Is peace possible in the Middle East?

ESSEX Palestinian Nuha Dweikat-Shaer wants for her son, Mohammed, 4, what all parents want for their children: a better future. Dweikat-Shaer was one of 10 fellows from McGills Middle East Program in Civil Society and Peace Building, of Montreal, Quebec, spending last weekend visiting the Willsboro region. While in the area, the fellows attended three public events to discuss the problems facing the Middle East. Sixty-eight people attended the open forum at St. Johns Episcopal Church Friday evening. Speakers included Dweikat-Shaer, program director Jim Torczyner, Jordanian Arda Dergarabedian, and Israeli Livnat Assulin. To work on creating peace, Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians are learning peace building skills at McGill Universitys graduate program. Dweikat-Shaer spoke passionately about her hopes for her sons future. She wanted her son to attend a good school, and live in a peaceful region. To do that, she said, everyone needed to have the right to social justice. I dont want the children to go through what me and my generation, and past generations, went through, said Dweikat-Shaer. Dweikat-Shaer said her son already had a mental picture of Israelis as soldiers, but her participation in the program had helped Mohammed make Israeli friends. (I tell him) all of your friends are Jewish, and they are very nice, said Dweikat-Shaer. If we want peace, we can achieve peace because there are so many people in the world believe in social equality, said Dweikat-Shaer. Dweikat-Shaer, who wears a headscarf as part of her Muslim faith, said that even though women covered their head, their minds remained open. Stereotyping, she said, was a problem she faced. We are not terrorists, and its not right to judge people by their religion, said Dweikat-Shaer. Dergarabedian said Jordan faced programs from all sides, with refugees spilling over from the Arab-Israel conflicts and the Iraq War. She encouraged United States residents to select a leader who was able to foster peace when going to vote later this year. Assulin said the program had exposed her to other viewpoints, and offered an opportunity for to build a collective narrative about her home region. Awareness, she said, helped build common ground. We have to keep trying to create a new path that will lead us to reconciliation, said Assulin. The forum was followed by a reception, where local residents interacted with the visiting fellows. Max Kortepeter of New Russia attended the event. A former professor of Mideastern studies at NYU, he had a personal interest in the topic. The chances for peace were excellent, he said. Its the best Ive seen yet its going to have to come through informal groups, said Kortepeter. Local families played host to the visiting graduate students. Steve Feinbloom and his wife, Rose Chancler, hosted one of the students. Its the second time theyve opened their home to one of the fellows. I never met a Palestinian before, and it served to break down stereotypes I confess to, said Feinbloom. The friendship, he said, remained for longer than the weekend. The fellows also offered presentations to students at Willsboro Central School, and shared music with area residents at the Whallonsburg Grange during their visit. The peace program currently operates six peace centers in the Middle East, with plans to open more. Torczyner said non-governmental agencies were the key to promoting peace in. It theres going to be peace, peace has to be made not only between countries, but between people, said Torczyner, a resident of Willsboro Point. Torczyner credited volunteer coordinator John Bingham of Essex for his help in making the visit possible. Who else would get a Jewish person and a Muslim person to drive to church on Friday night? he joked.

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