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Peace is possible in the hands of the people

  • peace
Politicians have the difficult task of sorting out the intricacies of the Middle East conflict and, hopefully, achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The reality on the ground is that ordinary people have found ways to connect with each other and show that peace is, in many ways, already happening.
by TALI FEINBERG | Apr 19, 2018

One of the most well-known of these initiatives is the Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF), an Israeli-Palestinian organisation comprising over 600 families, all of whom have lost a family member to the ongoing conflict.

A Palestinian woman shares how meeting a bereaved Israeli mother at a PCFF meeting helped her with her own grief: “When I arrived, I met an Israeli woman called Robi in the living room, and I immediately turned to leave. I didn’t want to meet her or talk to her, but then the woman got up and asked me to stay. She said she would like to hear the story of my son, Mahmoud.

“I sat down and began to tell her. When I showed her his photograph, she burst into tears. She later told me her story and the story of her son, who was killed by a young Palestinian man in 2002.

“After my meeting with Robi, I understood that our tears are the same tears. Our pain is the same pain. As mothers who lost their sons, we could share our emotions with each other.

“I later participated in a joint meeting of Palestinian and Israeli mothers who have lost their children. The atmosphere in the meeting was different, appeasing and honest. We talked about the suffering of both sides and we all agreed that the bloodshed must be stopped.”

Education is a powerful way to break down barriers. The School for Peace at Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam was established in 1979 as the first educational institution in Israel promoting large-scale change towards peace and more humane, egalitarian and just relations between Palestinians and Jews.

Most of its work is with adults, including Jewish and Palestinian professional groups, women and youths. Through workshops, training programmes and special projects, it develops participants’ awareness of the conflict and their role in it, enabling them to take responsibility to change the current relations between Jews and Palestinians.

After a youth programme, one Palestinian participant wrote: “I learned a lot about your past and your history. I identify with your pain and your suffering. I hope you can understand us and accept our perspective.”

Wrote another: “Until now, I knew Israelis only as soldiers at check points or in armoured vehicles. Now I know them as people with whom I can eat, talk, have coffee and work… this changes everything for me.”

They say that if it was left to the women, the world would be at peace. Women Wage Peace is a broad, politically non-affiliated movement which acts to prevent war and promote a non-violent, respectful and mutually accepted solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within a limited time.

The movement also organises national events, such as demonstrations and protests, to pressurise decision makers to work towards reaching a viable peace agreement.

Then there are those who are frustrated waiting for politicians to come to the table. These activists have sat down to write their own peace plans. In 2003, a group of experienced Middle East negotiators, politicians, retired army generals, intelligence officers and activists came together to draw up the Geneva Initiative (GI). Serving as a model for a permanent status agreement, it presents a comprehensive and unequivocal solution to all issues vital to ensuring the end of the conflict.

Adopting this agreement and implementing it would bring about a solution to the historical conflict, a new chapter in Israeli-Palestinian relations and, most importantly, the realisation of the national visions of both parties.

As part of the GI accord, the Palestinians recognise the right of the Jewish people to their own state and recognise the State of Israel as their national home.

The GI provides realistic and achievable solutions on all issues, based on previous official negotiations and international resolutions, including the Quartet Roadmap, the Clinton Parameters, the Bush Vision and the Arab Peace Initiative.

In addition to presenting a detailed blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace, the GI aims to bring that moment of peace closer by showing the way and preparing public opinion and leadership to accept the real compromises required to solve the conflict.

It has been endorsed by the US Senate and Congress, former British prime minister Tony Blair, former US president Bill Clinton and former US secretary of state Colin Powell, amongst others.

Finally, first-hand encounters are the basis of bridge-building, as described by American Rabbi Reuven Greenvald, who was recently in Israel on an Encounter trip: “Of all the powerful moments, from hopeful and inspiring to challenging and depressing, there was an unscripted experience in Ramallah that reinforced precisely why first-hand encounters with Palestinians living under Israeli military control on the other side of the Green Line are so important,” he writes.

“We had a chance to buy some local food. Eager to impress the store owner with the Arabic I have been learning, I asked him for lentil soup in Arabic. The unexpected response was just as delicious as the lemon-scented soup he ladled out: ‘Wait, you’re learning Arabic? I’m learning Hebrew!’

“Thereupon, he proudly pulled out his notebook to show me his Hebrew writing and his vocabulary and phrase lists. I told him about my similar notebook for Arabic, which I’d left on the bus. He asked me a question about Hebrew; I asked him to clarify something in Arabic. Our eyes met in a shared understanding about the promise of coexistence.”

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