Becoming a Celebrity for the Wrong Reasons

This article first appeared in Ha’artez

Two weeks ago, on October 29, I became a celebrity for seven hours. I fielded interview requests from around the world, major news networks posted my name and Twitter handle on their global broadcasts, and I received excited texts and calls from friends and family.

The fame was not due to my day job – where I am the head of a network of over 90 groups that work to build peace between Jews and Arabs – but thanks to a quirk of fate.

The story begins just before noon EST. My friend Jared is sitting in an airplane on the runway in Florida, waiting to fly back to Chicago, where we have plans for a fun evening before his return to the Gulf for work. While on the runway, Jared spots a plane on fire, films it and texts the video to me – as proof for why he’s going to be late.

Getting a video of a plane on fire is quite something, so I post it to Twitter with the hashtag #FLL (the code for Fort Lauderdale airport, where he was at).

Within 30 seconds, my Twitter feed explodes. Fox, CNN, CBS, Telemundo and AFP, to name a few, are getting in touch to ask permission to use the footage and to interview Jared.

Over the course of seven hours I fielded dozens of calls and tweets of people trying to get in touch with Jared, who had the bizarre experience of seeing his name on CNN breaking news while he was in the air on his way to Chicago.

Jared and I have a combined 15 years of professional experience working in Middle East peace work. Yet, neither of us has ever garnered such attention – not for us or our work – as when we happened to be able to show footage of a plane in flames.

This is normally where one could go on a rant about the media only reporting disaster news and that if it bleeds – or in this case, burns – it leads. Yet in the ad-driven, social media-shareable environment, it’s the consumers who are driving the content; not the journalists. Our obsession for news porn – fire, death and destruction – and our capacity to digest only bite-sized chunks of information push complex topics all the way to the back of the line.

Sure, there is some market for uplifting and positive stories. But we news consumers largely live on a media diet that describes the world as simple and dire.

Donors and stakeholders often ask me why my peace-building network doesn’t try to get more media attention for the positive news that emerges from our member organization’s initiatives. The problem, I explain, is there is no narrative to link the stories to; each is an independent good action that seemingly exists in a vacuum.

Instead, I focus on increasing the type of attention that our membership gets. We will never compete with the 30-second sound bite. A key aspect of what I do is getting journalists and opinion-shapers to recognize that the work of peace building is not nice, or cute, or just a human-interest story. This work is necessary. It’s as necessary as the physical security dynamics that dominate the headlines and it’s as necessary as the economic trade that fills up business sections.

Sadly, the work that Jared and I have dedicated our lives to will never make the headlines. Our work is packed with too much of a complex reality to fit into the Twitter wars that dominate the public sphere. Maybe we can get opinion shapers to take it seriously now and again. And perhaps we can find the key segment of the population that appreciates that complexity is not something to be terrified of, but embraced. Failing that we can always just film more disasters.

Can Israel and Palestine learn anything from Tunisia

This article first appeared in Haaretz Oct 16th

The Middle East looks like a graveyard for hope. Throughout the region, violence is spinning out of control and the world’s leaders seem to lack any semblance of a strategy to contain it.

It is on this backdrop that the choice for the Nobel Peace Prize last week was so wonderful and surprising. While Nobel-watchers thought his holiness the pope or German Chancellor Angela Merkel were front runners, the committee decided to grant this honor to a quartet of civil society actors in Tunisia – the National Dialogue Quartet – who helped ensure that the birthplace of the Arab Spring would continue the path to democracy.

It is worthwhile reading the entire story behind the how the labor and trade unions, human rights activists, and a professional association of lawyers came together to form an unlikely quartet to save Tunisia’s nascent democracy after political assassinations and constitutional deadlock. Yet what is important is to understand that this unusual coalition was so diverse in its constituents, so unassailable in its credibility, and so masterful in mediation that it managed to get the budding democracy to pull back from the brink and fix the fractured political situation. Tunisia remains one of the few bright spots in a region so desperate for heroes.

It is always hard to apply the lessons from one country to another, but there is wisdom in how civil society played such a key role in Tunisia when the elected officials failed. Democracy is far more than the ballot box; it is a society that takes ownership of itself.

