Sometime during the first few days of camp,
Karen Karniol-Tambour stopped screaming and started listening.
She’s been listening ever since.
She was 14 that summer of 1999, a kid from Netanya, Israel, whose grandparents had survived the Holocaust. Her Polishborn father was active in the Likud Party; Karniol-Tambour grew up hearing its right-wing slogans from her earliest days at the breakfast table.
“Schools, cabs, whatever — everything becomes politicized,” she says of the incubator that nurtured the first decade and a half of her life.
She arrived at Seeds of Peace that June morning primed for battle. She knew next to nothing about Palestinians — “just that there were many who hated us so much they were willing to go into a public place and kill us.
“I pretty much spent the first week yelling,” Karniol-Tambour says. “It was the first time I was face to face with people I was so angry with. I lost my voice — and I lost a layer of anger.”
The seductive combination of swimming, canoeing, making up beds and chugging down bug-juice did its work gradually, turning the faceless enemies first into bunk-mates and then into fledgling friends.
“I started listening,” Karniol-Tambour says, “and seeing that the person across the chair from you is exactly like you in many ways. Fears I had, they had, too. But it definitely took a few days to get that anger out.”
The defining moment came about a week and a half into the camp session, during a confrontation with a Palestinian girl she remembers as Aruba.
“She was a lot like me, so I guess I saw myself in her,” Karniol- Tambour says. “When she was yelling at me, I couldn’t see her as anything but a Palestinian spokesperson. Then one day she burst into tears and told us how she had seen her uncle shot in front of her eyes when Israeli soldiers invaded her house. Once it wasn’t political any more, I couldn’t do anything but look at her as a friend who went through a very terrible experience.”
Today an investment associate with a large institutional money manager in Connecticut, Karen says that like many camp alumni, she originally had a tough time convincing friends and loved ones back home to give peace a chance.
Her father, Yoram, in particular, proved unreceptive to her message — until the day Karniol-Tambour dragged him by the hand to meet a new Jordanian friend of hers at a Seeds event.
The young man began relating that his own father had fought in three or four wars as a soldier in the Jordanian Army — and now here was the son interacting with new friends in Jerusalem. Israeli friends.
Yoram Tambour, an aeronautical engineer, Fulbright scholar and professor at the Technion, Israel’s Institute of Technology, wiped tears from his eyes as he listened.
“When my friend finished talking, my dad said he probably fought against this guy’s father in those wars — he never could have imagined seeing this man bringing his kid to Jerusalem and wanting peace,” Karniol-Tambour says.
Years later, when Karen’s little brother followed in her footsteps as a Seeds participant, Yoram Tambour was among his son’s strongest supporters.
In 2006, Karniol-Tambour received a degree in international relations from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. At the university, she was active in the Global Issues Forum, a student organization dedicated to fostering awareness of current affairs.
Today her job involves doing research into how the economies of different nations interact. Tomorrow — well, she won’t rule out a run for public office back home in Israel.
Karniol-Tambour says almost all her fellow campers have chosen career paths with an eye toward making a dent in the world’s woes. Two of them serve as top aides to a pair of international figures: Tzipi Livni, Israeli foreign minister, and Abu Alaa, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
“That means when these two negotiators sit together, their aides have known each other for years,” Karniol-Tambour says. “They don’t come in there with lots of suspicions about each other.”