Ella Issacharoff knew exactly why she joined more than 100 people in Annapolis yesterday at an international and interfaith rally for peace.
"I want to represent the kids of Israel, and we would like peace with the Palestinian children," said Ella, 12, an Israeli who now lives in Bethesda. "That way, when we grow up, we can be friends, and hopefully one day the Palestinians will have their own independent nation, and we can stand side by side as friends."
Ella, whose father is an Israeli diplomat, lived in Israel for more than half her life. She said she remembers clearly the day a bomb exploded in a cafe near where a classmate lived in Jerusalem.
"She said that the windows popped," recalled Ella of the classmate, who at the time was also in the fourth grade. "I was scared for her."
Her fears and dreams were echoed by many of those who gathered yesterday at the World War II Memorial overlooking the Naval Academy to talk and pray on the eve of tomorrow's Middle East conference in Annapolis.
The high-stakes gathering, to be held at the academy, comes at a time when suicide bombings, assassinations and other forms of violence in the Middle East are rampant.
President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will formally open the proceedings with a dinner in Washington tonight in hopes of launching new Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that could resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict that has fueled violence for decades.
The negotiations will center on an agreement over how to share Jerusalem, redraw Israeli-Palestinian borders, handle Palestinian demands for ancestral lands inside Israel and establish security guarantees for both sides.
"Failure is not an option," Rice has said in recent weeks.
Those at yesterday's rally couldn't agree more.
"We all know peace is an extremely expensive commodity, and unfortunately you can't buy it," said Imam Mohamed Arafa, president of the Islamic Society of Annapolis. "You have to make it. If you want to live in peace, make peace; commit yourself to living in peace. We can do it."
Rabbi Ari Goldstein of Annapolis Temple Beth Shalom, said the idea for the rally came to him because he wanted to mark such a significant event occurring in his synagogue's city.
"The rally is about a vision to make sure that the children of the people involved in the peace negotiations will live in freedom and safety and peace - that there's not an atmosphere of bomb shelters," he said in an earlier interview.
Nonie Darwish, the author of Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror, was raised as a Muslim in Gaza and Cairo, and told the crowd that she was taught vengeance, hatred and retaliation toward Israel in school as a child.
"They filled our hearts with fear of Jews that made hatred come easy and terrorism acceptable," she said. "It's time now to put peace as the Number One. Arab children should never learn hatred toward any other race. We Arabs need to revise our values, priorities and biases."
Lea Harb, a native of Lebanon and founder and director of WomenUnited.org, an organization devoted to working for peace and countering repression of women in the Middle East, said much of the Arab and Muslim world has used hatred of Israel to distract attention from other issues.
"It is time to replace a culture of hate with a culture of hope," she said. "Too many people have been killed on all sides."
Judylee Meade of Arnold, a Methodist who heard about the rally at an ecumenical Thanksgiving service, was intrigued with the notion of multiple faiths coming together to celebrate peace.
"I think it will just be a beginning," she said of the peace talks. "The contentiousness has gone on for eons. We just have to pray."
Ella, whose father will be at the peace talks tomorrow, is optimistic.
"This meeting, if it goes well, can change what other countries think about Israel," she said. "They could understand Israel, and we could understand them. We could talk things out quietly."