Tag Archives: Boston Partners for Peace

Building a Coalition for Peace

Photo from one of Boston Partners for Peace's partner organizations, Roots-Shorashim-Judur

This week, a joint message from Executive Director Jeremy Burton and Director of Israel Engagement Eli Cohn-Postell:

In the two weeks since President Trump released his administration’s framework for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, reactions have exposed the pre-existing divides in our discourse about the region and about the way forward. This may be unintended, but it is certainly unsurprising, as a consequence of this latest round of attention to the conflict.

Here at JCRC, we did not wake up the morning after the plan was released wondering about our role in this complicated historical moment. For years, we have been helping to lift up grassroots peacebuilders through our Boston Partners for Peace initiative. Today we are going public with endorsements from a broad coalition of religious, political, and civic leaders throughout Massachusetts. This is the beginning of a new phase of our work to validate and support the inspirational work of Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders; building upon the multi-year investment by JCRC in engagement through travel by civic leaders to the region and programming here at home.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a complex and divisive issue. The information we receive through traditional media channels is limited, and often distorted. Many times, we find ourselves in difficult conversations with our non-Jewish partners about how we understand and sit with these multi-layered issues. These conversations also take place in challenging intracommunal discussions such as with our Council, representing a broad diversity of views within our community. We at JCRC sit at the center of this complexity, as people who are inspired by the Israel we know and love, and also not looking away from its imperfections and its challenges, including in its relationship with the Palestinians.

This public statement of support for grassroots peacebuilding gives credence to our approach to engaging with hope for the future of this region. With over 60 leaders (and counting!) lending their names in support of Boston Partners for Peace, we are hearing from elected officials from across the Commonwealth, rabbis of every denomination, a diverse group of Christian clergy members, and other civic leaders. The vast majority are alumni of our Study Tour program, which introduces Boston’s civic leadership to the intricacies of Israel and to Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders who are working to build trust and mutual recognition across real and metaphorical boundaries. As Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn put it when meeting with representatives from the Hand in Hand schools last fall, these interactions “make us a better city and a more effective city council.”

But, more than anything, this action speaks volumes about the work of Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders. They are following in the footsteps of Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, armed with the knowledge that building peace between individuals is a necessary condition for building peace between societies. Their jobs seem to get more difficult all the time. Yet they continue to serve as a common source of inspiration. In a time when many of us cannot agree on the future direction of Israel or our own role in this process, we can agree on this: Israelis and Palestinians coming together at the grassroots level provide us with hope, inspiration, and optimism about the future.

Through Boston Partners for Peace, we are now running regular programs and reaching hundreds of people here in Massachusetts. People from many communities are coming together to hear from peacebuilders and apply best practices from their efforts to our own challenges here in the United States. As our Boston Partners for Peace community continues to grow we look forward to placing down new markers like this one, indications that we are building a coalition of people coming together to say, “Yes—we support you, yes—we support peace, and yes—we want to take our next steps together.”

We invite you to join them in supporting Boston Partners for Peace and the work of peacebuilding.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy and Eli

Building a Shared Future in Israel

Givat Haviva International School in brings together Arab and Jewish students.

This week, we had the pleasure of hosting Mohammad Darawshe, Director of the Center for Equality and Shared Society of the Givat Haviva institute (a Boston Partners for Peace organization), here in Boston.

Mohammad’s story is not a particularly unusual one amongst Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, but the actions that come from his story need to become far more common. His family has lived in his village in the Galilee for 28 generations. He is an acute observer of the Palestinian Israeli experience. He usually begins his talk by describing the challenges that Arab citizens face in integrating into Israeli society. One key factor is the relationship between the Israeli government and its citizens; in this case the relationship between Israel as a Jewish state and its 20% non-Jewish minority. Mohammad’s contention is that Israel’s self-definition as a state for Jews – codified in last summer’s nation-state law – rather than a state of all its citizens, results in discrimination against him and his community.

The other piece of the puzzle has to do with relations between Israel’s Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. This is where Givat Haviva is laser-focused, running a variety of programs that aim to create equality and a shared future for Israeli Jews and Palestinians. We visit there regularly with our JCRC Israel Study Tours.

In one session this week, Mohammad was asked how social progress can really be made given the political obstacles to peace. He answered that while there is a certain aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that he will never be able to control, he is convinced that his work at Givat Haviva constitutes 90% of the solution.

This got us thinking: what if we spent more of our time learning about and emphasizing solutions, rather than fixating on problems beyond our control?

Mohammad tells us about a program that places Jewish teachers in Arab schools and vice versa. This program is designed to reduce racism among Israeli youth, and the results have been dramatic. Israeli researchers have found that roughly 60% of Jewish and Arab youth in Israel hold at least some racist tendencies toward the other. After only two years with a teacher from a different background, that rate drops to 10%. This program is currently running in about 1,200 of Israel’s 7,000 schools. This is what Mohammad would call an “island of success,” undeniable progress, but with much more work to be done.

“There is a pill against racism and that pill is the presence of ‘the Other’ in your life,” Mohammad tells us.

Givat Haviva is breaking down the separations that prevent productive conversations from taking place. Their team is working on creating better relationships between Jews and Palestinians as citizens of one country, while also working on achieving full equality for Palestinians at the same time.

