Glenview’s Hands of Peace still working toward Israeli/Palestinian friendship

NORTHBROOK — Back home it’s very unlikely these Israeli and Palestinian teenagers would be dancing, laughing and clapping in unison to the same house music.

But they were — loud and spirited — Wednesday at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines.

They also held a morning-long dialogue session, getting to know one another and forming new friendships.

For many years, groups of teens have traveled annually from their historically conflicted countries to nearly three weeks in the Chicago area participating in the Hands of Peace program.

The nonprofit organization based in Glenview teaches them peace-building and leadership skills, and American teenagers join in.

Almost daily, they engage in intensive dialogues with one another overseen by professional facilitators.

They share personal stories about the consuming discord in the Middle East and listen how it has impacted peers and families.

They also tour the Chicago area, visit houses of worship of different faiths and live with about 25 host families in Chicago and the north and northwest suburbs.

Forty-three Israelis, Palestinians and Americans are in this year’s program.

Some of the teens and young adults are working peace activists in their homelands.

Bashar Sorri, 23, and a law student in Jerusalem, believed he’d be in prison today if not for being a participant in Hands of Peace in 2006.

This year he was a Palestinian chaperone in the interfaith program.

“I once felt all Israelis were my enemies. I couldn’t control my temper,” said Sorri, who also is president of the Palestinian Society at the University of Jordan.

In 1998, two of his uncles were killed in conflicts with Israel and a cousin has been imprisoned for four years.

In 2006, during Hands of Peace, he spent casual nights with an Israeli peer “just hanging out.”

“After the way I saw how he lived, I knew not all people wanted violence. I also stayed with an Israeli family,” he said.

“They were a peaceful, likeable family.”

Arriving three days earlier on July 6, the teens were aware of the six Jewish suspects arrested the same day for allegedly burning to death a Palestinian teenager, Mohammad Abu Khieder, in a Jerusalem forest.

Israeli authorities contend the murder was committed to avenge the deaths of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and killed in the West Bank last week.

The incidents have created international attention, some believing they could lead to the likes of Palestinian uprisings in 1987 and 2000.

“It’s complicated over there and very intense,” said 17-year-old Ramzy Tawil, a Christian Palestinian.

“The kids are afraid something big will happen now like rocket attacks from both sides. Young people are sick of this. Feels like it will never end,” he said.

Tal Icigson, an Israeli living near Tel Aviv, felt peace between the two countries was possible, but not in the near future.

Bombings from the Gaza Strip have been close to her village.

“I’m here in Hands of Peace because I want to make the world safer for my younger sister, Noa,” said Icigson, 17.

Julie Kanack, executive director of Hands of Peace, said some teens brought strong feelings to the program.

“They talk about how the conflicts have impacted them. The dialogues can get intense and sometimes our facilitators have to step in,” she said.

“I think the kids realize you can’t argue history forever toward a resolution. We want to explore here,” said.

Kanack said the morning dialogues also covered the World War II Holocaust, village settlements and the rights of refugees to return home.

She also explained not all friends and family members were supportive of the teens signing up for Hands of Peace.

“We’re nonpolitical and not advocating anything. These two groups don’t mix back home, not in positive ways. Here they get a chance to know each other.”

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