In 1987, the First Intifada (Palestinian uprising)
began in the Middle East. In 1993, in the aftermath of the February bombing of
the World Trade Center, American journalist John Wallach organized a camp which
would bring together, and forge friendships between youths of different
cultures--initially focusing on Palestinians, Israelis, and Egyptians. Wallach
served as President of the camp--which was appropriately named “Seeds of
Peace”-- until his death in 2002. The original Seeds of Peace delegation was
present for the historic September 1993 White House lawn handshake between
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (
PLO) chairman Yasir Arafat facilitated by then-President Bill Clinton.
Among those impressed by the youth at the White House that day in 1993 included
Jennifer Miller, author of Inheriting the Holy Land: An American's Search for
Hope in the Middle East. (Her father Aaron D. Miller was a prominent Middle East
peace negotiator, State Department diplomat, and subsequent Seeds of Peace
President.) Indeed, Miller wrote in her book that at the White House event it
was not Clinton, Arafat or Rabin “...that held my attention” but, “…a particular
group of teenagers wearing green T-shirts sitting in the front row.” In
subsequent summers, Miller attended Seeds of Peace as a camper and then as a
counsellor. She ultimately spent time in the Middle East doing research for her
book, Inheriting the Holy Land, published in 2005.
Upon John Wallach’s death, Jennifer Miller's father, Aaron Miller, assumed the
Presidency of Seeds of Peace in 2002. Today, Seeds of Peace has expanded its
program to include youth from countries such as Jordan, Pakistan, India,
Afghanistan and many other nations. Alumni has included Asel Asleh, a
Palestinian who was killed in October 2000 by Israeli soldiers wearing his Seeds
of Peace T-shirt shortly after the September 2000 outbreak of the Second
Other programs of Seeds of Peace have included Hebrew, and Arabic classes, and a
program, “Women’s Leadership for Greater Economic Participation.” Seeds of Peace
is currently headquartered in New York City, and its camp is in Maine. Alumni
also publish a youth magazine The Olive Branch. Additionally, the South Asia
branch newsletter is titled Sulha Aman Shanti which mean "peace" in the
Dari, Urdu and Sanskrit languages.
As a Modern Orthodox Jewish teen, Seeds of Peace has a very powerful message for
me. The message is one of compassion, tolerance, outreach, intellectual
curiosity, objectivity, young people challenging societal prejudices and
stereotypes, breaking down prejudices, and listening to one another. However, we
must also keep in mind that:
It is wrong to assert stereotypes about any group of people. This includes but
is not limited to statements such as, “All Muslims are terrorists” or, “All Jews
are financially dishonest” etc. Thus, regardless of one’s political affiliation,
it is unacceptable to express one’s opposition to, or disagreement with, U.S.
President Barack Obama, by referring to him as a “Muslim” or a “terrorist.” We
should all take to heart a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr , “Injustice
anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
If peace is to be seriously pursued, then all these values are essential.
The work for peace continues into the next generation, then the next etc. In
other words, we all have a moral obligation to consistently rededicate ourselves
to the values of peace and tolerance. I am confident that as a community,
humanity is up for the challenge! But as individuals we must ask that question
of ourselves. If the answer is, “yes” then I am extremely optimistic. But if the
answer is “no” then I fear for the future.
Finally, I would like to conclude by saying, “Salaam, Shalom.” To life!
For more information, see the Seeds of Peace website: http://www.seedsofpeace.org/