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Ron Kronish
Ron Kronish
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Believe it or not: There is a peacebuilding community in Israel and Palestine

Dozens of organizations keep a flicker of hope burning, engaging out of the limelight in dialogue, advocacy and grassroots cooperative programs
Olive Branch in Jerusalem, a symbol of peace, courtesy of Ron Kronish
Olive Branch in Jerusalem, a symbol of peace, courtesy of Ron Kronish

I once gave a lecture at an international conference many years ago about the work that I and many others were doing for peace in Israel and Palestine. During the question-and-answer session, an archbishop from Mozambique raised his hand and said “I didn’t know that any one was working for peace in Israel or Palestine. I have never heard of this before.”

Over the years I have met many people like him. They have told me that they always hear about the wars, violence and counter-violence in Israel and Palestine. However, they have rarely read in their newspapers, or seen on their television screens, any information about the thousands of people who work for peace in our region, often below the radar and without much publicity.

Accordingly, I am writing this post to change this situation, to bring to the attention of my readers the fact that there is a peacebuilding community in Israel and Palestine.

What is meant by “peacebuilding”? And how is it different from “peacemaking”?

Peacemaking is the work of the politicians, diplomats, lawyers, international relations experts and others, whose goal is to develop peace agreements between governments, what are sometimes called “pieces of paper.”  These accords are achieved via negotiations, which can be very complex and time-consuming. When the negotiations succeed in reaching an accord, this is considered a major success of the political peace process.

Peacebuilding supplements the work of the diplomats and politicians. The goal of the peacebuilders is to promote peaceful relations between peoples and between individuals. Peacebuilders include many people in civil society—rabbis, priests, pastors, imams, kadis, social workers, youth workers, educators (formal and informal) and many more. Their methods are different than those of the politicians. Instead of formal negotiations, they engage in dialogue, advocacy and cooperative programs on the grassroots levels. Their goal is to achieve peaceful coexistence—the ability to live together in some form of social harmony—which is usually based on learning and coming to grips with each other’s narrative, both personal and collective.

Even though the peacebuilders don’t make the news very much—mostly because they don’t engage in violence and they avoid scandals, which is what mainstream media love—their work is growing from year to year. In fact, I would argue that in the absence of any political peace process with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian issue in recent years, the peacebuilding community is growing and beginning to have more impact in the region. Indeed, there are now 160 peacebuilding organizations doing amazing work in Israel and Palestine, and they have all gathered under the umbrella of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, known as ALLMEP.

ALLMEP is a coalition of all these organizations—and tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews—who are building people-to-people cooperation, coexistence, shared society, mutual understanding and peace in their communities. Founded in 2006 and headquartered in Washington, DC, ALLMEP envisions a situation in which Israelis and Palestinians will have built the trust necessary to live together with dignity, peace, and security.

During the last 15 years, ALLMEP has worked diligently and consistently to increase its members’ financial and human resources, and provide a global platform for their visibility. Their direct advocacy with members of the US Congress has created and sustained the USAID Conflict Management and Mitigation grants program, which has distributed over $100 million to Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations during the past ten years.

In addition, ALLMEP’s team in the region– led by their charismatic and energetic regional director, Huda Abuarquob – supports their many and diverse member organizations with a variety of programs and resources designed to scale their aggregated impact. Not too long ago, they held an amazing program in Jerusalem to honor some of their best storytellers– both Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs—who had powerful stories to tell and who presented them well. They are increasingly raising their voices loudly and clearly, thus keeping the vision of peaceful coexistence alive. They keep a flicker of hope burning during these dark and difficult times.

I write this at the end of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. This is the time when we light a candle of hope every night for eight days. As we do this, we remember the miracles that happened in ancient days and pray for miracles to happen again, in our time and with our help. This includes the possibility of a comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Although it seems unlikely at the moment, it is still a possibility. Indeed, we must continue to believe that peace is possible and keep this vision alive for both Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews alike.

Next week, The Alliance for Middle East Peace will keep the spirit of Hanukkah going by hosting their annual gala online which will be called Light the Way: A Global Celebration of the Peacebuilding Community.

It will take place on December 12 at 10am in California, 1pm on the East Coast of the USA, and 8pm in Jerusalem. The new American ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides, will offer remarks, as will Dr. Samantha Power, the Administrator of USAID. In a speech to peace activists here in the region in 2016, Dr. Power said:

You’re living at a time in which many voices in your world are telling you that even the simple act of meeting with the other side is dangerous, naïve, or disloyal. You have to continue to prove them wrong. No path has ever been built to peace without sides coming together to listen to one another. All of our faiths teach us that, as does our history.

I will be joining this global celebration of the peacebuilding community next week. Perhaps many of you will join in as well. I recommend it if you are looking for some hope and inspiration during this holiday season.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttlefield, in September 2017. He is currently working on a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine.
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