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Monday, February 25, 2008

Can Art Unite?

I applaud any effort to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, and am curious about the curriculum, because no matter which way you look at it, Israel oppresses the Palestinian people either in the occupation or within Israel itself.

Beverly: Camp seeks to bring together Israeili and Palestinian teens

By Cate Lecuyer
Staff writer

BEVERLY — Thirty-two years ago Debbie Nathan stood in Israel on the banks of the Jordan River, and waved across the border to the Palestinian guards sitting in their towers.

"I'd make eye contact with the guards and they'd wave back," she said. "It just fascinated me at the time. What makes an enemy? What makes a border, or a boundary?"

Nathan plans to find out by bringing 30 Israeli and Palestinian high school students to summer camp at Endicott College. Using art therapy, she hopes to help them penetrate a deeply embedded cultural loathing that stems from more than a century of fighting over land that both groups claim as their own.

"They hate each other, but they don't know each other," Nathan said. Her new nonprofit, Artsbridge, aims to change that.

Using sculpture, painting and digital media as an ice breaker, the idea is Israeli and Palestinian kids will work on projects together, and start talking to each other without politics getting in the way. Nathan hopes to raise $200,000 for the program.

"We're confident we'll be able to get foundation and government money after the first year," she said.

She's working with schools, YMCAs, and peace organizations in both countries to find kids that aren't necessarily open to becoming friends with an established enemy, but are capable of thinking for themselves.

"I'm looking for kids that have a clear image of the problem and solution, but when you ask them questions, you can see they're not just giving you pat answers without thinking about it," Nathan said. "I'm looking for kids who are curious."

Nathan is also working with Yousef Al Ajarma, who moved from Israel three years ago, and will serve as a camp counselor.

"I know their culture, and how they live. Maybe I'll know some of their families also, I don't know. But I'm one of them." He has also recruited a woman friend who's originally from Palestine, and hopes their relationship can serve as a role model for the campers.

What separates her program from other initiatives, Nathan said, is that the kids who participate will then go back to the schools and YMCAs, and mentor other kids.

"What we're doing is creating a cycle," Nathan said. "This needs to be a slow, deep-rooted process that will last."

To make a donation, send a check to: Artsbridge, Inc., 204 Lafayette St. Salem, MA 01970, or email Debbie Nathan at


LINK to Arts Bridge

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