by Courtney Kealy
Vered is from Givon Hahadasha, outside of Jerusalem. She joined Crossing Borders in the summer of 2000 during a workshop in Jordan. She was curious to visit a country that had banned Jews only a few years before.
"It was a little bit weird the first time I met a Palestinian personally, not just seeing them on television," she said. But, she added, after the first few days "the walls fell down."
Her friendships have been tested by the violence. Last spring she was treated in a hospital for shock after being too close to a car bombing in downtown Jerusalem. Recently, a friend from her school was shot in the head by a sniper.
"It's not a life for people," Vered told Scholastic News. "Now it's normal to hear tanks and machine guns at least once a week."
But she doesn't blame her friends from Crossing Borders, and she tries to make her Jewish friends understand her commitment to the newspaper and its staff.
"My friends say, 'In a time like this, what are you doing talking to Arabs?'" she said. "I say you don't make peace with your friend, you make peace with your enemy. These are the ones we have to talk to."
Vered began serving in the Israeli Army this spring as part of a special combat unit for young women. She feels that it is her duty to serve in the Army, but she will also continue to work for Crossing Borders.
"It makes me realize that it is going to be a hard, long process, but through these courses [Crossing Borders program] it begins," she said. "The thing that people talk about, peace, this is where it begins, by me introducing myself to a Palestinian."
When Faten's Jordanian friends found out she was going to a Crossing Borders conference in Amman, Jordan, last year, they told her to be careful, that Israelis are "monsters."
"I went to the conference not knowing what sleeping under the same roof with an Israeli felt like," Fatem said. "Before it was such a crazy notion, but then we became great friends, staying up all night talking."
Even after the Intifada increased tensions between the groups, she says she has kept her friends. They correspond by e-mail mostly, but one close friend she speaks to daily by phone. She recently learned he will soon begin serving in the Israeli Army, causing her new fears and worries.
Her father has worked in Israel for the past 12 years. She rarely sees him because she is not allowed visas to visit. She constantly fears for his life and is now gripped by a fear that her father will clash with her friend during a conflict. "I worry about seeing my friends as soldiers at the checkpoints," she said.
Morjana's family did not leave Israel after the war in 1948, when many Palestinians fled as refugees into Jordan and Syria. Morjana's family was granted Israeli citizenship, but they are Arabs, not Jews. She speaks Arabic, Hebrew, and English, and has an Israeli passport, but defines herself as Palestinian.
"You can never tell what you really are, what is one identity, because we live with two," Marjana told Scholastic News. "People from other countries think Israel is only for Jews. Arab-Israelis define themselves with Palestinians. When the Al Aqsa Intifada happened, we felt it was our duty to support the Palestinians, to show them that we really care. But it made the Jews kind of hate us, because they say, 'If you are Palestinian go live there.' So the Israelis think we're Palestinians and the Palestinians think we are Israelis."
The violence in the last year and her involvement with Crossing Borders have changed her life and her whole way of thinking, she says. One of her friends, Aseel, also an Arab-Israeli, was killed last year in the beginning of the Intifada. His loss still affects her daily. As one of the first four Arab-Israelis involved in Crossing Borders, Morjana thought she could help contribute to change in the Middle East.
"Young people are the future leaders," she says. "If we can understand each other now and exchange ideas, maybe when we become adults we can solve the problems," she said, "Or at least stop the fights."
She loves to write articles from an Arab-Israeli perspective. "Mostly I write about us, to explain myself, to show people I am on the map, to show that I exist."
Michael was born in Jerusalem and lived several years in California. In 1993, his father decided the situation in the Middle East had calmed down, so he moved the family to Bethlehem.
"I didn't know what a Christian or a Muslim was," Michael said of the move. Now he speaks Arabic and has to plan his activities around checkpoints and reports of violent outbreaks.
When Michael isn't writing articles for Crossing Borders, he hangs out with his friends at the youth center, one of the few places left that he and his friends can get to. Israeli checkpoints outside Bethlehem make travel anywhere else difficult.
"When I was in the U.S. I never heard a bullet," Michael said. "The other night we were watching TV and the shooting started less than two miles away. It's not normal that people are dying and we are having fun."
Michael prefers to write about technology rather than the conflict in his country. His newest article, however, will be focused on technology as a way for peace. He quotes the Hacker's Manifesto as the way to learn to live in the Middle East, where "there are no borders, no religions, no skin color, just talking to each other."