The leaderships of Israel and the Palestinian Authority have failed. Israelis certainly don’t feel safe, and Palestinians are no closer to ending the occupation. The political echelons seem incapable of delivering their populations a bright future. Is there a role for civil society to play in this conflict, outside the ballot box?

At different times, attempts have been made to get different civilians to play a productive role in working toward a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

During the Kerry initiative, business leaders from across both camps came together to try to “Break the Impasse.” Yet despite this group comprising business leaders from a vast array of their respective economies, they could not find the way to move the ball forward.

Israel’s trade union, the Hisdatraut  and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions came together to express their hopes for peace and signed agreements to advance “fraternity and coexistence between the two peoples.”

And the human rights communities in both Israel and Palestine have long, established working relationships, trying to ensure international law is upheld both day-to-day and at times of conflict.

Yet before these branches can come together across the societies, they must first come together within each of their societies.

In Palestine, the divide between Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem is creating a fractious identity. Finding a way for civic unity for a society separated by borders and circumstance is a daunting task. It was the street on March 15, 2011 that demanded unity and kicked off the unity talks between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. With the leaders’ failure to implement an agreement, it will fall on the street again to force the issue, and build the groundwork required to hold elections on the day after President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel, as President Reuven Rivlin has diagnosed, is split into tribes – ultra-Orthodox, national religious and secular Jews, and Arabs – who are struggling to find a common identity.

With Arabs making up 20 percent of Israel’s citizens, we – Jews in Israel and the Diaspora – must collectively recognize that Arab citizens are not a tolerated few, but equal citizens. We need to put an end to the perception of Israeli Arabs as a demographic threat. For when we perceive them as a threat, two things happen. First, all of our relationships with “the other” inherently become threatening. Second, we bequeath this conflict to our children and our grandchildren.

At times of increased tension and violence, civil society – both Arab and Jewish – can calm the tensions, even as elected representatives fan the flames. They can do this by sharing access to public resources, creating common civic values and finding practical partnerships between different civic and municipal groups that offer public services.

A civil society that has found a collective identity, that has achieved wins for its communities and can credibly advocate on behalf of its communities, stands a chance at creating its own quartet – one that is just as effective as the Tunisians’ and more effective than the diplomatic Middle East Quartet that currently exists.

In a region full of violence and hate, I do thank the Nobel Prize committee for honoring the unsung heroes of Tunisia – the unionists and businessmen, lawyers and human rights activists – who showed that change is possible and hope still has a place in the Middle East.

Quick thoughts on the road about the horrific situation

I have a longer piece that is currently being edited about what Israel and Palestine can learn from the nobel prize to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, but given the current uptick in violence across the societies I was asked by a few people why I had not put anything down in writing.

I’m currently traveling in Europe doing advocacy work, but like everyone else glued to twitter and Facebook as the violence is unfolding.

Violence is both very motivating for my work and very debilitating at the same time. I think both Jews and Arabs are missing context and in turn are screaming into the void. Arabs are sharing videos after an attack and are horrified by the response of a scared populace – Jews are refusing to acknowledge the context around the attacks themselves and thus are rightfully horrified by the violence but refuse to ask the question why is this happening. The international community have been warning, literally for years, that if the status quo continues it will fracture and lead to a mass outbreak of violence. You can’t do diplomacy under fire which is why folks were urging to do it before it broke out.

I don’t know if there is a way to put this particular hateful genie back into the bottle and it might burn it self out. This stuff really is being led by Facebook et al and there are no easy fixes. Without vision or a hope for a better future it’s very fertile ground for violence.

I think as this violent spasm continues we have to redouble our efforts within shared society and push forward for a vision (any vision!) that is not managing the status quo – given the fact that it is unmanageable.

