Editor’s note: This story also appears in the February edition of Preston Hollow People.
When Sam and Gloria Hocking returned in 2006 from a vacation to Israel and Palestine, they knew they had to do something.
“We came home very down, and we were dismayed over the situation,” Gloria Hocking said. “Peace seemed so far away.”
That same year, the longtime Preston Hollow residents met a doctor near their summer home in Santa Fe, N.M., who provided them with the answer.
The doctor volunteered at a camp near Santa Fe that housed Creativity for Peace, a program that brings together teenage girls and young women from Israel and Palestine in an effort to promote peace among citizens of the war-torn region.
The Hockings became involved immediately with the nonprofit group, and have been among its most active volunteers ever since. Sam, a longtime executive in the finance and technology industries, is currently the treasurer.
The annual camp includes more than a dozen participants ages 15-23, half being Jewish and the other half of Arab descent from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
“They look just like our teenagers. They laughed and giggled and sang,” Gloria said. “Then you realize they’re living in a very frightening situation on both sides.
“More than half of them have never talked to the other side. A lot of them, when they come, they’re scared to death.”
During the three weeks, the girls participate in dialogue sessions that focus on speaking from the heart and open-minded listening, and also undertake various art projects. The idea is to form friendships and develop young leaders on both sides of the conflict, while being careful to remain politically neutral.
Since being formed in 2003, Creativity for Peace has held 13 camps for 178 young women. Some have returned to the program as “young leaders,” able to see more similarities than differences across sociopolitical boundaries.
“We’ve seen changes in the girls,” said Gloria, an actress who helps the participants with their speaking skills. “They’ll never look at each other the same way again.”
In October, the Hockings sponsored three girls who visited the Dallas area from the Middle East, speaking about their experiences to local high school students and at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, among other places.
While the students were captivated by their sometimes heartbreaking stories, the goodwill appearance by the girls was criticized by at least one local group with ties to the conflict.
“That surprised us,” Gloria said. “There is definitely resistance. There are just a lot of feelings tied up in that.”
While the Hockings know that a few weeks of talk about peace can’t undo decades of strife in the Middle East, they hope that spreading the right message might at least change some perspectives.
“We’re improving their lives,” Sam said. “We’re hoping that will lead to peace.”