NGOs unite to try to restore hope to the Middle East peace process


ITTAY FLESCHER attended the Shine A Light global livestreaming event where 125 NGOs trying to build peace came together for a special event to inspire hope for the region

OF ALL THE COMMODITIES that are present in the Middle East, the one that often seems to be in the shortest supply is hope.

On Tuesday, the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), a global network of more than 125 Peacebuilding NGOs, came together for a special event to inspire hope for the people who live between the Jordan river and Mediterranean Sea.

Dubbed Shine a light, it featured presentations and panels from US and British politicians, celebrities, peace activists and comedians who all focused on amplifying stories of projects that bring people together in spite of the enormous political obstacles that exist between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships today.

Today, over 60% of both young Palestinians and Israelis believe the ultimate intent of the other is the removal of their rights or the destruction of their society. Polling consistently demonstrates that both trends are most pronounced among Israelis and Palestinians under the age of 30, the cohort least likely to have had any meaningful engagement with the other.

People-to-people peacebuilding programs supported by ALLMEP have been shown to disrupt and reverse many of these attitudes and beliefs that fuel the conflict.

In one panel hosted by British actor Jason Isaacs, the audience heard from youth organisations including Jerusalem Peacebuilders, Seeds of Peace, Tomorrow’s Women and Hands of Peace, who all spoke about how their programs work to build trust and humanise the other in order to empower youth to fight injustice together.

A highlight of the night for many was a women’s panel hosted by Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist responsible for leading a women’s nonviolent peace movement that helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.

Many speakers on this panel highlighted the almost complete absence of women from all the major Israeli-Palestinian negotiating teams from Oslo to the present day. Shiri Levinas, from Women Wage Peace, observed that when Israeli women speak about peace and security to groups of army generals or other security experts, they face an enormous wall of obstacles for speaking outside their so-called area of expertise. “Without women at the negotiating table, there will be no peace,” she concluded.

While ALLMEP Regional Director Huda Abuarquob admitted she doesn’t believe only women can bring peace, d she promised that empowering women to lead the movement for change would be a key strategy for ALLMEP in the years ahead.

Hamoutal Gouri, from Consult4Peace, spoke about the occupation as the “elephant in the feminist room” based on her many years of peace work. Highlighting the fact that Jewish and Arab women could easily collaborate on campaigns about gender,based violence and pay equity, she observed that these movements always hit a wall when it comes to the occupation, and “the only way to remove the elephant is to acknowledge that it’s there”.

None of the speakers on the panels addressed the recent normalisation agreements brokered by the Trump administration involving the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

Instead, their main focus was to highlight that fact that in 2020, there are 13.5 million Israelis and Palestinians living in the region, yet the international community is spending less than $US4 per person, per year, towards peace in the region.

By comparison, to achieve a sustainable peace in Northern Ireland, the international community spent over a billion dollars over two decades. This average spending of $US33 per person, per year—starting 12 years before a peace deal was reached—is almost ten times the amount invested in similar efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.

This investment occurred through a multilateral funding mechanism called the International Fund for Ireland, created by the US Congress and funded by public and private entities across the world.

The ultimate aim of Shine a Light  was to encourage support from governments and private donors to the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. When created, this $US200 million annual fund would be dedicated to creating the civic foundations upon which a lasting peace can be built.

The Fund would scale and incentivise the further development of highly effective people-to-people programs, enabling them to achieve national and institutionalised levels of reach and impact, transforming attitudes and lived experiences within and between each society.

Over $US420,000 in donations was raised through the duration of the event.

Shine a light concluded as it began, with the Jerusalem Youth Chorus performing an uplifting song in Hebrew, Arabic and English, I’m gonna make this place your home.