Wednesday, June 22, 2011

One small step for Peace-kind

The Peace Tent (Al Sa'adah) located in Rahat - the largest Bedouin city in Israel - was especially festive yesterday.

Colorful flags and flowers all around, tables filled with food and drinks. Hundreds of people from around the country, members of the international diplomatic corps, guests from the United States. All came to celebrate together with Vivian Silver and Amal Elsana Alh'jooj - for their joint receipt of the Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East, given out in conjunction with the IIE (International Institute of Education - )

Vivian and Amal are co-directors of NISPED - the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development  ( ) - an NGO that has worked for over a decade on joint programs that advocate for equality between Arabs and Jews within Israel - most notably between the Bedouin citizens of the State with Jewish-Israelis in the Negev region - and between Israelis and Palestinians. NISPED's programs are ground-breaking; Amal and Vivian's high energy levels, dedication, and long-term commitment are more than admirable. They are inspiring.

I worked for NISPED for three years in different capacities - in resource development and as a program director and organizer for Israeli-Palestinian peace projects. My experiences there, in that NGO, were different from any others that I had/have experienced. This is truly a joint Jewish-Arab organization in which one hears much more Arabic in the corridors and officies than Hebrew (another reason for me to be embarrased about my low level of Arabic knowledge, given that I had many opportuntities to practice...).

Everything is not always rosy at NISPED. During times of escalation of the conflict - for example during Operation Cast Lead/the Gaza War - tensions were very high and outbursts of anger and tears were not uncommon. However, the strength of NISPED is in their ability to face the issues, face the problems, face the conflict in a direct, yet facilitating manner. During the height of the war, Amal and Vivian called for a staff meeting, in order to bring us all together, to give us all the chance to say what was on our hearts, and to plan together how to move forward as a stronger, more commited organization.

Their plan worked. NISPED came out of that trauma stronger, more dedicated, more invested in not only continuing to deepen the interpersonal relationships between the Arabs and Jews who work there, but more importantly to further the social justice and peace work.

Yesterday, all of us who attended the wonderful celebration felt that we ALL had won the prize. That we ALL had gained recognition for our daily work. That we ALL had a reason to feel proud of what we do, and that what we do does not always go unnoticed or belittled.

Amal and Vivian received the Goldberg prize for peace, and there certainly are not two more deserving people than they. But all of us who came to share in their joy to that beautiful tent under a beautiful sky felt that it went beyond these two amazing women, and carried over to thousands of people working on the ground for a better day.


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