Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Searching for peace through a camera lens

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 30, 2008


Some time this morning, if all goes as scheduled, a gang of 30 teenagers will board the Queen of Capilano ferry. The crossing from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Snug Cove on Bowen Island is just three nautical miles and lasts only 20 minutes. It will take the teens from one world to another.

The teens count among themselves 10 Israelis, 10 Palestinians and 10 Canadians. They will spend the next weeks in close quarters, living together and working in teams to produce films, which they will script, perform, shoot, edit.

But, first, they will talk and listen and rage and cry.

Some have travelled from the deserts of the Middle East to the rain forests of British Columbia in search of peace.

“This is about breaking the barriers, about getting them to trust each other,” said Reena Lazar, who shares with Adri Hamael the post of executive director of the Peace It Together Society.

She is Jewish-Canadian. He is Palestinian-Canadian.

She was born in Montreal, spent two summers as a youth in Israel, yet never learned the Palestinian narrative. Mr. Hamael was born in Jordan four years after his family were displaced from their home near Ramallah on the West Bank during the Six-Day War of 1967.

Now, she teaches peace and conflict studies at Langara College. He is an entrepreneur.

The Vancouver-based charity seeks to end the cycle of violence in the Middle East by bringing together future leaders. They are given a chance to make friends before feelings of distrust and intolerance become implacable.

The young people are removed temporarily from the tinderbox of their homelands and placed in a peaceful setting in Canada in which their artistic goals can only be met through talking and co-operating. The hope is they will return home with new insights abut their historical enemies, as well as about themselves.

The teenagers from the Middle East bring with them more baggage than what they carry in their backpacks and suitcases.

Before they get down to making their films, the teens will take part in sessions directed by trained counsellors. They will talk about the Holocaust and the nakba, about security and humiliation, about soldiers and terrorism, about checkpoints and suicide bombers, about fear and hope.

Needless to say, the sessions are intense.

“We move through some very difficult emotions very quickly,” Ms. Lazar said.

The setting and the shared quarters force the participants to accept one another. Instead of stewing in their hard feelings, the teens must address their anger.

In 2006, I visited the charity's filmmaking camp, held that year on Galiano Island. At a café, a lovers' quarrel was being filmed by a three-person team.

The teenaged actors – the girl Israeli, the boy Palestinian – argued about where they should live after marrying. It was an angry scene, but the emotions evaporated in an instant once the directors shouted, “Cut!”

The directors were Inbar Sofri and Nadin Abu Dalu, both 17-year-old high-school seniors, one Jewish, the other Muslim. Both had long, curly black hair. They looked like sisters. They were paired with Ira Jordison, a lean teen from Vancouver.

The lovers in the movie struggle with parental disapproval and with the frustrating intricacies of negotiating life in Israel and the West Bank.

It ends with the boy turned away at a checkpoint and the girl collapsing in despair as she waits. The ending is deliberately – and brilliantly – ambiguous. Was it just a bad day, or the final act in an impossible romance?

They called their eight-minute movie No Place for Dreamers. (It can be viewed online with the other camp films at: . The movie is also available on YouTube.)

The campers returned home with a new outlook.

“I came to the camp with many doubts that peace can happen and I came out from the camp with hope,” Ms. Sofri wrote in an e-mail. “The fact that we talked with each other, and the fact that we all became friends and even just the fact that I know now that there are people on ‘the other side' that want peace and are willing to talk about it, all those are some great facts to know.”

Ms. Abu Dalu entered Bethlehem University to study business. Ms. Sofri is completing her military service.

Though they lived only a few kilometres apart, the pair have met only once in the two years since their return.

On Aug. 17, the films produced by this year's campers will premiere at a public screening at the Stanley Theatre in Vancouver. Vicki Gabereau will be the host.

In the days to come, those 30 teens will have an unforgettable experience – travelling halfway across the globe to make friends with neighbours.

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