Early last week, one of the Ben Shemen Youth Village’s buildings was loaded with standard-issue summer camp equipment: jerrycans, chess sets, mats, boxes of chocolate spread, sliced bread, and cookies. On their way to the dining room, wide-eyed boys and girls emerged from the dormitory-turned-bunks, wishing each other a good morning. They then proceeded to the first group activity of the day. At first appearance, this appears to be just another summer camp. However, this one is everything but: The Parents Circle-Families Forum, an association of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost family members in the conflict, is sponsoring it.
The doors of the campers’ rooms are adorned with their names in Hebrew and Arabic; the activities that morning necessitates simultaneous translation via earbuds. The summer camp is in its tenth year. A group of 50 youths from both sides of the Green Line gather for a week of joint activities. The regular group of youths living and learning at Ben Shemen was alerted at the end of May that the summer camp would be using the facilities. From there, word spread to right-wing activist Shai Glick, who quickly complained to the education minister, right-wing Knesset members, and the media.
Ben Shemen, according to Channel 14, operated “behind the backs of parents” while deciding to lend its facilities to the camp over the summer. Arutz Sheva implied that the actions of the camp were illegal. To discuss the issue, right-wing MKs convened an emergency meeting of the Education, Culture, and Sports Committee. Cohen never followed through on his threat, but the verbal assaults left an impression on the Ben Shemen administration, which was wary of allowing journalists on campus. The Parents Circle-Families Forum was similarly tense. They have become accustomed to continual attacks from the right and efforts to prevent the organization’s activities from taking place, including as the annual joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony and meetings arranged by the group at schools, but Cohen’s threat of violence was unprecedented. However, a few days after the camp’s summer session began, it became evident that the threats given during the Education Committee meeting were merely words, and tensions subsided.