Kenneth Gudel, a high school junior from Carmel Valley, attended a two-week program in Chicago on co-existence in the Middle East.
He was one of 42 Israeli, Palestinian and American students participating in Hands of Peace, a dialogue-based program that helps teenagers from all sides try to understand the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Kenneth participated in the program with his Pacific Ridge School history and diplomacy teacher Scott Silk, who has been a part of Hands of Peace for five years.
Silk said the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one of the most serious and difficult conflicts anywhere in the world.
"The goal is not to change minds but just try to make both sides of the issue see each other's humanity," Silk said.
Kenneth said he didn't know what to expect when he went to Chicago. He knew the bare bones facts about the conflict and not much else.
"What I really took away from Hands of Peace were the stories, putting human faces on the sides so it wasn't just Palestine and Israel, it was Adi and Talia," Kenneth said.
Kenneth said he learned intense stories, like Dan's, who regularly has to flee into bomb shelters.
He learned that Talia watched a bomb go off in an Israeli restaurant she was just minutes away from eating in and that Fatima's mother dragged her out of a window just before bullets riddled their home. He said one student saw his uncle shot to death right in front of him.
"You feel their pain and start to understand, both sides feel this pain," Kenneth said. "It's not just a one-sided conflict."
Pacific Ridge students watched a video of what the conference represents and nothing expressed the point more than the words of one Palestinian participant.
"I wasn't friendly with Israelis before, but it all changed when I was asked to feel the heart of an Israeli participant," said Razan Makhlouf. "And her heart was beating just like mine."
Kenneth said he keeps in touch with his new Middle Eastern friends through facebook and e-mail. Silk said he hopes to send two Pacific Ridge representatives next year.
"It may not make a huge difference or it might," said Bev Lavitt, Hands of Peace advisory board member in the video. "But every little bit helps."