Mideast participants see opportunity in Berkshire peace summit


GREAT BARRINGTON -- With violence raging in the Mideast, a Berkshire-based peace organization is gearing up for its first intercultural youth summit for music and multimedia this summer.

And with several participants coming from the heart of the war zone, organizers see the Music In Common Summer Youth Summit as a unique opportunity to have a real impact.

Ten students from Israel have signed up to participate in the program -- five Jewish and five Arab youths, some who are Muslim, some who are Christian -- along with several other students from the United States and other regions, organizers say.

"They seem more determined than ever to be a part of the solution and not the problem," said Tracey Shipley, MiC program coordinator in Jerusalem, who has been in close contact with Jewish and Palestinian students planning to attend the summit, as well as their parents.

She said a couple of Jewish schools have called her, wishing to collaborate with Arab schools.

The summit is set for Aug. 5-11 on the campus of Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington. The event is designed to be an immersive experience in which students ages 14 to 18 will be able to, through various activities and a safe space, talk about their lives and express their feelings on the various issues they face and care about.

During the course of the week, students will live on campus, and work together to write a song and produce a music video. They'll also visit many of the cultural destinations and natural places in the Berkshires.

The recent spate of bombings, murder and other forms of fighting in the continued Arab-Israeli conflict is making it more difficult for students to get their visas to take part in the summit. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, for example, is open, but operating with a limited number of staff.

And while this week's brief ban on U.S. commercial flights in and out of Israel has been lifted, hostilities continue.

"On the assumption that they'll all get here, it becomes a very delicate thing now, with war raging all around them," said MiC Executive Director Todd Mack, who has staff members in Israel that work to coordinate youth programs.

Two of the youths expected to participate in the summit are from the area of Shuafat in occupied East Jerusalem, where Israeli settlers allegedly kidnapped, beat and burned to death Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian. The teen's death is believed to have been caused in retaliation of the apparent murder of three Israeli boys -- Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frankel, 16 -- who were reported missing until their bodies were found in late June in shallow graves in the West Bank.

"I think the Jewish and Arab youths alike have been living under an incredible amount of stress. That said, our intent is to really provide some release to them," Mack said. "For our American and other delegates, it will be a very eye-opening and educational experience to hear from other kids their age about what they live with and go through on a regular basis."

Lauren Ornstein, MiC's director of Israel programming, said she hopes the summit will afford teens the opportunity "to find that inner peace and strength needed to bridge cultural differences and make a change."

Said Shipley: "Through the summit we will have the opportunity to excite and prepare our teen participants for the important work we will be doing after they return."

There is still space for youths wishing to participate in the summit. Learn more at http://musicincommon.org/youthsummit or call (413) 229-9939.

To reach Jenn Smith:
or (413) 496-6239.
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink


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