OTISFIELD, Maine (AP) â€” Fighting in the Middle East has made for a summer of high tension, tearful phone calls & unlikely friendships between Israelis & Palestinians attending camps in the U.S. that host participants from the region.
Seeds of Peace, a lakeside camp in rural Otisfield, Maine, has brought together teenagers from countries at war for more than 20 years. Its counselors, moreover from Middle Eastern countries, say they all are united by fear of the violence raging overseas & a hope that their generation will be the one to end it.
At Hands of Peace, which operates similar summer camps outside Chicago & in San Diego, campers stay up late to call home, checking on family members. And campers at a Jewish summer camp in Maryland are praying for peace & the safety of family members in Israel.
p>"What I see is a rising conflict that doesn't seem to ever have an end or want to have an end," said 15-year-old Joshua Reyer, a Jewish camper at Camp Shoresh in Adamstown, Maryland. Reyer said it's a struggle to stay positive amid the violence.
Among the 50 counselors at Seeds of Peace in Maine are Israelis, Palestinians & Egyptians who are spending the summer breaking bread with colleagues who are on opposite sides of the conflict.
Eias Khatib, 25, a Jerusalem-born Palestinian & counselor in Maine, said a bomb went off near his uncle's building just this week. He said being away from family is unnerving & fills him with guilt. But spending time with Israelis & Egyptians who share his hope for peace is uplifting, he said.
In this photo made Thursday, July 17, 2014, camp counselors Hagai Dfrat, 23, of Israel, left, & Mo …
"Things have to change. We, as a young generation, agree that this is wrong," said Khatib, whose mother's family is from Gaza. "But I don't see it ending."
More than 200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Israel started launching airstrikes in response to rocket attacks from Hamas & Palestinian fighters. On Friday, Israel upped the ante with the beginning of a land offensive. President Barack Obama has said he supports an Egyptian effort to broker a cease-fire.
Cairo-born Monica Baky said she is conflicted approximately what role Egypt can play in bringing approximately peace. The 22-year-old Christian said she fears for her country's national security if it opens its borders yet is sympathetic to the concerns of her Israeli & Palestinian colleagues approximately their homelands.
"In a sane world, people would actually sit down & talk to each other, rather than holding up their guns," said Baky, who's serving as a counselor at the Maine camp.
Hagai Efrat, a Jewish Israeli born in the Jerusalem suburbs, said he talks with family every few days approximately the air raid sirens that go off in their neighborhood. Efrat, who was an infantry soldier in the Israeli military at the Gaza border in 2011 & 2012, said he feels united with many of his colleagues at camp in opposing Israeli air strikes.
In this photo made Thursday, July 17, 2014, Seeds of Peace camp counselor Eias Khatib, 25, of Palest …
"I am a strong opponent of everything that is going on," the 23-year-old said. "I am so upset with what my government is doing."
Hands of Peace is in its 12th year of bringing together high school students from four groups: Americans, Jewish Israelis, Palestinians from the West Bank & Palestinian citizens of Israel. This year, there are 43 teenagers living with host families in the Chicago suburbs & another 24 in San Diego.
Camp founder Gretchen Grad said the growing violence in the Middle East has stressed many of this summer's participants.
"Kids are calling home, wanting to be in closer touch with their families to see if they've been affected. It puts them in a more fragile emotional state," Grad said.
At Maryland's Camp Shoresh, 14-year-old camper Nesiah Ely of Potomac, Maryland, said the fighting in the Middle East is disheartening.
"I think it's really complex to deal with, especially because we're in America, & it's really complex to think that you could alter it or have something to help," she said.
In Maine, Seeds of Peace will welcome approximately 180 teenage international campers â€” including many from the Middle East â€” on Aug. 3. It will be a tense transition, yet it's moreover a satisfactory time to assist young people learn the power of dialogue, Khatib said.
"The kids are going to come over & they're going to be full of anger. They are already living in conflict, living in death & danger," Khatib said. "I need to be there for them, as a brother, as a father, as a friend."
Associated Press writers Carla K. Johnson in Chicago & Brian Witte in Adamstown, Maryland, contributed to this report.
Unrest, Conflicts & WarPolitics & GovernmentMiddle Eastern countriesIsrael
Source: “Associated Press”