BAT YAM, Israel — Giggling children built castles, drew pictures in the sand and splashed water on each other in a refreshing first for Palestinian youngsters from the landlocked West Bank: a day at the beach.
Maintaining that peace is built one personal encounter at a time, two groups, Combatants for Peace and Machsom Watch, have been arranging trips to Israeli beaches for Palestinian children and their parents. On Monday, about 75 Palestinians drove by bus from the West Bank's Hebron area to a beach south of Tel Aviv, after crossing an Israeli checkpoint on foot.
For many of the Palestinians, it was their first glimpse of the sea — and a moment of hope.
"We lived through the (Palestinian) uprising and the attacks on each other, we experienced these things together (with the Israelis). Why not experience this way of life?" said Ziad Sabatein, a 37-year-old father of five.
Tzvia Shappira, an Israeli peace activist, has been organizing outings like this for three years to introduce Palestinians to a kinder Israel.
"These people now know that there are different Israelis because what they see in their villages are soldiers and guns and the checkpoints," she said. "And now the children and women see that we are simple women and men of Israel who are not soldiers who are not with guns."