This weekend, many Jews will be listening to Yom Kippur sermons that make an appeal to support Israel. The organized Jewish community always has an impressive response to these requests. But, this year calls for something extra.
Many often wonder if there’s a way they can contribute not just to Israel, but also specifically to peace for Israel. Many question if it’s possible to have any impact on the conflict from so far away. For some, the bitterness and despair of the situation have kept them from connecting to Israel entirely.
Ten years ago, around this time of year, I watched raging violence between Israelis and Palestinians on television and asked myself some of these very questions. I cared deeply about the future of the people in the region. I wanted the most direct way possible to contribute to peace.
My answer came when I met an incredible group of Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and Jews who decided to take matters into their own hands. Rather than wait for the politicians to lead the way to peace, they came together as people – individuals and communities – to build real cooperation and partnerships on the ground.
They built joint schools, soccer programs, medical clinics, environmental clean-up projects, and business initiatives. They changed people’s lives by providing critical services. But, they also changed hearts and minds by making real, human connections to people on the “other side.”
Desperate for a way to feel like I was doing something for peace, I reached out to three organizations involved in this work. Though they faced similar challenges and opportunities, they didn’t know each other or collaborate. Worse, nobody else knew they existed. They were operating on shoe-string budgets. They had long waiting lists of individuals and communities they could serve if only they had more support.
We decided to bring a few leaders of these groups together in Washington, D.C. to talk about their work. They amazed each other and everyone they met. They felt strength in presenting a united message and felt empowered sharing their stories in Congress. Policymakers walked away inspired after learning that so much work was underway to build peace from the ground up.
To continue working together, we formed a non-profit coalition, the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP). Today, ALLMEP unites more than 80 leading NGOs. Now, they frequently work together, combining their strengths for even greater outcomes. They have spent the last couple decades learning how best to build cooperation and change attitudes. They have become experts in empowering individuals – not only to believe in peace, but also to act for it.
ALLMEP has shared these grassroots success stories with leaders and policymakers around the world, leading to more than $60 million in funding flowing directly to the grassroots and providing life-changing experiences for tens of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians.
Yet, we have so much still to do. The work of these incredible people-to-people peacebuilders is still largely unknown. Their daily-life impact on thousands of people is real. But, they need to engage many more to penetrate the silent majorities.
This year is their moment of greatest opportunity. This year, there is a peace process, with a short window of time to deliver results. To succeed, the peace process needs exactly what the people-to-people NGOs have to offer: public engagement and support.
Every day, these organizations prove the one thing that almost nobody believes: that peace is possible. It is not a fantasy. In ways big and small, they have made it a daily reality for thousands of Israelis and Palestinians, who already have tasted just a little of the win-win prospects of peace and cooperation.
For Americans who care about peace for Israel, this year is our moment of greatest opportunity, too. It doesn’t matter what your politics are. This is the time to step up and support the Israelis and Palestinians who are doing the true heavy lifting on the ground.
The grassroots peacebuilders need our help to scale up and dramatically extend their impact. Reaching critical mass requires coordination, leadership, outreach, and resources.
As they empower others, you can empower them. Spread the word of their inspiring work. Volunteer your time and expertise. Invest in their united coalition efforts. These are things each of us can do for peace at this special moment in time.
This year, when you reflect on your rabbi’s Yom Kippur appeal, know that whatever you do for Israel, you can also do something for peace. The Israelis and Palestinians are counting on us.