I was fortunate enough to travel through Israel last month, and the group I was with attempted to avoid behaving like the oblivious tourists in the Yehuda Amichai poem. One of our many stops was to an organization attempting to overcome the distrust and violence that has plagued this land for centuries.
Roots/Shorashim/Judur (the English/Hebrew/Arabic names for the organization) is a group of Israeli and Palestinian citizens in the West Bank. The organization’s goals include working together on community projects, resolving disputes among their neighbors, and fostering dialog between communities that have had little contact with one another. They don’t have a political agenda, unless you consider peaceful cooperation a policy platform… and if that’s what you choose to believe, you should get over your cynicism and support their cause.
As our group listened to two young men, one Jewish and the other Arab, two realities became apparent:
- They fully realize that a millenium of fear and hatred will not be easily overcome
- They are taking responsibility to break the cycle of violence in their land
Here’s how the group’s web site describes their mission:
Based on a mutual recognition of each People’s connection to the Land, we are developing understanding and solidarity despite our ideological differences. Roots is a place where local peoples can take responsibility. Our work is aimed at challenging the assumptions our communities hold about each other, building trust and creating a new discourse around the conflict in our respective societies. This is a grassroots and local model for making change — from the bottom up.
Perhaps I’m being naive, but I believe that if peace is ever to come to the Middle East, grassroots efforts such as these will have to be more effective than treaties negotiated by politicians in faraway lands. A century of drawing lines on a map and asking people to remain on either of its sides have left the people in this land in little better shape, and I’ve given up hope that someday we’ll figure out a line that’s juuuust right for peace. The top-down approach simply has not worked, so the bottom-up approach advocated by Roots/Shorashim/Judur should be given a chance.