A summer camp in Ontario is trying to bring Jewish and Palestinian youths from Israel together by hosting the teens for team building and dialogue.

Camp Shomria in Perth, Ont., near Ottawa, usually hosts Canadian campers aged eight to 16 during the summer and winter months. But for two-and-a-half weeks every summer it is home to 20 Israeli youths, both Jewish and Palestinian teenagers.

“It’s the kind of thing that wouldn’t happen in Israel and wouldn’t happen outside a camp environment,” said Jenny Isaacs, director of Heart to Heart.

The campers come from northern Israel, all living fairly close to each other. However, due to the surge in violence, they have rarely had the opportunity to meet.

Campers get a unique experience of interacting with one another, something not always possible to do in Israel. They canoe, share tents and cabins and go on different camping trips. The group also shares songs and stories to learn about each other’s customs and culture.

An important aspect of the camp is the ability to foster dialogue between the Jewish and Palestinian teens. They get the chance to talk about politics and power dynamics at home in a safe place. They are also able to share their own daily hardships that they face at home and come up with possible solutions.

“I used to think they’re all bad, they all want us dead, they all hate us. When I got to meet them, stay with them in Canada for 22 days… it proved me wrong,” a Palestinian-Israeli camper said.

The camp is run by Heart to Heart, a partnership between the Givat Haviva Education Foundation in Israel and Hashomer Hatzair/Camp Shomria in Ontario. The partnership was founded in response to the structural inequity and racism prevalent in Israeli society, the organization says.

The goal of the camp is to help the teens see that they can peacefully coexist and form friendships which will hopefully improve relations. According to the Heart to Heart website, they understand that getting teens to foster relationships won’t fix all of the problems in Israel, but could be the start to a better future.

According to a Jewish-Israeli camper, he’s ready for the next step: “I’m ready to share it to everyone that there is hope and it’s not as hard as it looks.”

With a report by CTV’s John Vennavally-Rao