Vermont Peace Camp
When Rev. Nicholas Porter of Soutport CT invited me to show portions of “Holy Land” at his summer Peace Camp in Vermont, I imagined a typical summer camp — cabins with bunks, a dining hall with canned peaches, made more interesting by the presence of a group of Palestinian and Israeli teenagers brought together in pursuit of reconciliation.
My wife, son Abe (3) and I arrived late on Sunday afternoon, at first to an empty camp. Except, that is, for a two-person documentary crew that had arrived to start filming the camp! The place was smaller and nicer than I expected. There was a flagstone patio, with a hammock, looking up a sloping meadow. It was a cool night. Abe played with the resident black Lab.
The group showed up in a couple of vans. They had been out canoeing. The kids got out, went about their business, taking showers, dressing for the next phase of the evening. We then followed Nicholas to the next stop, and that’s where we found a surprise. He had told me we were headed to a place that was an acronym of some sort, but I figured it would be OK. We pulled into a long driveway, with sweeping grounds. Ahead of us was a large campus of some kind. A huge academic building, with a sort of massive Monticello effect.
As we entered the dining hall, I learned that this place is the SIT Graduate Institute, an institution that runs international academic programs, primarily for college age and older youth. The Peace Camp had come to SIT to join in with a group being led John Ungerleider, who runs SIT’s Peacebuilding & Conflict Transformation program. There were a couple of hundred kids eating in the hall, and most of them came when we adjourned to a nearby conference room. There were probably about 150 or so students there to see the “Holy Land” presentation.
This was only my second time out with the film. Making some adjustments on the spot, we decided that I should show the film excerpts in separate units. We started by showing sample scenes depicting our Palestinian media activist character and our Israeli settler character. The group divided up into discussion circles, with each one led by one of the Israelis or Palestinians from the Peace Camp. Then we showed the next four scene selections are another complete unit: Hamas legislator, an Israeli anti-settlement activist, a Palestinian mayor and the late Rabbi Menachem Froman.
I sat in on a group that was being led by one of the young Palestinian women from Peace Camp. She was emphasizing that what she saw in the film was in face her reality. And that what might seem shocking or even unbelievable to someone who has not lived in the conflict, is the everyday truth for someone who is there. The Israeli counselor who was part of the same group said the same thing: this is what is happening now. His added point was that today’s reality needs to be understood in context: in the context of history, ancient and recent.
As Abe, Zhihong and I walked out the door, the Israeli counselor ran after us. He kindly wanted to make sure that I wasn’t offended when he talked about context. I was happy he had made the gesture, and was very honest when I told him that I felt complemented. He got what we’re trying to do. Show what is happening now.