Simply put, Mohammad is working for an Israel that fulfills the promise and aspiration of its own declaration of statehood, to be a “country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.”

Thinking about solutions 90% of the time is hard, but if we never hear about solutions, then we are only left with the seemingly insurmountable challenges.  And if, by focusing on a solutions-oriented approach toward solving the 90% of challenges, groups like Givat Haviva create the conditions on the ground that expand the possibility to address the other 10% (the political challenges), all the better.

At JCRC, and through Boston Partners for Peace, we are committed to changing the current dynamic by emphasizing grassroots peacebuilding work. There are aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that we cannot solve, nor is it our place to solve them. Instead, we make the choice to turn to and be inspired by Mohammad and the thousands like him working every day for a better future for Israelis and Palestinians.

We hope that you will join us in this work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Eli & Jeremy

Eli Cohn-Postell

Eli Cohn-Postell
Director of Israel Engagement

Jeremy Burton

Jeremy Burton
Executive Director

Israeli & Palestinian Women Leading the Charge for Peace

I spent last week in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Ramallah as a facilitator for Encounter, following my experience as a participant last year. This time, my role was to support other American Jewish leaders who were there to listen and learn from Palestinians about their lives and experiences. I also had the opportunity to spend a few days touring in Jerusalem, with the ground partners we work with on our civic leader study tours, exploring new (to us) ways to engage.

Three “moments” that I would not have imagined possible only a few years ago have stuck with me as I returned home. They feature extraordinary women representing vastly different communities, but pursuing common goals with relentless determination and unimaginable courage.

With JCRC’s ground partners on Mount Zion, just outside the Old City walls, at the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, I learn about current efforts by Palestinian Jerusalemite women (the vast majority of whom are not citizens of Israel) to organize and agitate for basic municipal services. Since they refuse to recognize Israeli sovereignty, this community has been engaging in a 50-year-long boycott of municipal elections. One result has been their lack of representation at City Hall, leading to, among other things, chronic problems with services like street-light repair and garbage pickup. For decades, these issues were taken up by the clan leaders, the men in their communities – to little effect. But in recent years, the women have taken matters into their own hands, organizing, and even building coalitions with Orthodox and secular women in Jewish communities of the city. Their efforts are bearing fruit, including increases in budgets for services that are improving the quality of life  in their communities. Women, we are told, are getting the job done.

In Geula, a Haredi neighborhood of Jerusalem – a place I knew well when I was a black-hat yeshiva student living in that city in the 1980’s – a Hasidic woman leads us on a professional walking tour. She tells us about her own journey from 18-year-old married mother to a later-in-life college degree and profession. She engages us in an open and profoundly candid conversation – one I would never have imagined having with a woman from this community even 10 years ago – about social change and social issues in her community; women’s health education including birth control, LGBT issues, debates over higher education, etc. My friend asks her if she will have any issues walking on the streets with obviously outsider men (let alone any man other than her husband). “Things are changing. My neighbors understand the importance of what I am doing. This corner is fine,” she replies.

Then in Bethlehem, now having joined the Encounter group, I meet a Muslim woman who is involved in Women Wage Peace – a group of Israeli and Palestinian women working through non-violent means to build grassroots pressure on the political leadership in support of peace. This woman (names are protected because not all the people I met were on the record) tells us about her own journey and her determined efforts to teach her neighbors and youth in her community to see The Other – the Israeli, the Jew – as fully human, and to appreciate the feelings they have, that are common to us all.

She has brought her teenage son with her to this meeting with American Jewish leaders. He sits quietly next to her. At one point, as she tells her story, she talks about the first intifada in the 1980’s, when she was in college and I was a post-high school yeshiva student just down the road in Jerusalem. She did what all her classmates did: threw stones at the Jews. Jews like me, a mile away, I think to myself. And, as she tells this story, she reaches out and gently places her left hand on her son’s knee; only for a moment, while talking about her own violent past. And she doesn’t touch him again for the hour we are together.

I feel the message in that moment and in this boy’s presence in the room: She’s telling this story as a mistake she prays he does not repeat. She’s brought him here to see that her choice, to pursue non-violence as a practice, is a better one, and one that opens up doors of access to her, that brings her voice and vision before us visitors. It is a choice that needs validation and support. And over our time in Palestinian areas, we hear other activists who practice non-violence tell us that they need “wins.” Victories to show their neighbors that their approach works, that violence is not the path to a better future.

I come away appreciating that change is possible and continuing to happen. But that change never happens on its own. It takes bold vision and profound courage. And it needs our support; to amplify the visibility of activists, to celebrate and give strength to those pursuing non-violent social change. I’m proud that Women Wage Peace is one of the initial participants in the Boston Partners for Peace, our effort to amplify and connect with changemakers on the ground who are bridging the Israeli and Palestinian communities and paving the way to a better future.

We can have an impact in supporting the future of this place that continues to evolve before our eyes – only if we take the time to listen, to learn, to be inspired. But we must also act now, for we know that this possibility can be fleeting, and nothing is guaranteed to last forever. The question I ask myself is: What will these neighborhoods and communities will look like in another ten years, and how can our community be a part of cementing their progress long into the future?

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy