Some time ago, a group of Palestinian and Jewish alumnae of women’s dialogue groups at the Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel (ICCI) came together to take the leap from words to deeds. After years of engaging in cross-communal dialogue, they felt it was time for collective action. This can be an incredibly tricky step to take, as united action requires agreement on both a message and a strategy. I began working with the group this October (2012), examining topics that were meaningful to them in order to find the right project for us to take on. As we were in the midst of discussing and exploring, something shocking happened…
Construction began on a six-lane highway right through the middle of Beit Safafa, a quiet neighborhood that is home to two Palestinian members of the group. Suddenly the complex, contemplative process we’d been engaged in felt like it had come to a close, and it was clear to everyone that it was time to dive in to raising awareness about this issue. The group used Facebook and their personal networks to facilitate an educational tour in Beit Safafa, which brought West Jerusalemites to the East Jerusalem neighborhood to learn about the topic and get mobilized to make a difference. It was a meaningful day, and brought the members of our group closer even as it united different communities in solidarity.
We had successfully used Facebook to bring people together for a live event. But one member of the group had a stroke of insight, and shared with the group that Facebook can now be a powerful tool for advocacy in other ways. A few weeks earlier, this she had spotted hateful graffiti near her home, and made dozens of calls to authorities to request its removal. It was only once she posted her complaint publicly on the municipality’s Facebook wall that she saw (immediate!) results. The group has taken this strategy and run with it. By posting on the Jerusalem Municipality’s and the Mayor’s Facebook walls, one small group can have a large impact. By “liking” and “sharing” one another’s’ posts, our group has learned how to make a stir and create critical public discourse on important issues.
Though we began by raising awareness about Highway 4 in Beit Safafa, the group is now working on a broader campaign to draw attention to inequalities in delivery of municipal services among Jerusalem residents in response to the Arnona map that the city sent out this year. They also hope to continue organizing educational excursions to raise awareness in their broader communities of issues around Jerusalem, and plan to continue using Facebook to amplify their actions.
It has been inspiring to watch this group find its direction, both online and in person. I have loved seeing how activism has not stopped the development of relationships, but rather deepened the pre-existing bonds we share. The group continues to share meaningful experiences, even as it works to make a change. I look forward to seeing how the participants continue to care for one another even as they work to have impact beyond themselves in the years to come.