Despite Violence Mideast Coexistence Programs Continue to Thrive

Israel Palestinian Peace

Recent tensions in the Middle East have raised a lot of questions about whether peace will ever be attainable. With Palestinian attacks in major Israeli cities, the terror cells of Hamas, and the threats of Hezbollah and ISIS to the North, the situation doesn't exactly look hopeful. However, even during this tense time, peace efforts are continuing. Some of the main goals are targeting the next generation who may just be our only hope. Two groups leading the way are Games for Peace and Kids4Peace International.

Games for Peace is a subtly ingenious idea. They use video games to establish cooperation and communication between groups in conflict. The founder of Games for Peace, Uri Mishol, learned at a Games for Change festival in New York that by age 21, most kids have spent 10,000 hours playing online games. He realized that these games, which often require a certain degree of collaboration and communication, could be used to get conflicting groups to work with each other.

Games for Peace has three main projects: the Middle East Gaming Challenge, Play for Peace Weekends, and the Play2Talk School Program. The Middle East Gaming Challenge is an annual, large-scale event that brings together tens of thousands of kids around the Middle East to play games which require cooperation and creativity. The kids playing will be encouraged to work together, communicate and collaborate. Games for Peace believes that positive experiences between different groups will establish more positive views of different religious and ethnic groups.

The Play2Talk School Program uses video games (at the moment, Minecraft) to encourage Arab and Jewish schoolchildren in Israel to talk and break negative stereotypes. The program believes that an indirect encounter through video games may lead to a more positive and meaningful real-life encounter. Having already co-operated in the virtual world will hopefully make breaking the ice a lot easier in later real-life meetings. Two classes in their own school computer labs meet in six virtual meetings in a shared game world. The players are divided into mixed teams and work together to overcome multiple challenges in the game world. After-school activities also take place in the virtual world and students are encouraged to join in on those too. The chat system automatically translates messages into Arabic, English, and Hebrew and the virtual world is constantly monitored to prevent aggressive or violent incidents.

Play for Peace weekends are weekends in which gamers from all around the Middle East are invited to log in to Games for Peace's server from their home computer and play together. Each event has a different theme, including building a village, exploring a landscape, or group adventures.

Another program promoting peace to the younger generation is Kids4Peace International. They offer a 6 year program for youth ages 12-18 that includes discussion groups, events in the community, volunteerism, summer camps, regular meetings, and training for leadership. It has ten locations worldwide, including one in Jerusalem.

Kids4Peace Jerusalem is led by Muslim and Jewish directors. It began in 2002 with four Muslim, four Christian, and four Jewish families. The program now has 400 participants and in 2014 80 new families joined.

Even during the ongoing terror wave which has involved many youth involved attacks, K4P continues to promote peace. Its members are still motivated to meet even with the ongoing violence. They held their first meeting of the year in October, right when the situation in Jerusalem was going downhill. 150 people including 60 parents attended. K4P is going to continue all their programs, despite the difficult times.

A Christian 11th-grader named George told Israel21c that he had joined Kids4Peace to see if all the horrible things he heard about Jews were correct. K4P actually helped him connect with a Jewish boy, Emanuel. When residents of his neighborhood were clapping and cheering as a siren indicated an incoming Gazan rocket in 2014, he couldn't understand how they could be happy in a war. Members of the program remained strong and kept their friendships together.

Another member, Joulany, a resident of the often violent East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat, joined K4P after attending a youth convention in New York and rooming with an Israeli. As he interacted more with Jews, he learned more about them and eventually became a co-director of K4P. He pointed out to Israel21c that parents get involved too and it shows just how much of an impact the program can make.

With programs like Games for Peace and Kids4Peace, the next generation may be a generation of hope, even as many youth fall into hate and violence. As Kids4Peace has shown, educating the children encourages their parents to learn more too. Games for Peace has made it clear that we can use what we already have to educate both sides of the conflict, even with something as unexpected as video games. Maybe with the help of groups such as these, we can finally overcome years of ingrained hatred.

About the author: Tzvi Joffre is a freelance blogger who covers all sorts of technology and current events. To see some of his other work and to contact him, visit tzvijoffre.wordpress.com.