by Margret Ellwanger and Kamie Robinson
EVEN YEHUDA, Israel — A delegation from the Otto-von-Taube Gymnasium from Munich, Germany was the recipient of a forPEACE travel grant to participate in Walworth Barbour American International School’s (WBAIS) 12th annual TIMEMUN, a student-led simulation of the United Nations. forPEACE provided a pre and post TIMEMUN program for the six-person delegation introducing them to initiatives that develop common ground for a shared future in a tolerant, peacefully cooperating, democratic society in Israel. forPEACE seeks to introduce students and teachers from the international community to residents of Israel to lay a foundation of understanding and allow for the formation of lasting friendships. Michael Levinson, a recently retired international educator said,
"Bringing students from other countries to Israel and mixing Jews and Arabs is so important if things are going to get better- not only here but on the international level as well. I believe getting people face-to-face is the most effective way of breaking down barriers and creating better understandings. Regardless of religion, culture or race, most people are basically good, want to be understood and respected, and to make a decent life for themselves and their family. It is the small steps that ultimately make for big changes."
After a warm welcome at the airport, the members of the delegation, Andrew and Kathryn Summer, Carlotta Rieble, Daniel Kirsten and teachers Ms. Nina Giebeler and Ms. Linda Heimsoeth, traveled to the home of WBAIS art teacher Nili Mayer-Oser in Ramat HaSharon where they enjoyed a wonderful Shabbat dinner and hospitality of the family. The delegation received an introduction to current political events as well as a history lesson about Israel around an animated dinner table. Students noted that, “Despite Germany’s horrific past, we were welcomed warmheartedly and enjoyed a wonderful dinner with very interesting conversation.” Following the rich Shabbat experience, the group was transported to Paulus Haus, a picturesque German pilgrim's hostel in Jerusalem across from the Damascus Gate, where they spent their first night.
The next morning the Germans explored Jerusalem and visited Christian and Jewish sites. That afternoon they met Shellye Horowitz, the Jerusalem American International School’s (JAIS) Director, and two JAIS Diversity Scholarship Students with whom they continued their tour of the Old City, including a culinary taste of the Middle East at Abu Shukri’s along the Via Dolorosa. The students and teachers approached the Wailing Wall. From there they meandered through the Dung Gate alongside the Ophel down to the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives then up to the Garden of Gethsemane. The group re-entered the city by way of the Lion's Gate where they happened upon a unique opportunity.
On the left side of the Via Dolorosa, a narrow ramp leads onto the campus of the Omariyya Boys School. forPEACE director Margret Ellwanger gained entry to the school on previous occasions and remembered that some classrooms faced the temple mount with a stunning view Roman Soldiers stationed anciently at the Antonia Fortress would have had. The group was given a similar tour. As “thank you” to the gracious Omariyya English teacher who unexpectedly turned tour guide, the JAIS principal proposed a service activity to provide volunteer English teaching at Omariyya.
The following day Farida Majadla, mother of WBAIS graduates Sami and Samah Majadla, prepared a tour of Baqa al Gharbije that included a visit to the Wall, which runs through the middle of town and underscores how a formerly thriving market became a no-man's land punctuated by barb wire. Seeing the wall left a deep impression on the German delegation because it reminded them vividly of the Berlin Wall.
The rest of the morning was spent with activities at Al Qesemi High School, where Mrs. Dania Masarwa’s TIMEMUN students warmly welcomed the delegation. The TIMEMUN team from Al Qesemi represented Germany and was eager to discuss German foreign policy with the German students. Ms. Giebeler’s students delivered an excellent presentation about recent German history and politics for the Al Qesemi students. After a wonderful “ambassador’s lunch” presented by students and teachers of Al Quesemi, students from both schools went together to the campus of the American International School in Even Yehuda for the opening session of TIMEMUN.
The German students represented Algeria in four different committees and learned a lot in lively debates on current issues such as the disarmament of non-state armies, sustainable development in West Africa, the West Saharan conflict, and a possible two-state-solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Through involvement in TIMEMUN, the German students better understand that finding solutions to large conflicts is not easy. Through exchange of viewpoints with different segments of Israeli society, the students gained a sense of the various facets of the conflicts and developed an appreciation for the complexity of the issues. Discussions allowed them to get to know many people and make new friends with Israeli and Arab students.
After three exhausting TIMEMUN days, the German delegation visited two important Women’s empowerment organizations in the Negev, Sidreh and Desert Daughter. Sidreh-Lakiya Weaving presented the traditional Bedouin crafts of dying wool and weaving carpets as well as their outreach to teach women reading skills. Desert Daughter, founded by Mariam Abu Rkeek from Tel Shefa, taught about developing medicinal healing products made with all-natural ingredients gathered from the desert.
Under the direction of a Amal, a Bedouin woman from Lakiya, the students learned of Bedouin customs and received a hands-on opportunity to prepare and enjoy a traditional Bedouin dish, Maqluba.
Reflecting on the trip, the students wrote, “These kinds of encounters make it possible for us to gain insight in the way of life of Israelis and Arabs in Israel.”