The Saddest Thing About Israel’s New UN Envoy: U.S. Jews Will Get Used to Him

This article appeared in the print edition of Ha’aretz on August 30th 2015

My Twitter timeline was awash with sad and exasperated tweets last week when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided in his wisdom to pick Danny “Deportation Now” Danon as the new face of Israel to the world, by appointing him Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations. His rejection of the two-state solution and his want to deport all refugees make him the poster boy for the far-right members of Likud. His close relationship with Glenn Beck and his friendly on-camera appearance with Mike Huckabee suggest he could soon become Israel’s own representative to the Tea Party. And if that weren’t enough, despite being fired as deputy defense minister for not being able to have the self-restraint to withhold attacking the government during a time of war, Bibi apparently felt that this was the best person to build global partnerships and prevent diplomatic upsets.

Analysts rushed in to show the internal political reasons for the Danon pick: Bibi’s wish to remove him from the Likud Central Committee, to free up a cabinet seat and the like. Some, like veteran Israeli journalist David Horovitz, despaired, writing that this move showed Bibi’s true face and that of Israel.

Personally, I think this appointment demonstrates the utter disregard that Bibi has for diplomacy and his desire to control everything from the Prime Minister’s Office. Let the diplomats do public relations, anything of importance comes directly to him.
Ignoring the “why” of the appointment, the sad reality of this move is that the firestorm will calm down and the U.S. Jewish community will get used to having Israel’s own version of Ted Cruz in their backyard, and will invite him to the normal functions and honors.

When Avigdor Lieberman was first appointed foreign minister in 2009, there was an equal cry of anguish from the global Diaspora community. For his first term, it was then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, not Lieberman, who handled the U.S. relationship. Yet, when Lieberman was reappointed as Foreign Minister in the following Knesset, he was often seen as the grown up in the U.S.-Israel relationship, particularly during the peace negotiations led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. His obnoxious policy positions toward Israel’s Arab minority, which he had always held, did not change, though, and on the eve of the most recent election, while still foreign minister, Lieberman threatened some 20 percent of Israel’s population, on live television, saying that they were citizens “for now.” We just got used to having a brutal pragmatist who saw a fifth of Israel’s population as disposable.

So too will be the case with Danny Danon: We will get used to him. There will be some awkward moments for sure, maybe the Anti-Defamation League will issue a condemnation or too, but nothing serious. Danon will get the same invites to the same receptions as his predecessor did. Jewish Americans have set their expectations so low for him that if he manages to get through a speech without a racial slur, it will be seen as a diplomatic masterpiece.

All the while his appointment makes an utter mockery of the work that the Jewish community – led by the American Jewish Committee – has been doing in the United Nations. The AJC, nicknamed the “State Department of the Jewish People,” sees its role as being the representatives of mainstream Jewish opinion to the diplomatic community in the United States and to foreign governments around the world.

The AJC took on preventing the United Nations from recognizing Palestinian statehood when the General Assembly voted on it in November 2011, as one of its major calls for action. Its rubric was: support peace and oppose the UN “gambit.” It feels odd, then, that the AJC lobbied the world to vote against recognizing Palestine as a state on the grounds that doing so would go against a viable two-state solution, but went silent when the Israel announced its new ambassador to the United Nations is a decisive opponent to the two-state solution and supports annexation in the West Bank.

I wonder what the atmosphere was like within the AJC when Danon’s appointment was announced. How does appointing a man who spent the past few years embarrassing Bibi – including in the pages of the New York Times – in his desire to destroy any hopes of two states for two peoples play with the AJC policy position and advocacy for a two-state solution?

By tolerating the appointment and adding Danon into the fold of the U.S. Jewish communal architecture, the American Jewish community will show once again that there is no right-wing flap in the communal tent: While we brutally and viciously police the lines on the left regarding who is in and who is out, we are starting to understand that one can say whatever he wants on the right and still be welcomed with open arms.

Israeli commentators worry about what Danon’s appointment says about Israel. I worry about what his reception in America will say about us.


