The Seeds of Peace Cafe offers Israelis and Palestinians a rare opportunity to get to know each other.
By SIMA BORKOVSKI
Seeds of Peace" usually addresses its peacemaking activities to teenagers. The organization is devoted to cultivating friendships between Israelis and Palestinians in their youth and to developing the future leadership for this region.
Yet once a month, on a Sunday evening, a different kind of crowd gathers in the spacious rooms of the center in French Hill, at the "Seeds Peace Caf ."
The Seeds Peace Cafe is a new project oriented towards the adult community in Jerusalem, which began six months ago.
"We try to build cultural bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. These monthly meeting allow them to meet socially to discuss common interests such as food, sitcoms, chefs of Jerusalem, women's issues, and art," explains Dorothy Harman, consultant and joint coordinator of the project.
"'Seeds Peace Cafe' is neither an academic nor a political platform," says Harman. "It provides a wonderful opportunity for people to meet on common ground, to get to know each other, and to talk together."
Harman's partner in the project is Mohammed S. Dajani, a specialist in communications, one of the signers of Sari Nusseibeh's "People's Petition for Peace" and director of the American Studies Institute at Al Quds University.
"We hope these people will get to know the history and culture of their neighbors. They can talk about their families or issues of design and architecture, issues that connect them with the global world and not just this small space of Jerusalem where they live. The music we play is both Israeli and Arabic and they can bring their friends and feel at ease," says Dajani.
This month's event revolved around an exhibition of the caf s in east and west Jerusalem, painted by artist Azriel Cohen, who also organized the event and invited numerous cafe and restaurant owners from both east and west Jerusalem.
Lining the central room were images of various caf s accompanied by explanatory notes describing the character of each establishment and its owners. The exhibition allowed the participants, many of whom were the proprietors of the pictured caf s and restaurants, to take a virtual tour of their colleagues' workplaces.
To complete the picture, Cohen had asked some of the participants to bring samples of food they serve in their restaurants. Cookies and sandwiches were displayed alongside Arab sweets and, of course, there was coffee - both black Turkish coffee and the always-popular hafuch (cappuccino).
As the air filled with the sharp aromas of food and coffee and the participants, each wearing a name tag, milled around the room, chatting, peering, reading and tasting.
"Caf s are first of all meeting places for people - dates, friends who get together, family gatherings. For me it's a pleasure just to observe the way they talk with one another and how attentive they are to each other," said David Erlich, owner of the Tmol Shilshom book store-coffee shop.
Erlich, an enthusiastic supporter of the project and the first to submit his establishment to Cohen's brush, shared some caf stories with the audience. "Once we had a thief in our caf whose expertise was stealing women's purses. It came to the point that we had to install cameras to catch him. Watching the tapes I was amazed to see how long it took people to notice their bag was stolen because they were so focused on their partners. This is the unique nature of caf s and caf owners - our ability to communicate and pay attention to small details."
Erlich admitted that he used to pass by the Seeds of Peace building, and was always curious about the organization.
"When I was invited to participate in Seeds Caf , I was delighted. I am a person who believes in the need for dialogue and since the situation in this city is so complex, such projects can have great impact. In such difficult times we should keep things simple and find subjects we can discuss.
"We live within walking distance of the Old City but have no knowledge about the others' culture or way of life. Of course I could guess there must be nice caf s over there, but it is quite thrilling to actually meet their owners, talk to them and shake their hands."
Said Cohen, "During the time of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, I associated caf s with fear and danger. In order to dispel that association, I decided I must force myself to experience sitting in a caf without associating it with the fear of dying."
He began to paint, and once he was done with painting the cafes of west Jerusalem he realized he had told only half of the story of Jerusalem. He decide to complete the picture by visiting and painting cafes in the east side of the city.
"An Arab friend of mine dropped me off at Azkadinia, situated in Sheikh Jarrah and from there it was much simpler than I imagined. The owner, Mounder Khouri, introduced me to his friends and other caf owners. I was amazed that I was treated as a guest and not just as a client," he related.
"In the long run, I nurtured my relations with the caf owners in the east side of Jerusalem simply because I wanted to have friendships on that side of the city and experience the richness of their culture. Their enthusiasm and willingness to attend the event and bring samples of their food is proof that good relations between the two peoples can become a reality."
"It is mostly Israelis who lack the knowledge about life and culture in east Jerusalem, since Palestinians are usually more exposed to the Israeli culture," says Raed Saadeb, manager of the Jerusalem Hotel and participant in the Seeds Peace Caf project. "The project aims to pick up something of the everyday life in the country, like the way people on both sides of the city make their living."
He continued, "Some people establish borders in their minds even if the borders do not physically exist. They are afraid to cross the border and experience the other side. Caf owners I spoke with were always amazed by the richness of our culture and by the fact there is so much activity on the east side of Jerusalem."
For more information about the Seeds Peace Cafe or Seeds of Peace, contact Reem at 582-0222.
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