The Fairhaven Project is a public-private partnership between the U.S. Department of State and the Northeast Maritime Institute (NMI) of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. The 2008 program brought six Israeli and Palestinian students to Fairhaven for three weeks to live and work as crew aboard the 74-foot tall ship S/V Fritha. In 2009, twelve students are expected to be selected for an expanded five-week program that will provide them with special certification as Able Bodied Seaman. Part vocational training, part conflict resolution, part team building, the project brings together individuals who first consider themselves enemies, but later accept each other as friends. Student selection is based on leadership, maturity, and having been touched by the violence around them. The structured curriculum includes elements of oceanography, ecology and maritime science. A video is produced to stimulate student discussions in the Middle East and other conflicted regions.
In August 2008, three Israeli and three Palestinian 17-year-old male and female students participated in the inaugural session in Fairhaven. During the program, the six students learned to sail the S/V Fritha, and were introduced to topics such as GPS navigation and navigational chart reading, oceanography, port operations, marine ecology and biology. They sailed to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where they met with oceanographers and other scientists to discuss their research. They also participated in cultural activities and visits such as the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. Structured discussions enabled the students to express their feelings about the situation in their homeland, and there was plenty of quiet time aboard the vessel for them to contemplate and talk among themselves about how to improve the prospects for peace. The students lived and worked aboard the vessel, planned and cooked their own meals (keeping in mind the dietary requirements of each member of the crew), and learned vital lessons about equality and teamwork. At the conclusion of the program, the students sailed overnight from Nantucket Island to New Bedford, Massachusetts, but their true final exam came in the form of understanding. Each student returned with a greater appreciation of the perspective of the other members of the crew, and barriers were broken down.
Among the collaborative activities undertaken by the six was the designing of a burgee, or maritime flag, that later flew on S/V Fritha to represent the program.
Through an internet-based social network, the six students from the 2008 program are continuing their dialogue. The students also meet in person to discuss how to advance the program’s goals at home. One Palestinian expressed interest in attending college in the United States, and arrangements to make that happen are underway.
An important, enduring component of the program is the 30-minute documentary video of the 2008 Fairhaven Project that is currently in final production. It will be used by U.S. Embassies and Consulates in the Middle East and other regions of conflict to stimulate student discussions and extend this message of equality and understanding to a larger audience. A second documentary will be produced covering the 2009 program.
Plans for 2009 include: bringing the first set of students back to serve as mentors for a new set of six students from the region; bringing students from Gaza; adding additional formal training leading to officially-recognized certification as Able Bodied Seaman to support a future port in Gaza; inclusion of American students; and, engagement with U.S. universities for possible onward placement. It is possible that in the future other groups from around the Middle East will be added to the program.
The program brought the Arab-Israeli conflict to a very human level and, in the end, even the most conservative members of the group understood the perspective of the “other side,” and a constructive dialogue of how to bring peace to the region was established. The students also returned home with an alternative vision of the United States. The transformative nature of this program advances the cause of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and provides impressionable youths in the region an alternative path to peace. The program was funded, in part, through grants from the Richard Lounsbery Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.