WEST POINT — It’s a problem that has deep roots in history and seemingly no viable solution.
It’s a problem that has stymied U.S. presidents and world leaders.
And it’s a problem students at West Point Junior High are taking on as well.
The conflicts that have divided Israelis and Palestinians revolve around land and authority.
Students in Jared Fawson’s World Geography classes were introduced to those problems by viewing the documentary, “Promises,” that follows the lives of children very close to their own ages.
Children in the documentary are both Palestinian and Israeli. One Jewish child is the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor and is a secular Jew, one is the child of a rabbi. The Palestianian youths lived in refugee camps. One had a father in prison at the time.
Though the children lived within 20 miles of each other, “they exist in completely separate worlds,” according to a review on promisesproject.org.
“They possess an acute awareness of the political reality that surrounds them,” it said, “and have a freshness of expression that is inspiring, in contrast to the entrenched and often embittered opinions of adults.”
The students in Fawson’s class could be said to have the same attributes.
“They just need to be more willing to cooperate,” said Chenille Morris, a ninth grader at West Point, of the two parties staking claims in Israel. “They don’t see each other as human. They hate each other. Both sides have in mind what they want, but they’re not willing to give.”
A fellow student, Harlee Sorrells, said it’s wrong when, because of the past, people won’t work together for their future.
The documentary was filmed between 1997 and 2000, with a follow-up segment added in 2004.
During those seven years, the youths in the documentary share what they’ve learned from their parents and from their own personal experiences and fears.
To add to their stories, Fawson was able to connect with one of the youths in the documentary last month, 10 years after it was filmed.
Now 26, the youth answered Fawson’s questions about what he sees as the problems and solutions to the Middle-East conflict.
His responses have been shared with students in subsequent classes, further shaping their views.
“We need to wake up and to think in a very positive way,” said the Palestinian, who the Clipper was asked not to name.
The young man spoke in favor of a one-state solution and of the region becoming a “100 percent democratic place.”
With one state, elections would determine representation and whoever won would have responsibility for the people, who would all have rights.
“We don’t need walls and stupid check points,” he said.
That was also a conclusion ninth graders were reaching.
“Both sides want Jerusalem, the Red Sea and the resources,” said Chenille. “ There’s no way to split them up. They already live together ... they should elect representatives from both sides.”
Fawson led a discussion on what happens when a group like Hamas “continues to sow discord and chaos.” He pointed out that public opinion and support shifts away from a group when it changes from what might be considered freedom fighters, to being more like terrorists.
Several students referred to the positive effects of the nonviolent protests in America relating to race relations as proof change that can be positive.
“Peaceful protests ended with integration of schools,” said one, adding that Israel could do the same.
“They could be all one nationality but have religious diversity,” said another.
“It’s complicated,” said Fawson.
Listening to the young man who had grown up with the conflict and was now an adult gave students “a personal connection to the conflict ... one that helped break down barriers and open the world up in a way that it couldn’t get in any other way.”
Student Mike Nash said the study of the conflict in the Middle East has helped him realize what’s going on, how bad it is and what really needs to be fixed.
“If kids could get along and make friendships,” he said, “the kids could teach their kids and it would eventually come to them not being enemies anymore.”