Thursday, 3 May 2007

This is the Valley of Peace

We all meet again in Wahat El-Salaam, only 12 children this time, to work on their photography. They learn not only the art of photography, but how to use photography to tell their stories - the real stories - to anyone who will listen. They are all asking questions about themselves, about the "other side." Noam photographs her sister's boyfriend at a military ceremony, smiling to the camera. "It's the first time I see a soldier smiling," Heba says. "I don't think if i took this picture, he would be smiling."

These kids are too young to be thinking about death, to be confronted with murder and sorrow, but it's all around them. It's in their families. It is their life stories. Wael's father was assassinated by the Israeli military. Sameh's father was a journalist killed while working in Nablus. Noam's grandmother was murdered in a bus bombing. "I can never forgive the man who killed my grandmother," he says openly "but I know we need to find another way." He's only 14.

There are moments when I panic, when I think all of this may not be worth it. We can't change things. We can't make a difference. It's easy to lose faith in this project. We are meeting in a bomb shelter, thick metal shutters hang over the windows in case of a rocket attack.

Even as we meet here and talk about peace, the world around us does not stop. There are still murders and assassiantions. There are still kidnappings. There is still chaos and disaster and the construction of the wall. Nothing outside is changing. Maybe we are very pleased with life in this little Valley of Peace bubble.

Other times, I hear their statements like "We'll kill, and they'll kill for the same reason. Maybe there's another way," and it reminds me (perhaps naively) why I'm still here. Why I haven't yet given up hope. The kids are used to this, by now they can talk about the death and the suffering casually, as though it were ordinary.

But me, I still want to cry when I see what has been made of their lives, what they have been forced into by the hands of others. All they need to say is "we want nothing to do with this," and I'll believe them.

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