Boys in the Jerash Palestinian refugee camp, 2011. Credit: Flickr/Omar Chatriwala. All rights reserved.
Sami Al Jundi, a Palestinian former militant-turned-peacemaker whose story I chronicle in The Hour of Sunlight, once boiled down for me his vision of a peaceful future in the Middle East: Israeli children will only know safety and security when Palestinian children’s rights and needs are secured; and Palestinian children will only know safety and security when Israeli children’s rights and needs are secured.
Today, it is children who are paying the highest price of the current horrifying violence. A report released on July 22 by OCHA, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, states that in the two previous days, one child was killed in Gaza every two hours—and that there have been more children killed in Gaza than militants.
On July 28, at least eight children in Gaza were killed when a playground was shelled. Entire extended families—children included—have been wiped out. According to Save the Children, one-third of those injured in Gaza are children and tens of thousands more have been displaced from their homes, or have lost homes that were damaged or destroyed. Children in Israel know fear and insecurity as rockets are fired from Gaza. Rockets, however crude and ineffective they may be, are nonetheless indiscriminately targeting population centers.
In the midst of this terrifying escalation, what hope is there that Sami’s vision will ever come to fruition? Who on the ground in Israel and Palestine is doing the work to dismantle the structures of violence, injustice, and oppression and replace them with structures of true equality; structures where every human life is accorded equal value and every child’s rights and needs and fears are given equal weight? It is only under these circumstances that we can begin to talk about a just and durable peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
The reality has never been so grim. And yet, in the midst of this darkness, there are Israelis and Palestinians who are working tirelessly for an end to bloodshed, and to all forms of violence—including the structural violence of the occupation/siege.
Below are just a handful of the organizations and initiatives that are building toward true peace—a peace that comes with dignity, security, equality, and respect for human rights for all Palestinians and Israelis.
Legal & Human Rights Organizations:
Adalah means justice in Arabic. The organization was co-founded in 1996 by Hassan Jabareen and Rina Rosenberg. Based in Haifa, in the north of Israel, Adalah works to defend and advocate for the human and legal rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel (who make up 20 percent of Israel’s population), as well as the rights of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories.
2. AL-HAQ (Ramallah)
Translated as the Law in English, Al-Haq was established by a group of Palestinian lawyers in 1979 in the West Bank city of Ramallah, becoming one of the first human rights organizations in the Arab world. Al-Haq documents human rights violations in the Occupied Territories and conducts research and studies on breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law. Al-Haq also works with Palestinian civil society organizations and governmental institutions to ensure that international human rights standards are embedded into Palestinian law and policies.
Al-Mezan seeks to promote respect and protection for all human rights as enshrined in international law for residents (women, men, and children) of the Gaza Strip. Through research, legal intervention, and advocacy, it works to build the individual and collective human rights of Palestinians—based on principles of equal human worth and equal respect of all human rights. It also works to build a society with self-determination, social justice, the rule of law, and enhanced democracy.
Hebrew for In the Image of, or Dignity, a group of Israeli academics, attorneys, and MPs founded B’tselem in 1989 during the height of the first intifada. Their goal was to document and educate the Israeli public about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among Israelis, and help create a human rights culture in Israel. B’tselem documents both specific human rights violations and systemic problems that impact human rights, as well as advocating for shifts in policy within the Israeli authorities. Simultaneously, they develop creative means of public education—including a pioneering video advocacy project.
5. THE FREEDOM THEATRE (Jenin Refugee Camp)
Co-founder Juliano Mer-Khamis (whose mother was an Israeli Jew and whose father was Palestinian) said, “My dream is that The Freedom Theatre will be the major force, cooperating with others, in generating a cultural resistance, carrying on its shoulders universal values of freedom and justice.” Juliano was assassinated by an as-yet-unidentified gunman outside the Freedom Theatre in April 2011, but his dream continues. Through theater classes, a professional drama school, filmmaking, photography, writing workshops, and more, The Freedom Theatre taps into the potential of art as a catalyst for resistance and social change.
6. JUST VISION (Jerusalem, Ramallah, New York, and Washington, DC)
Now celebrating its 10-year anniversary, Just Vision uses film, multimedia tools, graphic novels, and other forms of creative media to highlight the efforts and significance of Palestinian and Israeli activists who are nonviolently working to end the occupation and build a future of freedom, dignity, equality and human security. Their award-winning documentary films include My Neighborhood, Encounter Point, and Budrus (which was later adapted into an Arabic-language graphic novel.)
7. ACTIVE STILLS (Israel)
Active Stills was founded in 2005 by Israeli and international photojournalists on the premise that images have the power to shape public consciousness, raise awareness, and be a vehicle for social and political change. Active Stills sees itself as an integral part of the struggle against oppression, racism, and violations of the basic right to freedom. Photography subjects include the Palestinian popular struggle against the Israeli occupation, women’s rights, immigration, asylum-seekers, social justice struggles, the siege on Gaza, and more.