My thoughts on Disengagement 10 years on

This was published in Ha’artez August 9th 2015

With the demonstrations in Beit El and attempts to return to the evacuated West Bank settlement of Sa-Nur last week, I’ve been thinking about where I was 10 years ago when the disengagement from Gaza took place. At the time, I was 18 years old and spending the year at Yeshivat Hakotel, one of the flagship religious Zionist yeshivas in the hesder yeshiva program (in which young Israeli men combine Torah study with military service).
That academic year, from 2004 to 2005, Rabbi Mordechai “Moti” Elon was still head of the yeshiva and at the height of his popularity. (A scandal later broke out and he was convicted in 2013 for sexually assaulting two of his students.) The son of a Supreme Court judge and brother of a former Knesset member for a religious Zionist political party, Rav Elon served as a bridge between the religious and secular in Israel. He was one of the leading lights of the religious Zionist world; with a popular TV program and thousands of students attending his classes each week.
The public debate in the religious Zionist community revolved around the question of whether soldiers should disobey orders if they were told to evacuate the settlements. In a memorable public class, Rav Elon presented his decision that a solider should obey the orders, but gave special permission to refuse orders to a soldier who said his wife would divorce him if he obeyed them.
The color orange – the national symbol against the disengagement plan – decked the yeshiva’s main hall. At every opportunity, the entire yeshiva would decamp to Gush Katif to show solidarity with the people there. At various points in the year, the entire yeshiva would even move their classes to outside the Knesset, linking the day’s learning to protesting the government’s decision to evacuate the settlements.
I vividly remember being terrified that at one of the public demonstrations against the disengagement Rav Elon would be arrested and his students would respond with a violent riot. I was so upset by this concern that I went to Rav Elon and begged him to stop leading demonstrations. With compassion, he spoke to me about the need to ensure his students were all leaders and that all of them understood they were not just representing themselves, but the entire religious Zionist community.
It was also during this time that I was starting to become very politically conscious. I was uncomfortable with the activism that the yeshiva was taking and chose to not go to Gush Katif to protest alongside my fellow classmates. I also skipped the Knesset protest.
I did however go to Gush Katif on an educational trip with Bnei Akiva, the youth movement who was managing my yeshiva program, three months before the disengagement, to meet those who were going to be evacuated and ask them questions. Upon entering Gush Katif, I was struck by the beauty of the place alongside the absurdity of the situation. There were blocks of picturesque houses with a tank sitting on the corner of the settlement, looking out over what was an eerie, empty field, and Palestinian villages just a few hundred meters beyond that. The organizer of the trip was terrified that a Qassam rocket would hit our bus, as it was Gush Katif that had been the main target of rocket and mortar attacks up until that point.
Two things remain fresh in my mind about that visit to the Gush Katif settlements. The first was meeting a farmer who was working in his greenhouse. When we asked if he had made any preparation for the evacuation in three months, he told us that one does not speak about a funeral when a patient is lying on their deathbed. The second was seeing another resident digging to prepare the foundations of a house. When we asked why he was building a house when the government was evacuating them in three months’ time, he told us that there was utterly no way that it would happen, that G-d would reverse the evil of the decree. Seeing his children playing behind, him we asked if he had let his children know that they might be moving. He looked at us as though we were crazy.
The disengagement was traumatic for the evacuees, with many subsequently suffering from emotional and physical health problems. The state’s mistreatment of evacuees, including leaving them to live in temporary housing for years thereafter, contributed to the bedrock of mistrust between many in the settler community and the government. Beyond its impact on the individuals, the disengagement sparked a conversation within the religious Zionist community about whether the state is an object of divine intervention – a vehicle for redemption – or whether it just a secular thing that could prolong the coming of the Messiah.
Watching religious Zionist protesters in Beit El last week as they screamed, “War, this is war,” and urged one another to push back the Border Police, I can’t help but think that the State of Israel is facing a new constituency who refuses to accept the law of the land. I remember the time when Israel managed to dismantle multiple settlements with minimal violence and worrying back then that I was living though the moment where the state’s sovereignty over the religious Zionist community was being torn asunder.

