By Sarah Novicoff
As an Iranian Jew whose family suffered religious persecution after the Islamic Revolution, Blake Nosratian ’13 had always only known the Israeli side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While at camp with teenagers from six countries involved in the Middle Eastern conflict, he was struck with an important realization.
“How could I look an Israeli boy in the eye and criticize Israeli security measures when [the boy’s] neighbor was killed by a suicide bomber? How could I blame a Palestinian girl for the rejection of the British partition plan in the 1930s, long before her parents were even born?” Nosratian said.
The camp, run by the non-profit group Seeds of Peace, unites teenagers from nine countries. It focuses on two conflict regions – those of the Middle East and South Asia.
As Nosratian puts it, the goal of the camp is to “[bring] youth from conflict regions around the world together to learn about leadership and communication to end cycles of violence,” he said. In addition to “normal” camp activities like color games, campers participate in discussion groups. Typically the conversation begins with yelling and close-minded statements, Nosratian said, but evolves to an understanding that the other side has valid points.
“[Camp] was a great opportunity to step out of my bubble and really expand my knowledge of global studies,” Nosratian said.
Nosratian stayed at the camp in Otisfield, Maine for two consecutive summers, each time for three and a half weeks. As a member of a dialogue group with 20 teenagers from Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Great Britain and the United States, he discussed current events, in addition to taking seminars in communication and leadership skills.
Hana Al-Henaid ’10 atended the camp herself and piqued Nosratian’s interest. She referred him to the program by describing the influence it has had on her life.
Seeds of Peace currently has 5,000 alumni across the globe with a majority of them in the Middle East.
“Imagine if the Palestinian and Israeli leaders were both seeds; imagine what good that would do,” Nosratian said.