I spent most of the month of December travelling around the US fundraising for the Arava Institute. During those three weeks I met many friends and supporters of the Arava Institute who were discouraged by the ongoing violence between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. When I returned to Israel and held a series of meetings with our Israeli supporters I heard similar voices of despair of ever seeing an end to the violence and to the ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Throughout December, we have been witness to the continuation of the lone terrorist attacks by young Palestinians which began in October. December also revealed the ugly face of Jewish extremists. Then, on the first day of the New Year, a horrific attack on innocent civilians was carried out by an Israeli Arab in the heart of Tel Aviv. My youngest daughter was at her job when the attack took place, in a restaurant on the same street as the attack, just 3 blocks away. All of this violence and hate is adorned by a backdrop of a non-existent peace process and a lack of belief on either side that the other side can be trusted. From the onslaught of news about terrorism, tragedies, acts of incitement and provocation, it would be very easy to throw up ones hands and declare the Middle East a lost cause. “Let the next generation hope for peace, we are done!”
As dark as the current situation may seem, what we read and see in the media is not the whole story. There continues to be a vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East who want an end to the violence and who want security and a just peace for everyone in the region, even if we don’t all agree on what that entails. Everyday at the Arava Institute we encounter a different reality then the one we are confronted with in newspapers, radio and television. Of course, our stories don’t get as many hits as an online website describing the most recent bloody terrorist attack but our random acts of trust and cooperation are just as real. Here are a few recent encounters between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East that CNN and the New York Times may have missed:
- November 28th: Jordanian-Israeli youth workshop – 25 students from the Hevel Eilot regional high school met 25 Jordanian high school students for an environmental workshop in Jordan. The workshop was run by 4 Arava Institute students together with Arava Alumna, Rina Kedem
- December 2nd and 3rd: Tamara Rejwan and Shimri Negbi, staff members of the Institute, with the help of Jordanian Arava Institute alumni interviewed 16 Jordanian candidates for the spring 2016 semester.
- December 9th-10th: The Arava Institute sent 30 Palestinian, Israeli, Jordanian and international students on a two day Peace and Leadership Seminar trip to Jerusalem to hear and discuss the different narratives of the conflict.
- December 15th: The Arava Institute’s Center for Transboundary Water Management met with its Palestinian partners in the Build Israel Palestine project which is providing solutions to waste-water recycling on the West Bank.
- December 18th: A group of students of the Arava Institute which included Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and international students produced a short video called “Bubbles not Bullets” in the hope of offering an alternative message of peace between Jews and Arabs on social media networks.
- December 20th: A group of Arava Institute Alumni from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, the US, Europe and even Cairo and Turkey, held a conference call to talk about how to recruit more students to the Institute and to exchange ideas for the Arava Alumni Innovation Program.
- December 21st-22nd: The final meeting of a joint Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Portugal EU sponsored Transboundary Water Project was held. The meeting signified 4 years of ongoing cooperation between the Arava Institute and its partners.
- December 31st-Jan 1st: The Arava Institute held an open day interviewing a group of 14 candidates as it prepares to open its doors for the spring semester 2016 welcoming a new group of Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and international students.
I am under no illusion that a small non-governmental organization (NGO) like the Arava Institute is capable of bringing about peace in the Middle East. Peace must be made between governments by elected leaders. The role of the Arava Institute and other NGO’s trying to build bridges between the peoples in the region, is simply to show that peace is possible – if you want it. David Lehrer