Israeli and Palestinian youth 'imagine' a peaceful region

Actor leading group promoting Israeli, Palestinian youths to imagine peace.

jason alexander 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
jason alexander 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
"If peace were made in 2008, what would the region look like 10 years later?" That was the question posed to Israeli and Palestinian youngsters by One Voice, a grassroots organization that aims to promote the voices of moderate Israelis and Palestinians who are working toward a two-state solution. The group began its project Imagine 2018 a year ago by collecting essays from children aged 13 to 18 in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel. The writers described how they envisioned a future with peace. Fifty of the best essays from each side of the conflict were published in two books, one in Hebrew and one in Arabic, copies of which were presented to the Israeli and Palestinian governments. One Voice is now working with several international and regional directors to turn the top 10 essays into short films. Jason Alexander, the American Jewish actor who famously played George Costanza in the television series Seinfeld, is a member of the organization's board and attended the group's meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday. "Holding to this conflict is harder than where we can go," Alexander said. "The hope is the younger generation. They are an integral part in creating, if not the beginnings of peace, then the fruits of peace." The idea for Imagine 2018 came out of a conversation questioning how to actively engage Israeli and Palestinian youth in envisioning peace, he said, adding that his experiences working with underprivileged children in the United States served as a basis for the program. In his last project, the youngsters wrote lyrics for songs that were later recorded. The effort was a "huge success" and allowed Alexander to begin thinking about expanding his ideas into the realm of film. "It's not enough to just envision or publish," he said on Wednesday. "You have to take [the children's] vision and make it real. And the only way to do that is through film, so what they envisioned can be seen by others." There is an element of humor in some of the pieces, following Alexander's theory that "if you can make people laugh, you can heal wounds." The challenge in difficult situations, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is that "the ability to laugh at ones self is in question," he said. At a time when people are busy living in their own day-to-day realities, it could be difficult for them to gain perspective and be able to laugh, Alexander said. "I think this conflict is so old and ancient - the roots are so deep and full of hurt and blood - that at some point we need to say to ourselves that it's time to start over," said Israeli actress and fashion maven Gilat Ankori, a member of the One Voice board. "And the way to do that is through the youth." Two of the planned 10 essays have been recently made into films. Both were written by Israeli children. The first film is called Tel Aviv-Damascus Express, where two Israeli passengers, a Jewish boy and an Arab girl, meet on a bus. By the end of the story, a romance between the two begins to brew. In the second film, A Soldier and A Boy, the plot revolves around an Israeli soldier who is chasing a Palestinian boy - both are holding guns. As the scene unfolds, each pulls the trigger, but water comes out of the weapons and they become entrenched in a water-gun fight. Shay Noilander, 17, from Sde Boker, wrote the story. It was a dream come true for her essay to be chosen and made into a film: "It was so amazing to see what I was thinking appear on screen," she said. Both films have optimistic outlooks on the future, a common theme through all of the collected essays, according to Irit Perlman, the chief executive officer of One Voice. "I think we are doing something step-by-step to show the young people that we want another future, free from conflict," she told The Jerusalem Post. "There are a lot of obstacles, but as a mother, I want to give my children, and others' children, a better future." The organization hopes to eventually create an hour-long feature of all 10 films and behind-the-scenes footage that can be shown in schools, theaters and film festivals around the world.