Among Palestinian & Israeli Activists, Working for Peace

By Dr. Paula Green, Karuna Center Founder & Senior Peacebuilding Advisor

September 29, 2017

For two and a half weeks this summer, I experienced the intense 100-degree dry heat of Israel and Palestine along with the intense seething, simmering, and boiling over of unresolved injustices manifesting in violence and desperation.  

I had two assignments here, first a workshop for Palestinians in the West Bank city of Ramallah and then a training program in nonviolence for Combatants for Peace, held this year in a village in Cyprus. In-between, I had transit days in Jerusalem.

In Ramallah, I had the empathy-building experience of crossing the checkpoints and observing the daily exhaustion and frustration for Palestinians as soldiers search their vehicles and belongings.

Our group, most of whom faced checkpoints every day for the workshop, was composed of educators, headmasters, social workers, lawyers, and other professionals from throughout the West Bank, gathered for four days to focus on skills and practices for increasing civil peace inside Palestine.

Karuna Center conducted the workshops in close partnership with Center for Applied Research in Education in Palestine. We translated portions of Peacebuilding in Divided Communities: Karuna Center’s Approach to Training into Arabic for the first time and left it with participants, because this kind of peacebuilding resource is rarely available in their area. We focused on key modules as the basis of our workshop over the course of four days: (1) Identity, Tolerance, and Diversity; (2) Communication and Dialogue Skills, (3) Understanding the Causes and Consequences of Conflict, and (4) Managing Conflict Successfully.

A major concern for participants, in addition to the daily fact of occupation and oppression, is the divides within the Palestinian population: Fatah and Hamas; Gaza and West Bank and East Jerusalem and inside Israel (which is 20% Palestinian); rich and poor, educated and not; city and village; refugees, the displaced, Muslim and Christian, and many other political factions and fragmentations.

They understand the strength in unity, and struggle to imagine how they can unite with the many obstacles and differences as well as the inability to access each other’s cities and regions due to walls and checkpoints. Within their professional reach, they especially want to improve education for females and to develop employment opportunities for young men, whose lives as adults cannot move forward without work.

I am impressed by the dignity with which they keep going and by their desire to attend yet another program in the hopes that they can contribute to the betterment of their community. I feel that we can offer very modest skills and practices in a short visit, but perhaps more importantly, we outsiders convey recognition, acknowledgement, visibility, and respect.

Ramallah, at sunset; the Palestinian group in Ramallah asked that we not publish their photos for reasons of privacy and security.

With Combatants for Peace, this was my fifth year of encounter with them through a program delivery. For the past two years, I have co-facilitated with an expert on nonviolent activism named Stellan Vinthagen, who is currently at UMass. The Cyprus village setting was a good locale for keeping everyone focused on task, as there was nowhere to go for distraction and our 20 Israeli and Palestinian members of CfP used the time well to continue building relationships, which they do against all odds and across vastly divergent life stories.

We engaged in role plays and simulations of nonviolence activities and their house-meeting recruiting events, watched clips of Standing Rock as a model of what another oppressed minority created, learned current and historical practices of active nonviolence, and taught some facilitation and group skills to launch members who will be offering their own training programs, which we will coach online and by Skype.

I brought in activists from the Turkish and Greek sides of the long-running Cypriot conflict to share experiences related to the Israeli-Palestinian situation such as right of return for refugees, housing claims and compensations, and creating a new state with equal rights and protections for two peoples with historic claims to the land. Cyprus is on the way; maybe someday that might happen in Israel and Palestine, but now it feels enflamed rather than en route to solution.

You can read about Combatants for Peace on and I highly recommend the professional film made about them: Disturbing the Peace. They are incredibly brave to turn their backs on the war rhetoric that exists in their communities and on the negative portrayals of each other in local and international media. They know that neither side is going away and that their land has seen far too much bloodshed. Their shared commitment is to build support on both sides of the divide for a nonviolent process that leads to a just peace.

Palestinian & Israeli members of Combatants for Peace at our workshop in Cyprus.

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