For the three Palestinian 19-year-olds from a town in the southern Hebron Hills, the seminar was "the most beautiful days of our lives."
Hamuda, Rami and Louis took part in a special two-day seminar on ecology and art with Arab and Jewish Israelis, on Saturday and Sunday.
The seminar was organized by Jews from Kibbutz Ein Shemer and Arabs from Umm al-Fahm in order to make "the dream come true of creating a different reality for our children," as Mustafa Habub from Umm al-Fahm put it.
The dream emerged from a tragedy, when Habub's nephew, 13-year-old Ahmed Hatib of Jenin, was shot and killed in 2006 by Israel Defense Forces soldiers while playing with a toy gun.
His family donated his organs to six Israeli Jews.
"Three months ago I saw a TV show about Hatib and it touched me," said Maj. Gen. (res.) Eyal Ben-Reuven. The next day Ben-Reuven called Habub, who had appeared on the program. "He said he wanted to establish a joint seminar for Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and Jews. I got excited about the idea and decided to help," Ben-Reuven said.
Although the seminar's subjects - art and ecology - were apolitical, politics was never far away. On a tour of Umm al-Fahm Sunday, the participants stood on Mount Iskandar, overlooking the Green Line and the West Bank. Their guide, Mohammed Rabah, described how in 1967 his father had to ask the military governor for permission to bring his mother to the hospital in Nazareth to deliver him. "That's a Jewish army?" one of the Jewish girls said.
Louis said he feared he would not get along with the Jewish participants, "but now I feel we're like brothers," he said.
The Israeli Arabs had of course met Jews before, but they still felt the encounter helped break down stereotypes.
"The Jewish girls ask me a lot of questions and it's important to me to explain," said Yara, 16.
"As someone who has led battles, I know the terrible price. I know reality is stronger, but you have to create a different reality," Ben-Reuven said.
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