For Americans who are burnt out by the negative and aggressive public dynamic between opposing political factions on Palestine-Israel peace, hope lives! I am thrilled to introduce you to some incredible people with their priorities in order who are coming from the Holy Land and speaking sanely about how to move forward. These people have already demonstrated the ability to reach a diverse political spread of people, and they are only in the earliest stages of their work.
Palestinian Father who lost his daughters in the Gaza War
Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian OBGYN who worked at an Israeli hospital delivering Palestinian and Israeli babies, does not advocate for BDS. This man, who loves and respects women, is unabashedly for peace. He won the hearts of Israeli and American Zionists alike, when he travelled on speaking tours after his daughters and niece were killed by IDF blasts to their home in January 2009. The incident shook up Israel, as Abuelaish was being interviewed on Israel television network news immediately after the shelling took place. The Gaza War ceasefire followed several days after. Since then, Dr. Abuelaish has won awards and been hosted by many faith and community organizations around the world.
Noteably, in Greenwich, Connecticut last year, two Zionist Jews wrote heartfelt appreciation and praises for Dr. Abuelaish.
Don Synder wrote for the Stanford Advocate May 12, 2011: We hope apostles of peace such as Dr. Abuelaish prevail in this long-festering conflict.
Alma Rutgers devoted her 2011 Father’s Day piece in the Greenwich Time to Abuelaish: How many could experience such devastating loss and not feel hatred toward the perpetrators of injustice? And not desire revenge? Dr. Abuelaish refuses to succumb to hatred. “Hatred is an illness,” he says. “It prevents healing and peace.”
Author of the autobiographical book, “I Shall Not Hate,” Abuelaish is currently a professor in Toronto, Canada and has created a foundation Daughters of Life to support education and leadership for girls and women, in memory of his daughters. If you ask Dr. Abuelaish, he will tell you that women should be in charge.
Aisha Saifi and Leslie Wolf
Midwives together promoting simple newborn and maternal wellness through bonding
Aisha Saifi, a Palestinian midwife, and Leslie Wolff, an Israeli midwife, are two women collaborating to promote the practice of skin-to-skin contact after birth to improve health outcomes. Working together through a coexistence program with other midwives, currently fiscally-sponsored by the Interfaith Encounter Association, Saifi and Wolff were well received when they presented their campaign at Sweden’s Kangaroo Mothercare Conference.
Many incredible Palestinian – Israeli coexistence efforts are simultaneously taking place across Israel, ranging in form from environmental volunteer days, to intentional dialogue groups, to interfaith programs, to educational institutes, and inter-generational cultural exchanges.
The skin-to-skin campaign by Aisha Saifi and Leslie Wolff, a transnational effort resulting from a coexistence program, exemplifies the potential powerful outcomes of coexistence work.
The impact of the war on women and families is well-understood. Yet these midwives who serve people directly affected by the Israel-Palestine conflict have risen above the tension to raise awareness of a universal human health need, in turn nurturing humanity’s interpersonal bonding and connectedness during a time of great fragmentation.
The effects of modernization on women are in some respects as damaging as war, in the way that maternal instincts and practices have been replaced with technology and lifestyles that are void of wisdom and continuity and that interfere in critical familial relationships. Progressive reproductive justice advocates in the United States have much to gain from these midwives who are responding to an urgent crisis with brilliance, love and wisdom.
Environmentalist brings Global Greens universal values to Israel Politics
Other advocates who stand at the forefront of a livable future are environmentalists. Possibly the most-known environmentalist in Israel, Alon Tal might be the best qualified progressive Zionist to address the left wingers in the US who are furious with Israel. Co-Chair of the Israel Green Party, Tal speaks the language of Green Party members around the world – including that of the Green Party of the United States.
In 2010, Tal crafted a “constructive” response to Amnesty International’s biased report on water access for Palestinians, published in the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs.
On his current visit to the US, Tal has been talking about his work as founder of the US-based Green Zionist Alliance, and as founder of Israel’s Aravah Institute, which involves cross-border collaborations and environmental studies and advocacy. On tour, he decries the current state of democracy in Israel, presenting an honest and hopeful, socially-conscious outlook.
The US Green Party has been boycotting Israel now for almost a decade, and its national platform calls for a one-state solution – two misguided positions built on disengagement with Israel. Being the Israeli leader of a sister party to the US Green Party, Tal is in a position to create collaborative opportunities between like-minded party members who agree on the principles described in the Global Greens Charter, through international Green channels – which are parallel to the values and global structures of today’s international spring and occupy movements.
Local Green elected officials and candidates in the US are generally supportive of coexistence efforts, which are aligned with the Green Party of the United States’ 10 Key Values, and are open to cultural exchange with their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts despite the national US Green Party’s exclusionary policies. It’s likely Tal has the mental capacity and skill to conduct critical bridge-building civility diplomacy while simultaneously running for and winning a pioneering seat for the Israel Green Party in the Knesset.
These four people’s primary work, before politics, is in the profession of life. Dr. Abuelaish an OBGYN, midwives Aisha Saifi and Leslie Wolff, take care of human beings at the beginning of life. Environmentalist Alon Tal advocates for responsible practices that heal and protect the living environment, human and earthly habitat. Spiritually it makes sense to see these birth-oriented persons at the head of a rational and loving process that offers hope to a future of peace.
These inspirational people, while being very special, do not only exist in silos. There are thousands of people working together to make social change in Israel, and addressing these same dynamics amongst communities around the world.
It’s very likely that these and other reasonable and inspirational people are coming through your area. But if they’re not, no one with social media has an excuse any more to stay out of societal issues. We all have a responsibility to search until we find and pursue the avenues we think will lead to peace.
Wendy Kenin serves on the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, and is a California Delegate to the National Committee of the Green Party of the United States. By day she is the Community Engagement Specialist at UpStart Bay Area, a Jewish social innovation hub based in San Francisco. A member of the Occupy Oakland Media Committee, Wendy tweets @greendoula. Founder of the Jewish childbirth assistance network Imeinu Doulas, Wendy is a Shabbat-observant, kosher-keeping mother of 4 children in Berkeley, California.
This piece was first published in the ACCESS blog of the American Jewish Committee.