A just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine seems as illusory as a mirage in the desert, particularly since the recent outbreak of violence following expulsion of 40 Palestinian families from Sheik Jarrah in East Jerusalem to make room for Israeli settlements.
But despite the challenges, several civil society and faith-based organizations as well as individuals are determined to maintain their peacemaking efforts—and their vision of a viable peace with justice for both sides.
“It takes time, patience and ingenuity to build peace, but just a little stick of dynamite to blow it up,” Gabriella Goliger, the Ottawa-based National Chair of “Canadian Friends of Peace Now” (CFPN) told Convivium in an interview. “The reality is that it will take a long time, and extremists on both sides are unwilling to compromise but that doesn’t stop me from keeping up the effort.”
CFPN, the organization she chairs works with the like-minded group, “Peace Now” in Israel, and is committed to rebuilding a shared Jewish-Arab society based on a two-state solution, she explained.
“Our main job in Canada is to fund programs in Israel to build peace with justice for both Israelis and Palestinians,” she added.
Goliger’s work draws inspiration from her own family history of displacement. Her parents fled the Holocaust in Germany in the 1930s and moved to Palestine during the British mandate. (The state of Israel had not yet come into being a.) A published author, her novel “Eva Salomon’s War” is set in this period and is loosely based on her aunt’s experiences of being caught in the three-way struggle among Jews, Arabs and the British.
“It (peace work) is part of who I am, and part of my Jewish identity,” Goliger said.
“CFPN opposes the creation and expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and sees them as impediments to peace, undermining the two-state solution and Israel’s long-term security,” says a note on its website. “To this end we voice our views to government leaders, Members of Parliament and government officials. We also conduct briefings for Canada’s Department of Global Affairs and MPs to acquaint them better with the Israeli peace camp.”
Another organization that has stayed the course and is doggedly continuing to seek solutions against all odds is the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
“MCC’s current programme in Palestine and Israel includes education, peacebuilding, food security and livelihood initiatives,” James Alty, MCC’s co-representative for Jordan, Palestine and Israel told Convivium in an e-mail sent while he was on a flight back from to his hometown Winnipeg from East Jerusalem where he works.
Alty emphasized that MCC’s vision of a just and sustainable peace includes safety from attacks and human rights violations for both sides.
“Inequality undermines social trust and community life, corroding the Palestinian and Israeli societies as a whole,” he wrote.” The time is now for an honest effort to prioritize rights and human security that reaffirm Israeli rights to security and peace and to long neglected Palestinian rights, including freedom from violence, dispossession, discrimination and occupation.”
Asked to describe the current situation on the ground he responded: “An MCC peace partner in the West Bank is situated in one of the hottest places for demonstrations. Almost all activities against the Occupation occur in front of their premises. Tear gas, sound grenades, rubber bullets, sewage water and live ammunition are used against demonstrators.”
He added that State-sanctioned violence and pervasive structural oppression contribute to the ongoing enmity between the people of Palestine and Israel.
“The ongoing question that MCC’s peace partners grapple with is: ‘Is it fair to ask Palestinians to engage in peace dialogues while these violations are taking place?’”
Alty emphasized however, that MCC is undeterred by these obstacles.
“MCC and its partners are working toward the day when the words of the (Old Testament) prophet Micah are fulfilled and… ‘Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid’”, he said. “Micah’s words provide the hope and encouragement that under God’s rule, everyone will be free from tyranny and oppression.”
Rebekah (Bekah) Sears is the Policy Analyst and Government Relations Specialist at MCC Canada’s Peace and Justice Office in Ottawa.
“Currently we have 19 local partners in Israel and Palestine representing Christian, Jewish, Muslim and secular organizations,” she said in an interview. “Children are deeply affected by the violence, and we are very involved working with them after the ceasefire. We offer after-school programs, cultural training, media studies and confidence-building projects.”
She pointed out that while humanitarian relief and support for communities on the ground are an important part of MCC’s work, there is a strong political advocacy component as well.
She said MCC is calling on the Canadian government to take bold and decisive action to end the world’s most bitterly disputed territorial claims, with peace and justice for both parties.
“Canada is committed to international law, the rule of law and human rights,” Sears said. “Our government needs to speak out more actively on this issue and use our diplomatic channels to bring about a just peace,” she said.
She called upon the Canadian government to take concrete steps.
“Canada needs to stop selling arms to Israel if they are used against civilian populations, and also needs to add a human rights clause to its Free Trade Agreement with Israel,” she said, adding that we should not import products made in illegal settlements.”
Izzeldin Abuelaish is a Palestinian-Canadian medical doctor, a high-profile peace activist and author of the book “I Shall Not Hate.” He wrote this memoir two years after losing his three daughters and a niece in 2009 when Israeli tank fire destroyed his house in the Gaza Strip. He had been at work treating patients in an Israeli hospital at the time.
Born and raised in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Abuelaish was a peace activist even before this tragedy.
Currently a professor of global health at the University of Toronto, he continues his work for peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Arabs.
“Hatred and violence are threats to human health and global stability. As a medical doctor who researches public health as a tool for peace, I consider hatred a contagious disease and a health emergency of international concern,” he told Convivium in an interview. “Canada needs to play a more active role in bringing about peace with respect for human rights, equality, justice and freedom for all.”
Heal100Kids, is a humanitarian initiative that Abuelaish organized in 2018, to get 100 maimed and traumatised Palestinian children from Gaza to Canada for special medical aid and treatment.
“It’s time to say yes, Prime Minister Trudeau. It’s time to help ease the pain and suffering of only 100 Palestinian children,” he wrote then, appealing for support for Heal100.
Three years and many more traumatic incidents later, he reiterated his message.
Abuelaish is still waiting for a response.
Photo by Josh Appel at Unsplash.com
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