Program celebrates 15 years of bringing teens together for peace

GLENVIEW, Ill. – Recently, a group of high school students came together in the Chicago suburbs to attempt to bring peace in a conflict that has been bubbling over for more than 70 years.

The group Hands of Peace wanted the young minds to help overcome the divisive political history in the Middle East and bring ideas for peace.

Some of the participating teens were Palestinian, others were Israeli. Hands of Peace, based in Chicago, invited them to Glenview so they can talk and listen to one another for three weeks on American soil. A teenage summit of sorts on neutral ground that was a welcome respite from the chaos of the Middle East.

With the help of skilled facilitators, the high schoolers spent their mornings involved in deep dialogues about their feuding nations. Their afternoons were spent doing activities like rope climbing, cultural exchanges in the kitchen and visiting churches, mosques and synagogues together. At night, they stay with their American host families.

There was time for the kids to be kids but they also worked on learning, listening  and growing as empathetic human beings. It’s the next generation deciding how to end a decades old war with their futures on the line.

The peace program is celebrating 15 years and Maor Yehiel said it changed his life. He attended as a teen and returned this year at the age or 29 as a chaperone.

“I would define my life before Hands of Peace and after Hands of Peace. This was the most profound experience I’ve had,” he said.  “After Hands of Peace, everything that I did was sort of different in a way. I had that small change in me. Once you know you cannot ignore.”

Hands of Peace also has a program operating out of San Diego this summer. Right now, nearly 100 kids from Israel, Palestine and America taking part there too.

The program wraps up Sunday, July 29 with a farewell celebration.