This is the first in a series of online features by Janine Chow ’15 regarding a variety of organizations promoting dialogue and peace in the Israel-Palestine Conflict.
By Janine Chow
We called ourselves “the Silk Three,” after the teacher who first introduced us to study of peace, and we were a triumvirate to be reckoned with. Kenneth was our orator, a Jewish atheist, and intellectual—David our networker, a Christian Buddhist, and student activist—and I was our writer, a Deist, an immovable romantic. Formed by friendship and bound by belief in conflict resolution, we took our first trip to Israel and the West Bank in 2010 to understand the conflict and ultimately learned more about peace. This year, we went back to study peace and learned more about conflict.
During our first trip to Israel and the West Bank, we were younger — three eager American high schoolers looking to learn about the conflict in Israel on a more human level. At the time, what we found only inflated our ideals. We travelled around the country, from Jerusalem to Haifa to Tel Aviv, stopping at kibbutzes and villages (and checkpoints), trying to talk to everyone we humanly could. Though we came to learn about the conflict, we ultimately leared more about peace. Everywhere, we encountered friendship, amity, goodwill, passion. A boy introduced himself: “I love peace.” IDF soldiers smiled at us. Arabs and Jews alike praised our interest. Just outside Jaffa Gate, we sang in a group of Israelis, Palestinians,and Americans. A little ways into the West Bank, we catalyzed communication between a neighboring kibbutz and Arab village for the first time in a century. People, in short, loved each other far more than we’d ever expected. And having spent the entirety of 12 whirlwind days doing nothing but talking, we found a star to follow in the act of dialogue. We came home and travelled around our city, talking of peace through human connections.
Last summer, despite being three years older, we returned to Israel essentially the same three idealists. Three weeks later, however, we had grown and learned a great deal. I gained, as I wrote in postcards home, “a lot of cynicism and a dash of hope.”
We worked primarily with five organizations and two schools: The Sulha Peace Project, Hands of Peace, the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, Heartbeat, MEET, the Jerusalem YMCA Preschool, and Hand in Hand School. As soon as we could, we rushed back into the open arms of the Sulha Peace Project, a dialogue program founded during the Second Intifada that had bloomed and flourished, but was now witnessing decline. There, we met and interviewed old friends and new. Never again during our sojourn in Israel would we witness such passion for dialogue and coexistence. And yet we found, then, that only those with such fervor would join a project aimed exclusively at difficult dialogue and peacemaking. It only appealed to the already convinced.
This revelation came as a massive blow to our ideals of peacemaking. But other groups proved surprising. Purely by chance, we met a friend of a friend who belonged to the MIT technology collaborative for high school students in Jerusalem, a program known as MEET. Our interviewee differed sharply from the other dialogue program participants in that his family did not fully support his going to the program because of the interaction it would require with the so-called “other.” We found, however, that the allure of math, science, and technology won over parental and perhaps personal reservations with the social aspect of the program. And the subject’s family became more tolerant after witnessing friendships that had developed between their child and those of “the other.”
A similar trend emerged with two musical groups with which we worked, the Jerusalem Youth Chorus and Heartbeat. These groups provided a forum for meeting and interacting in a more organic fashion than forced dialogue, and demonstrably created an intimate community. The Jerusalem Youth Chorus combined organic and formal interaction with an hour of dialogue sandwiched between two hours of singing, a technique that we found to be an effective vehicle for interaction and tolerance-building among our interviewees.
Our most complex finding came from the Chicago-based group Hands of Peace, the organization that was responsible for originally introducing us to conflict resolution and peacemaking. As a group based mostly on pure dialogue, it drew primarily from liberal or left-wing pools—yet its saving grace seemed to be the extra appeal of travelling to America. Many of our interviewees admitted they would not have joined the program were it not for the heavily subsidized chance to explore another country. Indeed, Hands of Peace participants often eventually broke ties with friends among the “other,” due to the social pressures in their daily lives.
Sometimes effective peacemaking emerges from the most unexpected quarters.
In the articles to come, I will present our findings with each of the groups we worked with—what works and what does not in the current on-the-ground peacebuilding process. First up: The Sulha Peace Project.
Janine Chow’15 is an english major in Jonathan Edwards College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .