Volume 18 Number 3
Tearing Down the Walls
01 June 2005

She had come to the BBFP programme to condemn the Israelis for killing her father.

'IF YOU want to see the face of a potential suicide bomber, just look at me.' With these words a young Palestinian greeted her fellow participants in the Building Bridges For Peace (BBFP) programme. Her father had recently suffered a heart attack, and had died in the ambulance after it was detained at a checkpoint on the way to the hospital. She had come to the BBFP programme to condemn the Israelis for killing her father.

BBFP brings together young Muslim, Christian and Jewish women from Israel, Palestine and the United States. During an intensive summer programme in the US, participants learn new communication techniques, develop leadership skills and engage in activities that promote peace and the empowerment of women.
After the summer, participants return to their communities to continue in a year-long dialogue and follow-up programme. The next phase is Leadership in Training for second year participants, who return to the summer programme on a leadership track that intensifies their skill building.

Many of the participants have never met someone from the other side before. BBFP Founder and Executive Director, Melodye Feldman says the hardest thing for the participants to accept is 'that the pain of the other is real'. She says, 'It is difficult to tear down the walls they have built up to protect themselves, to deal with the real trauma that they have witnessed or been victims of, to unlearn the "historical facts" that they believe to be true and to dispense with the rhetoric that is passed down from generation to generation. The process of living together and being with each other on a daily basis goes a long way to changing attitudes.'

Through formal and informal workshops and seminars, art, dance, music and free time for interaction, BBFP intentionally provides a safe space for the girls to 'feel comfortable being uncomfortable' and to challenge them to stretch out of their comfort zone.

Feldman has done some 'stretching' herself. Growing up in a Jewish home, she believed that 'Arabs were our enemy only bent on driving us into the sea'. She had to 'take a personal journey and challenge myself to understand and hear the other side'. She is not the same person, she says, as when she launched the organization in 1993. 'I am even more at peace in my life having had and continuing to have the opportunity to meet so many amazing people who daily live in fear and violence, yet strive for peace.'

The young potential suicide bomber took a similar journey. At the end of the programme, she said that after sharing her story and listening to the stories of the Israelis, she found them to be 'just like me'. Today, she is a BBFP staff member and works in the West Bank recruiting and selecting new participants.
Will Jenkins

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