While the politicians stumble on the stage mumbling worn-out wooden lines and the middle-east peace process itself is a stale sitcom stuck in endless re-runs, the real peace-making drama flourishes behind the scenes in a thriving production of peace. There is incredible energy and vitality in bottom-up, citizen-to-citizen peace-building. Countless organizations are dedicated to peace between Arabs and Jews throughout the world. No less important are the grass-roots dialogue groups that have sprung up in every major city throughout the United States nurtured by the spirit of compassion, tolerance and a desire to meet the other. These efforts need to be recognized and mobilized to attain the critical momentum necessary to transform the culture and create the stage for peace.
Among the many organizations, NGOs, non-profits devoted to peace and social justice it is well worth mentioning a few by name such as Shatil, which works toward social change in Israel, Sikkuy working toward equality between Jews and Arabs; Givat Haviva, educating toward peace and social solidarity; IPCRI a joint institution of Jews and Arabs working toward the resolution of the conflict; The Association for Community Development in Akko that supports the rights of all citizens of Akko, the most integrated city in Israel; and the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development – to name just a few in Israel. The mideastweb.org lists over 200 organizations devoted to peacebuilding, human-rights issues, social and economic cooperation interfaith groups, dialogue and coexistence groups and many more around the world. But not even they can list every grassroots dialogue group in the U.S. There are fewer of these in the Middle East simply because geographic access is often limited or restricted.
The array of these different organizations and groups has the potential of forming a matrix or the basis of a blueprint for cooperation and coexistence between Arabs and Jews. Without this citizen-to-citizen organizing a political peace treaty has no meaning and cannot be implemented. Thus, the encounters between Arabs and Jews in groups and organizations become a powerful platform for social change similar to that which was established in Northern Ireland in the years leading up to their peace agreement.
There is much to be learned from the peacebuilding efforts in Northern Ireland for the Middle East. In Ireland – similar to Israel – the number of civic groups engaged in contact work, human rights issues, cultural diversity, co-operation on social and economic issues, as well as political dialogue and mediation work increased significantly in the ten years leading up the peace agreement. As the number of these groups expanded¸ their work began to engage a wider spectrum of people, making it possible to develop a coalition of people and organizations devoted to understanding cooperation. Ultimately this generated a new breed of politicians who developed ways of thinking which significantly enriched the political mix of parties who were eventually able to sign the Belfast Agreement in 1998.” (Thanks to http://www.gppac.net/documents/pbp_f/part1/7_changi.htm for this information).
As the Irish example demonstrates, it is both organizations and people-to- people groups that are a vital link in the peace-building chain. Thus the grassroots Arab-Jewish dialogue groups that convene in living rooms and libraries and cafes in almost every major city in the United States and in so many of the minor ones deserve a closer look as they are the aperture, the threshold, the access point for touching hearts and changing minds in the quest for cultural transformation. The fact that some of these groups are formed at a geographic distance from the Middle East does not diminish their importance. In such an intertwined world, geographical distance loses much of its significance and the active Diasporas of both groups create networks that permit and encourage influence with their homelands. These groups are also easily accessible by any reader of this article who could find and join such a group or support one.
It has been said that for change to permeate society, it must occur on four levels: the meta, macro, meso and micro. The meta level is the overarching ideology; the macro is government; the meso are the organizations that work to effect change and the micro are the citizens themselves. In the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace, the contrast between the current stalemate of the macro-diplomacy and the vitality of the micro – or the citizen to citizen, people to people peacebuilding – is striking.