Entry 1 

It’s midnight Sunday, so I’m cheating, sort of. Slate told me to start on Monday—on the other hand, the Israeli workweek out here starts on Sunday, making Sunday Monday. The Palestinian workweek starts on Saturday, unless you’re Christian, in which case you start Monday like any good red-blooded American—that’s if you’re Christian, but most of the time out here, you’re not. I’m not, but even if I was, I still couldn’t tell you when our workweek ends or begins.

It doesn’t help that last night ended this morning at 7, when we finally finalized the latest edition of the Olive Branch, our news magazine for idealistic youth from dangerous places. The 72-hour layout marathon left me essentially deaf, blind, and numb. It’s not a bad way to go about your day here, given what you see when you’re awake. Today, I managed not to know about the shooting around the corner until Seeds—that’s what we call participants and alums of our program—called to check if we were among the two dead and dozens wounded.

“Here” is Jerusalem and its surrounding countries. “We” is Seeds of Peace, an American organization that every summer since 1993 has brought outstanding young people from opposite sides of ethnic conflicts—in the Middle East, Cyprus, India, Pakistan, and the numerous former Yugoslav republics of—to experience three weeks of coexistence at our camp in Maine, in the hope of inspiring and equipping them to build a better future at home.

Even more specifically, “we” is the staff of the Center for Coexistence in Jerusalem—myself and five colleagues who work year-round to create forums for Seeds to keep in touch and to promote peace in their warring communities. Tough task, but you’d never guess—the really stressful part is the schedule.

Occupation, intifada, terrorism—you get used to. Today’s evening news flash was the latest of many in the neighborhood this year. Truth is, I couldn’t tell you how many. We’ve run the gamut of low-budget political violence: a bus bomb, car bombs, street fights, drive-bys, political assassination at the Hyatt down the road, and our gunman of the afternoon.

Logistics, on the other hand, even after years on the job, will really kill you. Our youth-group schedule has to negotiate three religions (and several sects), two separate national calendars thick with days of remembrance for past disasters, two separate ethnic school systems, and the volcano of violent conflict upon which these societies are built, which is always due for an eruption, but you never know exactly where or when.

Last Sunday, for example, we had to cancel. We had 56 kids coming from 15 different places, Arabs and Jews. Sami Al-Jundi, my Palestinian partner from the old city of Jerusalem who carries a cerebral map of every road in the country, had the transportation arranged. Five of his brothers in Ford transit vans would gather the Seeds from whence they were scattered to the Israeli coastal city of Herzlia, where we would re-create the summer spirit with a Mediterranean campfire.

When the nightly news reported rain, we considered canceling—but rain or shine, the kids want to see each other. We made bowling our backup plan. We were ignoring the relevant weather report—the one Sami gives at staff meetings, based on wandering the streets of East Jerusalem with his ears open. Two weeks ago, Sami reported that the people were getting sick of the intifada and its economic ruin. But that Monday, after Palestinians assassinated an Israeli minister and the Israeli army replied with an invasion that killed 44 Palestinians in 10 days, Sami forecast a stormy week ahead.

Sure enough, last Sunday afternoon—as vans were filling up with Seeds in Haifa, Taybeh, and Tel-Aviv—news broke that the Islamic Jihad had shot up the central bus station in Hadera, killing five Israeli bystanders. We called our Israeli girl who was set to wait for pickup there and our Palestinian driver on his way to get her, thanked God neither had yet arrived, and ordered both to go home. Parents called asking for their children in a panic, even if their kids were nowhere near Hadera. As my fellow Americans have recently discovered, a terror attack spreads tremors of panic miles from the epicenter. We canceled and deployed cell phones and drivers to scatter the Seeds in 15 directions again.

It’s not the first time we had to cancel. Trying to build some kind of common experience for Arabs and Jews here, though they live side by side by the millions, the odds are against us. We’re a peace group at war with the logistics of everyday life. Violence has become so common that it is part of daily routine, while it simultaneously destroys the possibility of routine. Two Sundays in a row the Islamic Jihad shoots up bus stops, OK—still, you can’t plan around it because you don’t know where it will happen next …

Sometimes I want to quit after days like that—but my cell phone always rings. Every day, no matter what happened, kids call to ask: When are we getting together for coexistence again?