With the help of Italian officials and artists, a group of Israeli and
Palestinian high school students is working to transform the landscape of
violence into a Technicolor fairy tale.
In an animated short film, written last week by sixteen male teenagers
from Ra'anana and Kalkilya, a goofy, loving camel
– and not a diplomat or head of
state – is the unlikely superhero
they chose to save the day.
The mutually agreed-upon story line came to light in Rome, where the
teens studied last week with experts from the Italian Animated Film
Festival, I Castelli Animati.
In the seven-minute film, with the working title "My Country in a World
of Peace," an Israeli boy and a Palestinian boy, shown simultaneously in
their respective sides of town, step out of their homes into a war zone
before the house behind them is destroyed. Fleeing toward a tall wall, each
looks up to the sun and asks, "Why?"
A clumsy, warmhearted camel makes his way toward them on the wall and
bends down, inviting each to step up. The two boys meet atop the so-called
supercamel, who takes the kids on journeys through scenes of terrorism and
war, while transforming each scene into one of joy and peace. In the fable,
soldiers turn their weapons into plant holders and a terrorist is hiding
nothing more under his coat than a flock of doves.
"We [encouraged the project because we] would like to give some hope to
people on both sides. People don't trust each other and there is no
communication, so we'd like to give children the chance to meet and
understand each other more," Kalkilya Mayor Ma'arouf Zahran told The
"I hope [the film] will affect people on the Israeli side to see they
still have partners. We still have people on our side who want peace and I'm
sure on the Israeli side as well. We have our own security [concerns],
hopes, and expectations, and for both sides it will be better if both sides
With support from the Peres Peace Center, Zahran has participated in the
last months in meetings with other Palestinian and Israeli mayors abroad,
including Ra'anana Mayor Ze'ev Bielski.
"I think it is one of the most important projects, especially in these
times," said Bielski. "If the leaders at the top can't make
– never mind peace, but
negotiations – it's our obligation,
we at the municipal level, to bridge the gap
– anything that will bring the
children of the next generation to be more tolerant and understanding. Maybe
through them we'll achieve peace."
The Rome Municipality, who paid all the students' expenses, has also
sponsored other similar projects through its Jerusalem Office of Peace,
including a cooperative photo exhibit and joint study for Palestinian and
Israeli teen musicians. Rome inaugurated the Office of Peace in 2002, with
help from ECOMED, an agency for sustainable development in the
Mediterranean, to reinvigorate dialogue.
A forty-minute documentary by Italian documentary-maker Gianluigi
Destefano is also under way, following the progress of the kids from their
home villages to their first meeting and the entire film-making process. He
and the artists who are animating the film are donating their services
Still in development and production, the film is slated to debut at the
Venice and I Castelli Animati film festivals in the fall, and then to travel
across Europe and to Israeli and Palestinian schools. It will also be shown
on Italian TV.
"When we met the first time it was quiet and nobody talked. We just
pressed our hands together. But soon we started talking, playing, even
teaching each other songs in our languages," said Uri Nabarro, 17, of the
Aviv Senior High School in Ra'anana.
"We discovered that we can do anything we decide [to]. And now, when we
hear the word 'Arab,' the image of a terrorist won't enter our minds,
because we saw that they are very similar to Israeli kids. I don't see
myself living with them or studying in the same school, because of some
cultural differences – we are freer
and have more interaction with girls –
but it could be very nice to meet sometimes."
There were a few awkward moments, a teacher said, like when the
Palestinians suggested having a Palestinian flag on the Palestinian home in
the film, to identify the Arabic-speaking child as belonging not to just any
village in any Arab country. Israelis vetoed the idea, saying they didn't
want the film to take any political positions, since a Palestinian state has
not yet been formally established.
"There were many small things about what to put in and what to take out,
but in the end they opened up and worked it out between themselves. They
agreed and that's the most important thing," said Iris Cohen, who teaches
Arabic at Aviv Senior High School.
Lack of a common language was also a problem, she said.
Liwa Assana, 17, of Kalkilya's Aisadia Secondary School, who had never
previously known a Jewish Israeli socially, said through his father, Abed,
that “there was cooperation between everyone and we proved what we can
accomplish even if the policies are negative at this time. When we reached a
difficulty we also reached a solution."
Though the students participated with the blessings and encouragement of
the Ra'anana and Kalkilya mayors, there were numerous logistical problems.
"Why Italy? Why France? Why London? Why can't Israelis and Palestinians
speak to each other inside Israel and Palestine?" asked Hussan al-din
Hantash, a teacher from Kalkilya.
The original plan was to have the students meet in Israel, but because of
the security situation it was decided to meet in Rome. Palestinians, who
planned to travel to Rome through Amman, were denied travel permits by
Jordanian authorities, since none of the students had first-degree relatives
in Jordan, a teacher said. Later, spokesmen said they had to "move heaven
and earth" to get the Palestinians travel permits to Israel so they could
fly from Ben-Gurion Airport.