The Difference of Distance
Most peacebuilding programs take place near the site of conflict. This strategy makes sense as the proximity to home allows participants to take their lessons back to their communities. There is also the practical reality that many programs do not have the resources to physically move people elsewhere. Yet there is also power in creating connections outside of a conflict zone. Moving away from the immediacy of conflict allows people to let their guard down and create connections they otherwise may not.
For example, there was a story this week of two chefs in Vancouver who have become friends and are working together to promote co-existence through their shared passion for food. An Israeli Jew, Itamar Shani, and a Palestinian, Haitham El Khatib, are hosting a weekly “Taste of Coexistence” lunch at the University of British Columbia. Both have discussed the difficulty of connecting across differences at home because their communities exert pressure not to normalize relations with their so-called enemies. In Canada they do not face this pressure, which has allowed them to foster mutual respect and recognition of one another.
Some of our peacebuilding programs take place in the United States for similar reasons. Seeds of Peace runs a summer camp in Maine that brings together hundreds of teenagers from around the world to build connections with people they never could have met otherwise. According to their website, “this type of interaction is impossible at home, and Camp is the first time that [participants] are encountering and engaging peers from the ‘other side.’ Personal change begins here.” Instead of feeling the burden of representing an entire group in a conflict zone, Seeds of Peace has created an environment where people can relate to each other as individuals.
For some, staying close to home is the most effective way to build peace, while for others the only way to develop connections is to find distance from the conflict. There is no right way to build peace. We must support human connection and recognition wherever those opportunities exist, and we will continue to bring you these stories of hope wherever we find them.