Over the past several weeks, we witnessed the outbreak of COVID-19 and its devastating effects on communities around the world. Most of us have connected with our neighbors and friends over shared feelings of uncertainty, fear, and sympathy for those affected. During this time of isolation, Boston Partners for Peace is offering ways to interact across oceans and take action. This week, we launched the Pathways to Peace Learning Series, an ongoing series of opportunities to connect and access stories from Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders that unite and inspire us.
In Israel, NGO’s are struggling to stay connected with the communities they serve, to bring divided societies together, and to sustain themselves while prevented from international travel, which is essential for their awareness building and fundraising. We aim to build bridges between the struggles in Israeli and Palestinian societies and residents of Greater Boston looking for ways to help. We started our series this past Tuesday, March 24 with a discussion with Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Noor A’Wad from Roots. Roots is the Israeli-Palestinian organization for non-violence and transformation that brings Israelis and Palestinian residents of the West Bank of all ages together for dialogue and other activities.
Hanan, a resident of an Israeli community in the West Bank, began the discussion by recognizing that Israelis and Palestinians live in divided societies, with separate governments, education systems, and citizenship. He described the heart of the problem as what he terms “the hubris of exclusivity,” meaning the belief the only “my” people can live in this land. He realized “without seeing the other side I’m living my life at the expense of the other side.” While he identifies as a Jewish Zionist settler connected to whole land of Israel, he accepts that Palestinians call the land Palestine and consider it their home too. Roots aims to propagate this new way of thinking in order to peacefully incorporate both sides into the sliver of land they both call home.
Noor continued the conversation by talking about his own journey of transformation, from believing Israelis were his enemies, to acknowledging them as human beings and ultimately his friends. When he joined Roots, he was surprised by Israelis’ willingness to recognize the Palestinians and empathy with their struggle. He feels a responsibility to help alleviate the conflict, and wants to promote political and social change in the region by acknowledging the other side. He believes this is the only way to fight stereotypes, racism, and violence. He spoke to us from Bethlehem, where due to the spread of COVID-19, he has been under lockdown since early March. He acknowledged that the Israeli and Palestinian authorities have worked together well to contain the outbreak thus far.
Roots is continuing to offer virtual programming for its participants, and Hanan believes that these gatherings are sometimes more intimate than in-person interaction. While we were sad that we could not host Roots in Boston this week, we did find intimacy and meaning in our virtual meeting yesterday. It was inspiring to hear about the resilience of Roots’ mission despite the current difficult circumstances in Israeli and Palestinian communities. Particularly since viruses know no borders, cooperation is needed now more than ever. I encourage you to learn more about their work, and that of other Israelis and Palestinians impacted by the current crisis. You can now register for our webinars next week with representatives from Zimam and the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP). We will continue to provide opportunities for learning and relationship building as long as this home-bound period continues, and encourage you to follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our weekly updates.