While presidential candidates and supporters debate homeland security and terror attacks, teenagers from Israel and the West Bank who live in fear daily converged on San Diego.
In late July, the teens visited San Diego for an intense three weeks of discussion and activities geared toward finding common ground as part of San Diego's Hands of Peace, a program that teaches tolerance to Israeli and Palestinian teens.
The group gathered at Balboa Park’s World Beat Center for a lesson in harmony.
Several generations of both cultures are born into this historic conflict. But where bombs and guns have not worked, these young adults are trying honesty and openness.
Complete strangers, who grew up fearing and misunderstanding one another are now – after two weeks – dancing to the beat of a different drum.
Yasmin is a Palestinian teen living in Israel less than a mile from a West Bank check point.
“At the checkpoint I hear a lot of shoot guns; I hear a lot of screaming,” she explained to NBC 7. “I feel the racism on the way in a bus station on the way to school.”
“Guga,” also 17 years old, is Israeli, living just outside Tel Aviv.
“I go with pepper spray because I’m scared of terror attacks or if I just teach my dog to run into the safe place when he hears and alarm,” Guga said.
While both are the sum of their respective environments and opinions of generations past, they seek harmony through Hands of Peace.
The program brings these teens together on the neutral territory of San Diego for intense dialog and what you might call cultural team-building activities.
“Our mural is taking out the bad toxic ideas and replacing them with progressive ideas,” Jewish-American Sophie Henry said.
In February 2017, Palestinian and Jewish-Americans who already completed the course are sharing their message with other children in conflicts. This inspirational mural is bound for a Syrian refugee camp in Greece.
“The statistics literally came alive. All the sudden, I had faces to these people and that changed everything,” Palestinian-American Khalid Abudmas said.
Program participants number less than 50 but its message may be a pebble in a pond.
“Solving this conflict and making a solution is by changing the opinions for the next generation and the generation that comes after,” Yasmin said.
“I pass it on to my friends. They say you know what may be your right and they pass it on more and I think that's what makes the change. The circle getting bigger and bigger with the time,” Guga added.
The teens returned home last week, hoping to spread the message of peace and open dialogue among communities through projects of their own.