Sometimes people ask us why we focus on grassroots initiatives. Aren’t there other ways of helping to bring about peace between Jews and Palestinians? The answer to this question is ‘yes, and.’ As in: yes, there are other ways that Jews and Palestinians are working toward a peaceful, more prosperous future. And, we focus on building from the bottom up because we’ve learned from our partners on the ground. We didn’t choose this strategy because we thought it would be effective, we made this decision based on what we heard from peacebuilders and leaders in the region.
I recently spent a week and a half in Israel meeting with many people who champion peace. I met with Mohammad Darawshe, Director of Shared Society at the Givat Haviva Institute. He is dismayed by recent trends in Israeli politics, but he is not letting that get in the way of his work. He spoke to me about bringing Arab and Jewish students together to share their narratives, and the work he does to bring Jewish teachers to Arab schools and vice versa. These projects have demonstrated remarkable results, including a dramatic decrease in rates of racism among both Jewish and Arab teens.
I spoke to the parent of a Jewish Israeli student who attends the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem. He told me about the way they integrate Jewish and Palestinian students and their families. Similar to the work being done at Givat Haviva, Hand in Hand schools are working to reshape the discourse of entire communities. Palestinian and Jewish families invite each other into their homes, share holidays, and create a new sense of identity; one that recognizes and celebrates the gifts of the other.
Perhaps my most moving visit was with Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin from the Parents Circle Families Forum. Both Robi and Bassam have lost children to the conflict, and the personal connection that has grown from that experience is incredible. Their energy was palpable, and through them I could see a slice of what true reconciliation looks like. We are looking forward to hosting a delegation from the Parents Circle in Boston this September.
What I found fascinating is that we heard about the significance of these efforts from such a broad swath of the people living in this area. I heard the same message from a prominent Palestinian journalist, from religious leaders such as Archbishop Elias Chacour and Bishop Munib Younan, from activists like Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, and from countless others. We created Boston Partners for Peace to amplify their voices and because we believe in the ability to bring change. Not because we think this is the best way for Jews and Palestinians to move forward, but because they tell us this is what they need.