The Kids4Peace Story
What began as a response to violence in Jerusalem has become a global movement for change.
2002-2004: The Beginning at St. George’s
While today’s Kids4Peace youth radiate with energy and hope, this movement was born during a painful time of violence. In 2001, the optimism of the Oslo accords had faded. Fighting and bombings ravaged the holy city of Jerusalem, and Israelis and Palestinians were turning against one another. Amid this climate of hatred and fear, a group of Jerusalem parents – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – came together to create a new reality.
These parents were people of deep faith, who all had kids in sixth grade. They believed that a better future was possible for their children, and for the city they called home. There were other youth peace programs at the time – but none for kids their age, and very few for religious families like themselves. They wanted a place to be both religious, and pro-peace.
The Anglican church became the home for this new initiative, with the embrace of the Most Rev. Suheil Dawani, then the local congregation pastor and now Archbishop in Jerusalem. Dr. Henry Ralph Carse, a gifted theologian, teacher and pilgrim guide, was the Founding Director, with institutional support from St. George’s College, where he worked, and its dean the Very Rev. Ross Jones.
With financial backing from Episcopalians in the United States, a group of twelve Jerusalem youth – Jewish, Christian and Muslim; Israeli and Palestinian – flew to Camp Allen outside Houston, Texas, in the summer of 2002 for a two-week summer camp. Kids4Peace was born.
2005-2008: Camps Bring Interfaith Understanding
For these two weeks, respect and friendship were the norm. While playing soccer, swimming in the lake, doing art projects, or hiking in the woods, these youth connected with one another as kids. They saw what they had in common, not only what divided them. They ate, sang, and played together. And they created a community where everyone’s religion, national identity, culture and life experience was welcomed and valued.
Interfaith understanding was – and remains – the core of Kids4Peace. For the very first time, youth were able to witness the religious services and practices of kids from other backgrounds. They learned to “observe with respect” and identify similarities and differences with their own beliefs. Dialogue about religion became a way for youth to connect deeply, about the things that matter most in their lives, without being forced into polarized political views.
In the years that followed, other communities in America offered to host Kids4Peace camps. First in Atlanta, through the leadership of Ethel Wright and Nancy Brockway, then in Vermont with Bishop Tom Ely, in North Carolina with the Rev. Brian Sullivan and in Boston with Peggy Stevens. Each had witnessed Kids4Peace in Jerusalem, felt inspired by the vision of interfaith dialogue and understanding, and wanted to support this growing community. These camps followed the same model, with 12 kids from Jerusalem coming to the United States for dialogue, cultural exchange and team-building. Henry Carse traveled with each group, promoting the Kids4Peace mission and culture, and building a network of supporters.
By 2007, Kids4Peace had grown from those initial 12 families into an annual program that involved nearly 70 youth per year.
2008-2012: Kids4Peace is a Growing, Year-Round Program
Kids4Peace youth treasured their camp experiences as life-changing moments, where they got to know their supposed “enemy” for the first time. Old stereotypes and fears faded during their two weeks at camp, as they connected as human beings and people of faith.
But the kids and families were asking for more. Kids4Peace youth returned from camp to a land still torn apart by conflict. A single year of Kids4Peace helped open their eyes to a new possibility for peace – but what would come next? Their new friendships proved hard to maintain in a city deeply divided by language, religion, and national identity. They wanted to stay in touch, to continue building community, but they needed support.
So Kids4Peace launched its first “continuation program” – with occasional reunions for alumni of the camps. At first, a few dozen youth came. Very soon, it was more than a hundred. And between 2008 and 2011, Kids4Peace transformed from a one-time summer camp into a long-term interfaith peacebuilding program.
In addition to camp, there were weekend seminars and biweekly after school meetings, workshops for parents, community events,service projects and home hospitality exchanges, through which families visited each other’s neighborhoods for the first time.
In 2012, Kids4Peace opened its own office in Jerusalem and, with support from the United States Consulate General and later USAID, began operating its current model of a six-year, year-round dialogue, leadership & activism program for Israeli and Palestinian youth. Now in 2019, more than 350 youth and 150 parents participate in Kids4Peace Jerusalem programs, and Kids4Peace has a network of over 2,000 alumni.
2013-2016: Local Focus in the USA and Resilience in Jerusalem
As Kids4Peace was growing in Jerusalem, the American chapters of Kids4Peace shifted their focus away from hosting small camps for Israeli and Palestinian youth and toward domestic interfaith and peacebuilding programs.
Today, Kids4Peace chapters in the United States bring together local youth from across religious and social divides and empower them to be leaders and activists in their communities. They are educating other youth about different religions and organizing faith-based activism projects around issues like Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, racial justice, homelessness, gun violence, immigration and more.
Just as Kids4Peace was born during violence, it was the Gaza war in 2014 which prompted our movement’s most recent transformation. That summer, many peace organizations struggled to hold together amid the violence, but Kids4Peace attendance and participation reached an all-time high. The community was resilient, as Israeli and Palestinian families turned toward each other for support and strength. But again they asked for more.
2017-Present: From Dialogue to Action
They wanted a way out of the conflict and a way to take charge of their future. They longed to bridge the gap between dialogue and action; between personal transformation and social change. So Kids4Peace began offering new programs with skills for public leadership and activism, in addition to empathy and dialogue.
Youth took to the streets and online in a “Violence Stops with Me” campaign. Families toured each other’s neighborhoods and walked the streets of the Old City, to see Jerusalem through each other’s eyes. Town Hall meetings brought youth into conversation with local religious, political and civic leaders.
And a new flagship program, the Global Institute, launched in 2016 to bring together Kids4Peace’s most dedicated Israeli, Palestinian and American high school students. During the Global Institute, youth meet senior government leaders and grassroots activists, and practice their lobbying skills during an Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. Most importantly, youth share experiences from their different contexts and gain strength from being part of a community of Kids4Peace youth around the world.
What began as a dream of twelve Jerusalem parents has become a growing, global interfaith movement serving over 500 youth per year. Despite escalations of violence, failed negotiations, political disappointments, and the rise of hateful voices in Jerusalem and the United States, Kids4Peace remains a sign of hope and force for creating a more just and inclusive world.