Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eric Dawicki; One Man Commitment to Reconciliation of Palestinians and Israelis.

Thanks to our mutual friend, Norman Lemley I was able to meet with Eric Dawicki head of Northeast Maritime Institute. I have known Eric for a number of years and very happy and proud to say he is a good friend of mine. However in the years I have known him, I never knew his commitment to peace and reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis. This is one man with no personal, political or economic interest in the area. However it is very clear his moral courage and his commitment to peace and reconciliations is something I never expected. Very few men have the courage to take on such difficult task, and Eric is funding the project from his own money. He is doing more than what many Palestinian businessmen have done and he is doing what many well funded organizations tried to do. To my good friend Eric, I say thank you for all of the Palestinians and Israelis and many of the Arabs and Jews around the world who are committed to peace and reconciliation. Many thanks again.

From Eric

Palestinian, Israeli Students Team Up to Become Sailing Crew
Students learning to cooperate on chores and how to live in close quarters

Six Palestinian and Israeli 17-year-olds are learning to work as a team aboard the sailing vessel Fritha.

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Fairhaven, Massachusetts — For six Israeli and Palestinian 17-year-olds, life on a swaying vessel off the Massachusetts coast offers a unique opportunity to interact and learn how to live and work together. On Fritha, a 22-meter sailing vessel, they spend three weeks cooking and cleaning for each other, putting political divisions aside for the more immediate task of keeping the boat clean and in smooth operation.

“It’s an exciting opportunity. We’re seeing successes and what a ship provides for individuals,” says Eric Dawicki, president of the Northeast Maritime Institute in Fairhaven, which is hosting the program with logistical help from the State Department.

Dawicki, who has spent much of his life on and around boats, including service in the U.S. Coast Guard, said the idea of the program came to him after hearing a Palestinian colleague discuss the Middle East conflict and the need for better ways to promote integrated conflict resolution. “The solution is a ship,” Dawicki told him.

He explained the “three-watch system” in which teams divide up the chores on the ship — ranging from cooking the meals, picking up trash to cleaning the toilets and washing the deck — requires close coordination and cooperation, and there is very little privacy.

“My experience from going to sea has been that the worst of enemies, personal enemies, have become the best of friends just based on that watch system, that watch rotation. So there’s no ability to venture off. They really have to learn how to work together,” he said.

To fully integrate the crew of 17-year olds, Israelis and Palestinians of different genders paired off into three teams.

Palestinian Gabi said he and his Israeli partner, Tal, must work together as one. “Each one has a job and each one has to help each other in doing that job,” he said. So far, communication has been good between him and his Israeli peers.

“We don’t care for the conflicts and these things. We just hang out with each other and like that,” he said.

Tal says the daily chores are not exactly “fun,” but “I don’t feel like there is a difference between doing things here on a team or at home with my friends.”

“We live on a boat!” she said. “Here you really get to control this thing. … It’s different. It’s amazing.”

Eric Dawicki and the State Department’s Bob Senseney show off the program’s flag, designed by the students.


At the conclusion of the program, the six students will have learned enough to be able to work on similar sized ships as deckhands or support staff. Dawicki says that after their introduction to topics such as oceanography, sailing, port operations, marine ecology and biology, they can start seeing the maritime industry as the source of career opportunities.

He also hopes they will consider returning next year to serve as counselors for the next group of students.

“These kids are the pioneers of the project, yet we want them to be support staff as well into the future … even if only two or three are able to do that,” he said.

The six already have left their mark on the future of the program by collectively designing the burgee, or maritime flag, that will fly on Fritha to represent the program.

Palestinian Nathalie said everyone came up with his or her own idea for the flag and presented it to the group. “In the end we mixed all the ideas into one idea, and so we made the flag,” she said. Dawicki said this was one of the first exercises in getting the students to communicate and compromise with each other.

As a group, the six plan what they will eat, negotiating dietary restrictions, allergies and food preferences, and then the team charged with making the meal does the work.

Elizabeth MacWhirter, from Maryland, usually drives the students around to stores and museums, plans their daily schedules and makes the necessary reservations. She said the six are becoming closer, not only due to boat life, but also from their shared tastes in pop culture and the desire for American fast food.

“It started out when we would get in the car [and] it would be three and three, but now they’re completely comfortable there, which is nice, and they’ll speak English to each other. And we’ll listen to the pop music really loud — all of them want it really loud — and then we’ll sing together,” she said.

Dawicki says so far the program has gone “fantastically well,” but he has noticed the Israeli kids are more used to the freedom and self-expression than their Palestinian peers. One of the greatest moments came, he said, when a normally shy and withdrawn Palestinian girl took a ride on a racing vessel and soon found herself smiling from ear to ear.

“You just knew that was the moment where she caught the bug — where she just felt free,” he said. Witnessing her expression, “you get the lump in the throat and the tears in the eyes and I thought, wow, this is just a fantastic moment, and that was just a transition.”

A guided video tour of the Fritha is available on YouTube. More photos taken on and around the Fritha by this article’s author are posted on Zoomr.

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