[Seeds for Peace works to bring together kids from both sides of conflict situations so that they can get to know each other as persons:


This ordinarily helps, as teens are likely to be attracted to each other — as the story below intimates. I recall making peace with my life long best friend when we had resolved a girl conflict as bare teens at a co-ed summer camp. Other comparable experience as an older teen was my participation in a hiking tour down the Rhine with a mixed group of British and German students (and me) arranged by the West German government after WW2 helped to achieve peaceful reconciliation. It worked its way as we hiked from youth hostel to youth hostel over the course of a summer month. I had to switch sides at the half point in our soccer games — no loss to either as it was not my school game. One hopes that outreach on a personal level — such as endeavored by Dorothy Naor and the Christian Peace Workers — will help in bridging the barriers between Israelis and Palestinians. It is so hard to break down that “intrinsic racism” which obsesses with the wrongs done to US and excuses those done to THEM! Ed Kent]

P.S. Subsequent to this posting, Joey Katona contacted me and asked me to add this location where  he is doing fund raising:  If you would like to contribute to Omar’s Fund, please contact Joey either through email at josephkatona@gmail.com or directly by phone at 310-613-6268.



Media Story
When Worlds Collide, Sometimes Good “Stuff” Happens, As Well

This article was originally published by Earlham College on December 12, 2006.

For Immediate Release:
Dec. 12, 2006

RICHMOND Ind. — Joey Katona has a lot of explaining to do…

To his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and others who have favored the young man from Los Angeles with birthday, bar mitzvah and graduation gifts of money, hoping the first-year student at the University of Virginia (estimated annual cost: $36,000) would one day use the resources for his college education.

About why he has given so much of that money away, and why he keeps coming back to them for more so that Omar Dreidi, a Palestinian Arab from Ramallah, can continue to attend Earlham College.

Earlham first-year Omar Dreidi of Ramallah, left, and Joey Katona, a freshman at the University of Virginia, have become best friends despite coming “from two different places with two different backgrounds and two different religions.” When Dreidi needed tuition support so he could enroll at the College, Katona raised the needed money — more than $10,000.

This year, the 18-year-old Californian directed $10,809 to Earlham on his friend’s behalf. Barely two years ago the pair could hardly stand each other; something about a girl.

“We kind of butted heads a little bit because of a crush we each had on this one other camper,” recalls Katona of his first encounter with Dreidi at a 2004 Seeds of Peace summer retreat in Maine. “When we left, we didn’t keep in touch. Even when my family and I visited Israel and the Middle East a little later, I didn’t look him up. I didn’t call.”

Omar, meanwhile, likewise dismissed Joey: “He would walk in like Michael Jackson and do these dances. I thought he was a spoiled American boy.”

Thrown together at camp the next summer, however — this time as peer support campers and roommates! — the soon-to-be high school seniors realized it was time their relationship matured to the level of the important international and intercultural peace building the camp promotes.

Dreidi was the second-leading scorer for the Earlham men’s soccer team this season, finishing with nine points, including four goals and one assist. He played in 16 of 18 games for the Quakers, notching the game-winning tally in a 1-0 victory at Anderson and scoring both goals in a 2-1 defeat of Hanover.

During a three-day climbing trek, Dreidi says Katona pulled him aside at the end of one particular dialogue session and asked if they could talk awhile in private. They left the group and Joey began peppering Omar with questions about Palestinian issues.

“I could tell he understood,” says Dreidi, who has lost two close friends in the sectarian violence that punctuates life in Jerusalem, Ramallah and the surrounding territories. One was shot as Dreidi watched; he fell into his friend’s arms, having lunged forward while possibly trying to shield Omar from the gunfire.

“We were in the middle of the city and this Jeep came out…A lot of stuff can happen there,” Dreidi reflects laconically.

But, more cheerfully, he adds that other “stuff” — much more positive stuff — sometimes happens, too, at night on a mountaintop in Maine. By the end of their discussion under the revolving stars of the northern sky, the Jewish-American teen from the West Coast and the Palestinian kid from the West Bank had forged a bond.

“We come from two different places with two different backgrounds and two different religions, but we became best friends” recalls Dreidi.

“We don’t always agree politically,” chimes in Katona, “but we do agree that everyone wants a solution to the violence.”

Although from a proud Jewish heritage, Joey says that he and his family are opposed to the more extreme racial and religious views sometimes heard expressed in “support” of Judaism.

“That’s why we went to the Middle East, and why we go to Ramallah and not just Jerusalem,” says Katona, recalling his family’s various excursions in the Holy Land, “because we wanted to see the other side. That’s why I got involved in Seeds of Peace, and that’s why Omar needs to be at Earlham — so he can help people to see the other side.”


Omar Dreidi’s parents are not poor. Their government jobs — he works in the Palestinian statistics office, she in telecommunications — would by most definitions make them “middle class.” If only they actually received the salaries they earn. Because of the funding crisis currently besetting the Palestinian Authority, the couple has gone more than eight months with no pay.

“It is very hard for them,” says Omar (his brother has been sent to Texas to live with grandparents). So, when his letter of acceptance — and offer of a half-scholarship from Earlham — arrived last spring, prospects appeared dim that he would ever actually enroll on the Richmond campus.

Even factoring in an additional $3,000 scholarship from Seeds of Peace, Omar and his parents calculated he remained $10,000 short of his goal to go to college in the United States. Or, more precisely, $10,809.

“The 809 part just got stuck in my head. I still remember it,” says Katona today from his U.Va. dorm room. “It was kind of that little extra challenge hanging out there, almost taunting me. We weren’t going to stop at that nice round number 10,000. No, we needed to raise $10,809, and we did.”

Information about contributing to the Omar Dreidi Fund is available from Joey Katona at josephkatona@gmail.com or 310/613-6268.

Jumping in to help as soon as he got the news from Dreidi and tapping a list of donors he describes as ranging from family members and friends to “friends of friends of friends,” Katona was able to secure donations in amounts from as little as $250 up to $2,500 (the latter gift amended ultimately by the giver to — not coincidentally — $2,809). What shortage was left to be covered he made up from his own finances. Working through Earlham’s International Programs Office (IPO) and Associate Director Kelley Lawson-Khalidi, the necessary funds were delivered to Earlham by mid-August, in time for Dreidi to register with the incoming first-year class.

“I won’t lie. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was very much something of a struggle,” confides Katona, who plans to major in political and social thought. “But, our word should be our bond, and I said I was going to do something to help Omar out. Of course it’s very satisfying we were so successful, although already I’ve started making contacts for the next time.”

While earning proportionately higher levels of financial aid from the College and other sources for every year he completes at Earlham, Dreidi knows that until conditions improve at home his overall financial situation is not likely to the point that his freshman friend Joey can put aside his temp job as an annual scholarship recruiter — and he’s thankful.

“He has a big heart,” says Omar of the one-time “spoiled American boy.”

“What he has done for me is something unique. He has opened my eyes to the world. I am very proud to be Joey’s friend and I wish that I could do something to help him. Some day I will.”

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 718-951-5324 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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