Saturday, June 4, 2016

Paving the way for a lasting peace, people-to-people

Fatima Fettar,

9-Vfettar-fatima-withnameThe op-ed “A Palestinian ‘Voice for Peace’? Yes!” (May 13) by Terry and Carol Winograd detailed the nonviolent peace-building efforts of several Palestinian organizations, including some represented by Alliance for Middle East Peace, a coalition of Israeli and Palestinian groups. A letter in response, “Palestinian Voice for Peace is Judenrein” (May 20) by Larry Yelowitz, said, “Alliance for Middle East Peace includes some 80 member organizations, including ‘a number of highly biased and politicized NGOs that promote agendas based solely on the Palestinian narrative of victimization and completely omit Israeli perspectives’ (”

It is no secret that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is at a standstill. Despite billions of dollars spent over nearly half a century, the current sociopolitical reality makes any prospect of a meaningful and sustainable solution a slim one.

It is difficult to see where people-to-people work fits within this grim picture, and its mere mention often elicits responses ranging from confusion to frustration. For many in the policy world, this kind of on-the-ground peace-building conjures up images of children doing arts and crafts or people sharing hummus and falafel. These tropes are an injustice to the significant growth that this community has achieved in the last decade.

People-to-people peace-building describes hundreds of NGOs conducting grassroots work in the region, organizations that not only work in an increasingly difficult environment, but do so with limited resources and funding. The people-to-people movement works toward the equal integration and mutual humanization of Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians. This work is not just nice; it is necessary in a system that pushes for segregation on the basis of ethnicity.

In recent months, deep-seated fear and mistrust have been rekindled, making even the mere thought of peace seemingly impossible. Within Israel, Arabs and Jews have very few positive interactions with one another. Across the Green Line that separates Israel from the West Bank, Palestinians and Israelis have virtually no interaction with one another. The complete absence of trust or humanity for the other means that there is an enormous need for the work being done by the people-to-people movement.

In spite of all this, there is a lot of doubt surrounding this movement. This ranges from being considered superfluous to being considered anti-Israeli. As the coalition representing this movement, the Alliance for Middle East Peace believes that mutual acceptance, both political and social, is necessary in order for peace to occur. Our member organizations may have different views on what peace is, but they are all united in pursuit of it.

Organizations based in the West Bank make up a third of our membership. By sharing the Palestinian narrative, our Palestinian member organizations are not anti-Israeli by default. This simplistic dichotomy hinders the dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

The assumption that these organizations are negative actors is not only wrong; it is harmful to the only remaining chance at peace. These are not anti-peace organizations; they believe firmly that mutual understanding is the most effective way of building lasting peace. Through their work, thousands of lives have been affected and entire communities have begun to encounter one another, create relationships and build trust.

In spite of funding difficulties and mounting hostilities, these organizations are slowly and methodically working toward coexistence and eventual peace.

They work to systemically change the situation on the ground. They include a bilingual school system integrating Israeli Arab and Jewish children, an afterschool program for East and West Jerusalem kids, olive farmers creating a historic trade agreement, and research and advocacy organizations working within the Israeli political system.

The people-to-people movement is not perfect. Public diplomacy alone cannot create peace, but it must be an integral part of any potential solution.

Peace may not currently be feasible, but building a foundation today is necessary in order for a sustainable, equitable agreement tomorrow.

Fatima Fettar is the U.S. program officer at the Alliance for Middle East Peace and an alumna of the Elliott School in Washington, D.C., where she earned an M.A. in Middle East studies and conflict resolution. She holds a B.A. in Middle East studies and religious studies from the College of William and Mary.

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