Seeds of Peace: the most profound experience of my life

Adam Salzman, Staff Writer

This past summer, I joined twenty-nine Americans and approximately 100 Middle Eastern teenagers in a three-week program in Maine called Seeds of Peace.  This program seeks to facilitate greater dialogue and understanding among the teenagers directly impacted by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as those affected by the Indian-Pakistani conflict.

When I first mentioned Seeds of Peace to my friends, they immediately pictured the everyday life consisting of sitting in a auditorium listening to various boring seminars.  However, the reality is completely different—Seeds of Peace functions like a typical sleep-away camp.  Everyday, campers participate in activities, such as soccer, canoeing, dance, water skiing, and more.  Through these activities and a daily two-hour dialogue session, I formed deep connections with children from all over the world. 

Seeds of Peace is structured so that a person can meet as many other people as possible, so my dialogue group, table, and bunk were all made up of different people.  Since I was a part of the Israel-Palestine subsection of the program, my dialogue group did not include any Pakistanis or Indians.  Out of the fifteen people in my dialogue group, three were from the U.S., one from Jordan, one from Egypt, six from Israel, and the remaining five from either the West Bank or Gaza.  I was the only American in my bunk, which consisted of two people from Israel, two from the West Bank, one from Egypt, and one from Jordan.  At my table, where I was also the only American, there were people from all of the seven countries.  I soon became very close friends with each and every member from my three different groups.

There is a common saying at Seeds of Peace: “Trust the process.”  The goal of this program is to try to understand one other’s perspective and each other’s narrative regarding the conflict.  Accomplishing this goal, however, is actually much more difficult than it sounds. Each day, my dialogue group had a two-hour session with two professional facilitators.  There was never a specific agenda assigned, so we were free to speak about whatever we wanted.  Like almost every group was expected to do, our group immediately began to shout and argue with each other over certain issues.  These arguments ranged from topics like the Israeli occupation, to the siege of Gaza, the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces, and the Palestinian protests and attacks in relation to Israel.  

These arguments, as expected, often escalated into full-on screaming and fighting using personal insults.  Though it took a while, our group eventually recognized the importance of listening and understanding each other’s personal stories and experiences.  It was difficult for many to fight the urge to respond to another’s statement defensively and instead try to think about why this person feels that way about the topic, but we were eventually able to do so. As a result, our connections ran much deeper, as we began to truly understand each other.  Before my very own eyes, I saw teenagers from each side of the conflict, who had grown up hating each other, start to sympathize with each other’s pain and become amazing friends. 

  Seeds of Peace was definitely the most profound experience of my life.  I greatly expanded my understanding of the Middle Eastern conflict and became friends with teenagers from a diverse variety of different countries—many of whom I text and Skype with on an everyday basis. 

Through this program, I learned that through listening and genuine understanding, people can build bridges with each other and form unusual friendships.  Doing so may even lead to a more peaceful world in the future. One thing is certain: without the ability to listen and understand, hate will persist forever.