8. THE ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER (Beit Sahour and Jerusalem)
Focusing on the dissemination of information, political advocacy, and grassroots activism, the AIC is a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization. Founded in 1984, the AIC promotes justice, peace, and equality for Palestinians and Israelis through joint struggle to end the occupation, with an emphasis on securing Palestinians’ rights to self-determination and the return of refugees.
Launched in 2010 by a group of Israeli bloggers, journalists, and photographers, +972Mag is a blog-based web zine whose English-language reporting and analysis are based on a commitment to human rights, freedom of information, and the end of the occupation. In March 2014, +972Mag’s Hebrew sister site, Sikha Mekomit (translation: Local Call), was launched in partnership with Just Vision, seeking to shift the discourse inside Israeli society. Sikha Mekomit is run by a diverse group—including Jews, Palestinians, and LGBT, religious, and secular people—who all share a commitment to end the occupation, support human rights, and who hold a strong belief in free, uncensored, and honest journalism.
10. COMBATANTS FOR PEACE (Israel and Palestine)
Combatants for Peace was founded in 2005 by former Israeli soldiers and former Palestinian militants, who decided to put down their weapons and fight nonviolently for peace. Combatants for Peace believes that only through partnering together through nonviolent means will the bloodshed, settlement project, and overall occupation end. They seek to educate toward reconciliation and nonviolent struggle in both Palestinian and Israeli societies, and to pressure both authorities to terminate violence, end the occupation, and begin a constructive dialogue.
11. NEW PROFILE (Israel)
“New Profile” is a group of feminist women and men who are convinced that Israelis need not live in the militarized society the country has become. Their work includes providing information and support for youth grappling with the decision about whether to do their obligatory military service or become “refusniks,”; also, leading groups of youth who are examining moral and personal dilemmas related to army service, the treatment of women in society, the treatment of Arabs, the occupation, social and economic gaps in the country, and more.
12. THE PARENTS CIRCLE/FAMILY FORUM (Palestine and Israel)
The Parents Circle/Family Forum, founded in 1995, has described itself as the only group who hopes never to have another member. More than 600 families, all who have lost loved ones in the conflict, are part of the organization, and they work for reconciliation so that no more parents—Palestinian or Israeli—will feel the pain they have known.
13. BREAKING THE SILENCE (Israel)
Breaking the Silence is an organization comprised of former soldiers in the Israeli military who all served in the Occupied Territories and are trying to expose the Israeli public to the abuses they saw and participated directly in. By collecting and publishing testimonies of soldiers who served in places like Hebron (a unit of soldiers who served in Hebron began the initiative in 2004) and Gaza, Breaking the Silence wants to push Israeli society to face the brutal reality that its occupation has created.
Other Inspiring Organizations
There are many more important organizations and initiatives working toward peace with justice, dignity, and equality than there is space to profile here.
For example, Palestinian Youth Against Settlements based in Hebron seeks to use nonviolent popular struggle and civil disobedience to end the building and expansion of Israeli settlements on West Bank land.
Zochrot, an Israeli organization, seeks to mark and remember the Palestinian villages and locations that were destroyed during the creation of the state of Israel.
Physicians for Human Rights Israel works on issues related to medical access for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, unrecognized Bedouin villages in Israel, and prisoners and detainees, while the Gaza Community Mental Health Program works to enhance the capacity of Gazans in dealing with mental health problems (often arising out of exposure to extreme violence and trauma).
Economic justice initiatives include the nonviolent call put out in 2005 by a large swath of Palestinian civil society to boycott, divest from, and sanction the state of Israel until the occupation is fully ended, Palestinian refugees are allowed the right of return, and Palestinian citizens of Israel enjoy full equality. Israeli citizens supporting this campaign have launched a support group, Boycott From Within.
Similarly, Who Profits is a research center started in 2007 as a project of the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace, and is dedicated to exposing the commercial involvement of companies in the Israeli control over Palestinian (and Syrian) land.
Gisha, an Israeli nonprofit, works to protect freedom of movement for Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza facing conditions of ongoing siege.
Tent of Nations, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, instills in youth a deep connection to the land through which they nurture leadership and reconciliation.
The list goes on.
And yet, despite this multitude of organizations, the death toll (particularly in Gaza) continues to climb steeply. The trauma of the past month will take years to heal, if healing will ever be possible. Israelis calling to halt the attack on Gaza face more vehement threats and physical assaults than ever before. Palestinian and Israeli friends alike tell me they are experiencing a level of unprecedented despair. Hope is a scarce resource right now.
But it is precisely because hope is in such short supply that we must draw inspiration from—and offer support to—the organizations listed above.
As Sami pointed out, the safety and security that every Israeli and Palestinian child deserves to know can only come about if the rights and needs of every Palestinian and Israeli child are secured.
It is painfully clear that the Israeli and Palestinian authorities have no capacity or political will to provide their children with a future that is different from the present reality.
If there is to be any hope at all of achieving peace, then it will only grow from the efforts of these courageous initiatives that continue to promote nonviolence, equality, human rights, and human dignity in the midst of bombings, shelling, rocket fire, oppression, occupation and siege.
There is no other path forward.
This article first appeared in YES! Magazine and is re-published here with permission.