Since the start of the Palestinian violence almost two years ago, Samech Zakout, a 19-year-old Israel Arab from Ramle, said he has lost all of the Jewish friends he once had.
"They think Iím a terrorist," he lamented.
But Zakout said he has made three new Jewish friends at Open House since joining this community center six years ago that fosters Israeli Arab-Jewish relations. And Zakout said he hopes to make other Jewish friends through his music.
"I don’t blame the Jews, I blame the government," he said. "The government is making propaganda against my people and [the Jews] believe it."
But Yael Tikotsky, a 17-year-old Israeli Jew who has participated in Open House activities since she was 8, said one side is never solely at fault in the Arab-Jewish conflict.
"If one side attacks you, you have to attack back," she said. "I’m not saying it is right or wrong. Killing is wrong and occupation is wrong and terrorism is wrong. Both sides are to blame."
The two exchanged views last week during the final week of their 25-day trip to the United States sponsored by Friends of Open House. A total of 18 teens (an equal number of Israeli Jews and Arabs) made the trip after their parents vetoed a retreat for the group in Israel because of security concerns.
During a meeting with reporters, Raneen Yanaki, 16, an Israeli Arab who has taken part in Open House programs for the past 10 years, said the violence has caused many arguments between Arabs and Jews in Open House "but we didnít become enemies."
"The Jews were saying a lot of Palestinian terrorists were killing innocent Jews and we said your Israeli army goes into occupied areas and kills innocent people," she said. "It’s all the same."
Noam Shuster, 16, an Israeli Jews from the Jewish-Arab community of Neve Shalom, said the violence has galvanized both Jews and Arabs.
"It’s like after 9-11 here: each side got more patriotic," she explained.
"On Israeli Independence Day, [the community] sold two times the number of flags than last year. On every side, most of the people are becoming extreme and closing their minds."
Shuster, who said her views are a minority among Jews, said she believes the Israeli army is "making a new generation of terrorists" by its occupation. She said she is convinced that if Israel "does good, they [the Palestinians] will be good too."
Tikotsky said later that she is convinced "ending the occupation will not necessarily bring an end to terrorism. Terrorism is from terrorists who want revenge."
Rami Younis, 17, an Israeli Arab from Ramle, said Open House programs had introduced him to Jews who are "willing to live together" with Arabs.
"Sadly," he said, "they are not the majority. Israeli Jews don’t want to live with [Arabs]; they want to treat them as their pets."
Several of Israeli Arabs in the group, along with Open House’s cofounder, Michail Fanous, a Palestinian Christian educator, expressed resentment with the way their luggage was carefully checked by airport security in Israel. Fanous pointed out that he and other Arabs had a blue sticker affixed to their luggage and tickets, and that Jews got a white sticker.
"That treatment I hate," said Fanous. "Why did I have to have a blue sticker and Jews in the same group did not?"
But Tikotsky pointed out that her bags were also scanned.
"I don’t know if I blame them" for giving Arabs different color stickers, she added. "If they want to search my bag, I let them so I know there is no bomb that can blow us all up."
Zakout said he is convinced that "violence is not the way [for Arabs to achieve their goals]."
"I’m sure peace will come but it has to be promoted," he added.