This week is central to both Christian and Jewish beliefs, with Holy Week for Christians culminating with Easter on Sunday and the start of Passover in the Jewish tradition. As part of the traditional Seder observance, Jews will ask “Why is this night different from all other nights.” This year, COVID-19 will give us cause to reflect on this question. As the world continues to spin around us at dizzying speed, we are finding new ways to connect across our common humanity. Heading into Passover, I am drawing inspiration from the Israelis and Palestinians we spoke to last week, and the lessons and values that are informing their work during the pandemic.
Last week, we welcomed Obadah from Zimam to discuss his work. Zimam is bringing Palestinians together from the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem to build a society united through respect, peace, and democracy. Obadah says that they are examining the political and cultural beliefs of Palestinians and challenging them to look from within when solving various social problems. Zimam is creating new tools to deal with their political challenges. Obadah described his frustrations with the Palestinian Authority leadership, and his lack of confidence in the democratic systems that exist in Palestine. They provide leadership training for young activists, work with local governments to place volunteers in leadership roles, and have created a base of young activists ready to challenge the status quo and resolve some of the underlying problems.
Zimam is rethinking their strategies due to COVID-19. Some of their programs—such as the leadership incubator—are able to move online. But they are also finding new ways to engage their leaders and support their community. They are developing social media strategies to promote a hopeful message while encouraging people to stay at home, which goes against cultural norms. They are thinking strategically, learning from others, and mapping a course to meet future challenges while meeting the needs of the current moment.
On Thursday, we were joined by Huda Aburaquob, the Regional Director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP). We have highlighted ALLMEP’s work before, they are a network of more than 120 organizations that are doing grassroots peacebuilding work in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan. Huda articulated a truth that has been clear to the peacebuilders for a long time: “This is a test of everything that tells us that we can’t be together as human beings.” Peacebuilding organizations are uniquely equipped to build human bridges across physical divides. Hopefully others in positions of power also come to see this truth as a result of the crisis and learn some valuable lessons from the peacebuilding community.
Huda also spoke about the values that are guiding ALLMEP’s members through the crisis. She describes their steadfastness, resistance, and inclination to use education as a tool of liberation. She described how ALLMEP members are coming together in new ways to solve common problems. Throughout her presentation, I kept thinking of the word resilience. These peacebuilders already define resilience—it is a necessary condition for their work. But the way they have responded to the current crisis is nothing short of inspiring.
The future is unclear, perhaps now more than ever. But that has not deterred the work of grassroots activists, who provide us with positive news despite overwhelming odds. Their stories are a welcome north star in a disorienting and confusing time. I’m looking forward to learning more next week with Dr. Yasmeen Abu Fraiha and the Inter-Agency Task Force. I hope you will join us, and happy holidays to those celebrating this week.