Though their leaders may be at political odds with each other, a group of Israeli and Palestinian students learned that they can communicate through art - writes Judith Sudilovsky.
"Before I saw art as a hobby, now I see that art can even connect between people who have preconceived ideas and prejudices against one another," said Israeli student Noga Zer, 14.
Zer was among 50 eighth and ninth graders at the Israeli Hebrew University High School, the Palestinian Al-Quds High School for Girls and the Ibn Khaldoun Junior High School for Boys who participated in the two-year "Through the Window" project.
The group met twice a month at the Israel Museum and their creations are now on exhibit at the Jerusalem Center for Ethics at Mishkenot Sha'ananim, an international culture and conference center, from 11-30 September 2011.
In October, a group of four children, two teachers, and one parent will travel to Italy as guests of the Province of Rome, a co-sponsor of the project with the Jerusalem Foundation, to present their work to teachers and students and talk about their experiences.
"A big part of this program is the outcome of the whole exhibit [and the fact that] it will also go to Italy and these kids will serve as an example for Italy," said Tsah Yahav, of the education department of the Jerusalem Foundation, a Jerusalem-based charitable organization. Yahav noted that Italy is currently coping with an influx of migrant workers and refugees from other cultures.
The children were asked individually to design a window. They were then paired up and asked to connect their windows through a shared space. Finally, the group worked together to design a city.
They painted zoos, candy stores, clothes stores, trains, a museum, a lake with swans, trees and birds as well as a mosque, church and synagogue. Notably, it was the Palestinian children who said a synagogue should be included in the city, said Yael Robin. Robin is an art teacher at Hebrew University High School who facilitated the project with Hannan Abu Hussein from the Israel Museum.
Working in pairs highlighted some potential sources of conflict. Difference in socio-economic backgrounds came into play, Robin said, between the Israeli students, many of whom have been abroad, and the Palestinians, some of whom come from the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. The Palestinians felt more like guests in the museum while the Israeli children felt they were on their home turf, she noted.
"But kids on both sides really made an effort, the girls more than the boys," she said, adding that though they met during a time when there was political tension in Jerusalem, the children never missed a meeting.
"We told them they could talk about whatever they wanted, but they never brought up politics," noted Palestinian teacher Omar Amari from the Ibn Khaldoun school.
"At first it was a bit hard to talk to them but then we all connected," said Manar Dadou, 14, a student at the Al-Quds school. Classmate Riham Zaru, 14, said the project had changed her way of thinking about Israelis. "This will influence me in the future. Despite our differences we are all people," said Zaru. "In the end we all felt equal."
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]