives these students the opportunity for the unknown to become known. To break down walls of hostility and indifference and to see their own fear, racism, and prejudice crumble to the ground. As the children begin to laugh with one another, their fear begins to fall. As they learn from one another’s stories, their prejudice begins to peel away.
For our 2019 summer camp, we hope to continue our legacy of giving these children a positive, life-changing experience. We believe this is a unique time where we are able to help change their perception and attitudes which can lead to a change in behavior. Our theme for our camp this year is “Young Heroes.” We hope to introduce children to role models around the world who are working for peace, justice, and change. We hope they leave the camp empowered and know that they too can be a young hero in their own community. They too can change the status quo by being courageous, telling the truth, and showing radical kindness. They can re-enter their schools in the Fall with a friend from the other side. They can ask questions of their teachers and textbooks and challenge racist narratives. Longterm, these Israeli and Palestinian children grow up to become further involved in reconcialition and work to change the unjust structures and systems in their society.
Summer is a time for fun and a time for change. It is a time to dream and a time to awaken to new ideas and perspectives. A time to step outside of our daily routines and to be radically transformed. To be invited into a new worldview and have our complacency and complicity challenged. We look forward to these summer camps with great anticipation and a great hope that they will inspire children to be agents of reconciliation in their own communities.