By Shiri Ourian, Executive Director, American Friends of the Parents Circle
Last week, while Camp Solomon Schechter, a Jewish summer camp outside of Seattle, hosted Palestinian and Israeli youth from Kids4Peace to engage in dialogue and shared learning, another summer camp took place in Israel with bereaved and non-bereaved Israeli and Palestinian youth who also engaged in dialogue and narrative exchange.
In Seattle, where I live, in the absence of political violence and war, the visit ended with a deluge of backlash from the community. In Israel, where mounting tensions and violence were the backdrop, the camp ended on a high, with apprehensive parents finding their children at the end of the week with hope and possibility for a better future.
The difference has been attributed to the raising of the Palestinian flag at the Seattle based camp in an attempt by the camp’s leadership to foster mutual respect alongside the American and Israeli flags which caused outrage in the community. The members of the Parents Circle – Families Forum and staff, who have been running the summer camp for Israeli and Palestinian youth for more than 10 years will tell you that the only problem with raising the Palestinian flag is the meaning we assign to it.
We can raise the Palestinian flag and still love Israel. In fact, we must. We can raise the Palestinian flag and still feel safe as Israelis. In fact, it makes us safer. We can raise the Palestinian flag and not feel like traitors. In fact, we are bold leaders.
To the staff and leadership of Camp Solomon Schechter in Seattle, you need not apologize for loving Israel, protecting it, and being bold leaders. Your initial decision to show mutual respect and understanding in an effort to build bridges and work towards a peaceful future was exactly the example we must set for our youth and a glimpse to a future to which we can aspire.
To the Jewish and Israeli community of Seattle who were upset by the raising of the Palestinian flag, if the bereaved members of the Parents Circle, who have lost their loved ones to the conflict and have paid the highest price, can choose reconciliation, mutual understanding and respect, then anyone can.