Thursday, August 22, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Middle East peace, one child at a time

The architects of the planned City of Peace know what a successful city should include.

Spending a sweltering morning drawing plans with colored pencils and markers, they shout out the necessities: Religious freedom. Mutual respect. Kindness. Jobs and food for all. Skate board parks.

The last item might be the only tip-off that the city's planners are children. They make up the 30 or so Jewish, Palestinian and Arab children ages 6 to 12 who attended Seattle's first Middle East Peace Camp. They spent a recent week designing and building their model-sized city. They also created mosaics and henna designs and sang songs in Hebrew and Arabic. They avoided rehashing history or politics and avoided the tensions typically found in meetings of Palestinian and Jew.

Not that they for a moment forgot why they were at Peace Camp.

Daily news bulletins from the Middle East were a reminder that the place of their heritage is far from being a home where different religions, ethnic groups and cultural heritages can co-exist.

But the point of Peace Camp, say its organizers, the Arab Center of Washington and Kadima, a local progressive Jewish community, was to learn how to create such a place through one's actions. The thinking went something like this: If these children got to know and like each other, it would be easier for them to see other Jews, Palestinians and Arabs — not as strangers — but as neighbors.

It sounded a tad naïve. The Middle East is closer to combustion than the cool calm of peace. Besides the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are tensions in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Smaller rumblings in other countries are ripe to develop into tomorrow's conflicts.

But the participation of Barbara Lahav made for a convincing counter-argument. Lahav created a model-sized City of Peace for the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem. Perhaps a whimsical undertaking in the beginning, it developed and caught on. Many are now talking about what peace should look like — not only in the Middle East but other countries where decades of war has spawned similar camps.

Children are often more open to change than adults. The children playing architect today may grow up to become the future leaders of their people. The Middle East Peace Camp's bid for peaceful coexistence through the hearts and minds of children makes sense when thought of that way.

— Lynne Varner


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