The Alternative Summer Camp for Youth – 2011

Following up on a six year long tradition, New Profile's seventh Alternative Summer Camp for Youth took place in last week of July in the Essenes' ecological farm, located just a few minutes' ride from Jerusalem in the small community village of Even Sapir. Some 80 participants, all aged 15-19 from across Israel, came to the camp. We consider the number of participants a great success, and an even greater success was the fact that for most attendees this was a first acquaintance with this project or with New Profile – as opposed to previous years, when many were returning-participants. As in previous years, the camp was organized by a non-hierarchic team of experienced activists and educators, who started preparations already in March. After six years of building a young and vibrant community of social activists, we were very pleased to see that almost all members of this year's leading team were participants in previous years' alternative summer camps. Though planned to be a week long experience the camp was shortened in the last minute due to a bureaucracy entanglement which prevented us from receiving all the necessary permits. Luckily this was realized soon enough so as not to cancel the camp altogether, and the solution found was turning the camp into two consecutive two day long seminars, with a night's break between them, so as to keep in line with legal necessities and minimize damage to the process planned for the participants. Most of the content of the summer camp was composed of workshops given by guest speakers on various issues such as education, the economy, the place of militarism in Israeli society and gender and sexuality. Other subjects that were touched were the Israeli occupation, ecology, migrant workers and refugees in Israel. At any given time, other than during breaks and the vegan meals, three to four simultaneous workshops would take place, allowing the participants a wide range of choice. In addition to these the camp offered a one day tour, following guides from the Adrid movement of Palestinians displaced within Israel into villages around Jerusalem ruined during the 1948 Nakba. One group of participants also decided to go together with a group guide to the yearly Pride Parade which took place in Jerusalem in the day before last. The leading educational concept of the workshops was promoting critical thought and social and political awareness on the subjects at hand, also encouraging participants to share from their knowledge and experience. During the evening different and more entertaining workshops were offered, such as a film screening, DIY protest art, etc. The last evening offered participants an open microphone and a small stage, which almost all of them used to perform with songs, poetry, stand-up comedy and more. During the week participants were also offered specific time slots to create their own workshops and offer them to others. Between workshops participants met twice a day in their smaller and more intimate "home groups", guided by two team members. The home groups were a place to talk through feelings and thoughts which arose during the workshops, and to relax and kick back with friends and light sport activities. As in previous years these groups proved to be crucial for the participants' feeling of belonging. We put great emphases in our work on the summer camp to create an "empowering" environment for the participants. Amongst the steps taken to ensure this was having some staff members free at any time for participants who wanted personal emotional support, creating flexibility that allowed space for the participants to be active and create inside the summer camp, talking with the participants on the delicate issue of sexual harassment and sexual tension and having special workshops to share and discuss the tension between each participant's personal experience and identity and the expectations of his social surroundings. Thus, we truly take in heart the saying "the political is the personal". The summer camp of 2011 had the unique opportunity, missed in previous camps, not to send participants back to a passive and complacent Israeli society, but rather to an active and lively one, which was leading a fierce struggle for social justice. Many participants soon found themselves sleeping in one or more of the tens of protest encampments erected all over the country, joining discussions and sit-ins, and even organizing two camp-reunions by themselves, combining pleasure with demonstrations against neo-liberal economy and its impacts on society. We believe that the summer protest, the spontaneous reunions and the tools and contacts offered during the camp, alongside several follow-up activities planned by the camp team for the coming months, will help participants develop critical thinking about society, media, politics, the environment and much more – also enabling and encouraging them to become activists for social change.