Through the Window

Kamal Almashharawi - Seeds of Peace Alumni


Inside "A Tuna Can"

Kamal Almashharawi feared he was going to die in Gaza. It was the early days of the war and he and about 80 members of his family were squashed in a small basement as the ground above shook from Israeli bombardments. 

For eight days they stayed there, slept there too, huddled together, so crammed, he says, it felt like living inside “a tuna can”. 

When he opened a window he could see Israeli soldiers taking over nearby homes and he wondered: “Are the troops going to come to take me or come to kill me?”

“Luckily I’m alive,” the alumni of Seeds for Peace camp, says, in an interview from Ridyah, Saudi Arabia where he had been living before the war, working for a solar power company.  He had reached out frantically to every possible contact and friend to help get him and his parents and siblings out of Gaza. Ultimately, he says, getting him and his family out of Gaza would not have happened without the support of the Seeds of Peace community.

Although he’s relieved his immediate family is out, he scrambles for information every day to hear about the relatives and friends they left behind, all the while trying to recover from the trauma himself. There are images of death and chaos that he cannot shake. It’s hard to focus on anything very long these days, he says. 

A New Seed

It was just after a previous war between Israel and Hamas in 2014 that Kamal, then 16, made the very bold decision to go to a three-week summer camp in Maine which brings together teenagers from conflict zones around the world, including young Israelis and Palestinians. This was not the kind of activity Hamas encouraged, nor did many of his friends understand why he had gone there after he returned.

That summer he and his new camp friends played sports and games together, ate together, slept in the same bunks, and did something not on the usual summer camp schedule. They sat down for three hours each day for dialogue about the conflict that divides their people and their own experiences living it.

It was Kamal’s first time ever outside of Gaza, out of his life in a refugee camp, and a transformative experience, meeting Israelis for the first time his age, some of whom wanted to live side-by-side in peace, some of whom did not.

“Understanding there were these two kinds of people was really important to me. I’m really thankful to Seeds of Peace for giving that opportunity to me, it’s not an easy thing to bring Palestinians and Israelis together.”

Driving Change

He has taken the experience with him, even now, during the darkest and most terrifying days of his life. He says the power and reach of listening “to real stories. That’s how change can be driven.”

And it’s an example, even now, as he says, of moving in the “right direction, at a time where Israel and Hamas are doing crazy things,” and driving everyone, he said backwards in time.

He came home from Seeds for Peace, trying to spread the message of thinking out of the box. It was not always welcomed, but he found the way forward is by focusing on those who do want change and who want to fight for a peaceful future.

He has paid a price for being outspoken, including multiple past arrests and travel bans. “But I told them, (even) if you arrest me for my whole life, I have a commitment towards my people. I don’t want them to live all of their lives under war.”

A Goal to Rebuild

But the war has upended everything, including what a path forward might look like for him and fellow peacebuilders. Much of it rides on how the war eventually ends, he says. “If Israel gets out of Gaza it’s one story, but if they stay it’s a whole different story as well.”

Kamal says being outside of Gaza, at least in the near-term, he hopes to have more of an impact and take advantage of being able to speak more freely without being targeted. “Because many, many peace workers, many journalists, many writers were targeted and killed because of their community work.”

Since being first in Egypt and now in Saudi Arabia for the last two months, he’s been able to donate food packages, and help other Palestinians from Gaza reach safety. He says that being outside of Gaza, “I can try to speak publicly about how we can build a peace process.” 

But ultimately his goal is to return. To rebuild.  “There is no other option,” says Kamal.

Dina Kraft

Writer and Journalist

Dina Kraft is a writer and journalist based in Tel Aviv.  She is the Opinion Editor for Haaretz English and co-author of My Friend Anne Frank. She has written from the region for over two decades for The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and The Los Angeles Times, reporting on Israeli and Palestinian politics, culture and society.

Dina is drawn to stories featuring unlikely connections, dual narratives and the impact of conflict and crisis on ordinary lives. She hosts the podcast “Groundwork” and previously “The Branch”, which tell the stories of relationships between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.

Dina is a long-time foreign correspondent who began her overseas career in the Jerusalem bureau of The Associated Press. She was later posted to AP’s Johannesburg bureau where she covered southern Africa. She’s also reported from Senegal, Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia, Russia, and Ukraine