In recent weeks, there has been an uptick in violence between Palestinians and the Israel Defense Forces –and settlers–in the West Bank . There is even talk and political pressure from the far right of the current right-wing Israeli government to launch a military campaign in the Northern West Bank, a drastic move which would only lead to more violence and counter-violence.
Will this violence ever end? Will we ever return to the pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians in our region? Is the issue of peace completely off the agenda?
You might think from reading the mainstream media that no one in Israel or Palestine cares about peace anymore, that it is no longer an acceptable or relevant word in our region, that that everyone has fallen prey to despair, that there is no hope for peace any more among the people.
If so, you would have been proved completely wrong if you attended, as I did, the UNITE THE FIELD Day a few weeks ago at the Jerusalem YMCA on June 5th (coincidentally the 56th anniversary of the Six Day War of 1967 and the consequent military occupation of the West Bank) with over 600 peacebuilders from Israel and Palestine. The event was sponsored by ALLMEP, the Alliance for Middle East Peace. It was an informative and inspiring day, which restored my faith in the peacebuilding community in Jerusalem.
ALLMEP is the largest and fastest growing network of Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders, representing 160+ organizations and tens of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and Jews, committed to people-to-people work and a more peaceful and just reality for all people in the region.
The day opened with a keynote speech from UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, who saluted the peacebuilding community and urged it to cooperate with the diplomatic community in advancing peace. Ambassador to Israel from the United States Tom Nides also gave a brief talk, complimenting all the peacebuilders in the packed auditorium for all the important work that they do on a daily basis in the grass roots.
Over 100 organizations which are affiliated with ALLMEP were represented at the conference, demonstrating the wide array of peacebuilding activities in this growing network. From technology to environment, entrepreneurship to sports, dialogue to religion, public advocacy and more, these organizations are pioneering and innovating at the forefront of peacebuilding between Israelis and Palestinians.
What do we mean when we use the term “peacebuilders”?
Peacebuilders are the people in civil society in Israel and Palestine who promote peaceful relations and mutual understanding between people and engage in cooperative programs and projects for the benefit of the members of both peoples. They act in a wide variety of non-profit organizations, some of which are uni-national and some are bi-national. All of them believe that peace is ultimately possible and that they are sowing the seeds for peace in their work.
In contrast, the “peacemakers” are the politicians, diplomats, lawyers and international relations experts who are meant to work on the political peace process, the one that is meant to secure peace accords between governments, as was done in the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. Unfortunately, the current political leaders on both sides have put the political peace process in the deep freeze, in the back of the freezer. There have been no political negotiations for peace between our governments for a long time, and none are currently on the agenda or on the horizon.
While this may sound depressing, it actually makes the work of the peacebuilders more important. As I have argued in my latest book, Profiles in Peace: Voices of Peacebuilders in the Midst of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2022), the peacebuilders are currently the only game in town! They are out there in the field every day, promoting peace in many innovative and informative ways. As the situation on the ground gets more difficult every day, they are finding ways and means of becoming creative.
If you don’t believe me, listen to the stories of young peacebuilders that can be found at on the ALLMEP website. https://www.stories.allmep.org/home#:~:text=Mid%20East%20Storytellers%20was%20created,equality%2C%20liberty%2C%20and%20security. These young men and women have vital stories to tell, and they are doing so with pride and commitment to their ongoing work for peace.
Or, while you are on their website, read about the member organizations that are affiliating with this growing movement in our region. You will find the messages and methods of most of these organizations to be important and inspirational.
In contrast to the conventional wisdom in our region, which postulates that peace is not important, these groups say that peace will be beneficial for both peoples who are struggling to find a way to co-exist in the same land that they share. Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are going anywhere. Both peoples are here to stay and need to find a way to live together.
As opposed to despair, these groups are offering hope. As opposed to apathy, they provide ways and means for meaningful activism. In contrast to disappearing, these groups, and the movement that they are part and parcel of, are growing and expanding from year to year.
In short, there are still people in Israel and Palestine that care about peace! This is a very positive and promising development, one that merits more attention by our mainstream media and by people of good will everywhere who care about a better future for both peoples in this this very special land.