Published on Wednesday, June 6, 2001 by the Associated Press
Palestinians Not Sending Campers to U.S.-Based Peace Camp
by Dina Kraft
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) In past summers, the two Palestinian
teen-agers canoed, shared cabins and talked peace with Israelis
their age at a camp in rural Maine.
This summer, Mai Abu-Emera and Mashour Arori, both 16, will stay home. Palestinians aren't sending anyone to the Seeds of Peace camp following eight months of fighting that has left hundreds dead.
For now, Israelis are still going; they are to be joined in the camp's Mideast program by teen-agers from Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.
But citing the recent violence, the Palestinian Ministry of Education said it has advised against sending a delegation this year.
''Our situation is so difficult, we are not in a position to participate this year,'' said Numan Sharif, a ministry official in charge of the Seeds of Peace program for the Palestinians.
Still, Sharif said many Israeli and Palestinian campers from past years are keeping in touch through phone calls, e-mails and an Internet message board set up for campers who refer to themselves as ''seeds''.
Sharif's Israeli counterpart, Hadara Rosenblum, acknowledged the Israeli decision to send delegates to Maine was agonizing.
''There are times we say we have someone to talk to on the other side and there are periods when we don't. We are very confused,'' Rosenblum said.
Ultimately, she said, escalating violence could lead the Israelis to pull out, too.
The camp's founder, John Wallach, said he held out hope last-minute developments a brittle cease-fire may be taking hold this week might allow the Palestinians to come. But time is running short, with camp to begin at the end of June in Otisfield, Maine.
Either way, he said, the camp and its mission will persevere.
''Seeds of Peace has been going on and will go on,'' Wallach said by telephone from New York.
Abu-Emera said trust has vanished after so many funerals. Discussing peace over hikes and campfires is impossible now, she said.
''We had so much hope and a feeling of power, but now it's all fading,'' Abu-Emera said while sitting with Arori in a classroom at their West Bank school.
She said it was easier for the Israelis to go to camp because their reality has not been as radically altered by the fighting.
Since fighting began Sept. 28, nearly 500 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and more than 100 on the Israeli side. Among the dead is one of Seeds of Peace's own, 17-year-old Asel Asleh, an Arab Israeli shot by Israeli police during pro-Palestinian riots in October.
Most of the violence has taken place in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Palestinian towns have come under repeated assault by Israeli forces retaliating for anti-Israel attacks. But dozens of Jewish settlers have also been shot, and suicide bombings in Israeli cities have left people afraid to walk the streets.
After Israel retaliated for a May suicide bombing by sending F-16 warplanes to rocket security installations in his hometown of Ramallah and elsewhere, Arori said a fellow Israeli seed, Rita Konaev, was among the first to call.
''It was good to feel that at least one Israeli was thinking about what the Palestinians feel,'' Arori said.
Konaev, 15, from the northern town of Afula, said she runs up her phone bills keeping in touch with the Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian friends she made at camp.
She is upset the Palestinians won't be at camp this summer.
''Even though we are just kids without any influence, we are among the only ones still talking to each other,'' she said. ''It (camp) is the only rational thing we have going at this point.''
On the Net:
Maine Camp site, http://www.seedsofpeace.org
Copyright 2001 Associated Press