CARLSBAD–Israel and the Palestinian West Bank may be half a world apart from the United States and Mexico, but young people from all four places do have many things in common.
For one, there is a formidable separation barrier or fence that divides the people of Israel and the Palestinian West Bank, just as there is a similar barrier that divides the United States and Mexico. As a result, people on both sides of these two respective barriers do not often have the opportunity to meet, let alone engage in deep conversation. On July 16th, 45 teenagers, ages 15 to 18, from the United States, Israel, the Palestinian West Bank, and Mexico will have the unique opportunity to become citizen diplomats as they tour the Mexican-American border with Border Angels, a local non-profit, and then share life experiences and ideas about identity, separation, and acceptance while sitting in the shadow of the border fence.
Twenty-five of these young adults are participants in the first annual Hands of Peace California (HOP) program, an interfaith organization working to develop peace-building and leadership skills in Israeli, Palestinian, and American teens through the power of dialogue and personal relationships. The remaining 20 citizen diplomats attend two schools, CETYS and Preparatoria Xochicalco, in Tijuana, Mexico.
Scott Silk, California Site Director for Hands of Peace California, said, “I am thrilled to bring Hands of Peace to San Diego, and I am especially excited about our visit to the Mexican-American border. What could be more powerful than having a group of globally engaged teenagers from four nations engage in facilitated dialogue about identity, security, diversity, separation, and unity while sitting in the shadow of the Mexican-American border fence?”The Mexican-American border trip will be part of an 18-day summer program that runs from July 6 to 24 in North County and includes professionally facilitated daily dialogues and an assortment of social and educational programming. In dialogue, participants share personal stories, examine multiple narratives of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, reflect on the role of the United States in world affairs, and develop effective communication and listening skills. Additional programs include attending religious services at a local synagogue, mosque, and church; completing a low ropes course at UCSD; learning about opportunities to study and work in the field of international affairs at the USD Institute for Peace and Justice; experiencing the power of music and art to build understanding among diverse groups of people by participating in workshops conducted by professional artist, Kelly Mellos, and professional musician, Ami Yares; visiting the San Diego Safari Park; and preparing a culturally inspired meal for 150 members of the community. “At Hands of Peace, we believe that building sustainable peace is a long-term project that can only be accomplished by promoting opportunities for honest and sometimes challenging dialogue, which creates openings to debunk stereotypes and put a human face to the other side. Since the youth are the future, why not start there?” Silk said. Hands of Peace invites members of the community to attend their Farewell Banquet on July 23 at Temple Solel in Encinitas. Tickets are available at handsofpeace.org, or by contacting Scott Silk at firstname.lastname@example.org.