Building Peace from the Ground Up

This is a transcript of a talk I gave to the Fathom Fourm in London 

On 30 June 2015, Joel Braunold, US Director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) spoke to a Fathom Forum on the importance of people-to-people movements to any eventual resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

When the Palestine Survey and Research Group published their quarterly research on levels of support for the two-state solution, everyone concentrated on the top line point, which is that support for the two-state solution has dropped to 51 per cent support in Israel and has stayed steady on 51 per cent support among Palestinians. But the really worrying statistics were below the fold. As many as 56 per cent of Israelis are worried or very worried on a daily basis that they will be murdered by Arabs and 79 per cent of Palestinians are worried or very worried on a daily basis that they will be murdered or have their land confiscated by Jews. It gets worse. 56 per cent of Palestinians believe that the Israeli objective is to expel them from the land, 25 per cent that the objective is annexation, whilst 43 per cent of Israelis believe that all Arabs are out to kill them and 18 per cent believe their aim is the conquest of Israel and the removal of their citizenship. Aggregated, between 60 and 80 per cent percent of the two populations believe that the intent of the other is the removal of their rights or their actual destruction. The Pew opinion surveys demonstrate that the youth of Israel and Palestine are even more pessimistic than their elders about the future, so any hopes that change may come with the new generation are likely misplaced.

The international community has been very good at focusing on doing civics, economics, or politics at any one time, but never all three simultaneously. When diplomatic efforts seemed to be succeeding during the Oslo years, governments placed a heavy emphasis on ‘people-to-people’ programmes designed to bring Jews and Arabs together, but post-Intifada there was a move towards a more economic approach with state building that saw $3 billion of US loans being poured into the construction of a Palestinian state. When this failed to lead to the creation of Palestinian state, the economic approach was abandoned in favour of a renewed focus on diplomacy, exemplified in John Kerry’s belief that if you managed to get the right people in the room and push hard enough a solution could be found. In short, the three components for Palestinian statehood and the end of occupation – which are all necessary but insufficient in themselves – have been segmented, resulting in repeated failure.

Underlying these failures has been a huge gulf in trust. It is that gulf which the ‘people-to-people’ community has been trying to close. Both within the Green Line and beyond it, there are a number of civil society groups that seek to bring Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs together, in agriculture, education, industry, high-tech work, and advocacy programmes. The Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) was established in 2003 in Washington DC by Avi Meyerstein in response to the tendency of such ‘people-to-people’ movements to travel to Washington, meet with a member of the administration, and then leave empty-handed. ALLMEP is a coalition of 91 organisations which seeks to persuade lawmakers that the work of grassroots programmes is not only nice, but also necessary. At the moment, ALLMEP secures $10 million a year for grassroots programmes, 23 per cent of the global total, but this is not enough. The $1.5 billion fund that the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) had at its disposal over a 25 year period ensured that $33 per capita was spent on reconciliation programmes there, as opposed to $3.75 in Israel-Palestine. ALLMEP’s calculations suggest a $200 million Israeli-Palestinian Fund for International Peace is required to properly finance the vital work of peace and reconciliation organisations.

ALLMEP’s work extends beyond the financial dimension. On the human capital front, our regional director Huda Abuarquob seeks to build a sense of community amongst these extremely diverse groups, covering everything from Kids4Peace to Center for Religious Tolerance, and to help them co-operate, learn from each other, and leverage each other’s successes. We seek attention not to simply generate positive news stories but to ensure such stories are both noticed and seen as important. This is vital as Jewish philanthropists are prepared to channel vast sums of money into efforts to combat the movement for Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS), but are more reluctant to give to efforts to build peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The Joint Social Venture Fund, the collective giving fund of the Jewish Federations of North America with a combined income of $3 billion per annum, gives only $800,000 towards efforts to build bridges between Jews and Arabs. There are some federations that sponsor this work such as in San Francisco and New York, but this lack of collective giving is a serious problem. So a greater focus on this work, whilst not a panacea, will go a long way to correct this problem of under-resourcing.

There are some, especially within the BDS movement who say our work is pointless, that it will never lead anywhere, and that it has no endgame. All I ask is that they hold their own community to the same standard to which they hold ours. The concept that the arc of history will suddenly bend and all will be well when you apply enough pressure is an absurdity today, when you have an armed and secure Israel that will under no circumstances give up that status. The best the BDS movement can hope for is an impoverished pariah state with unconfirmed nuclear weapons. The BDS movement has won the spotlight, but it needs to mature and decide how it wants to use it. At the moment, it promises full equality to Palestinians who live in Israel, the end of occupation to those who live in Gaza and the West Bank, and the full right of return to refugees. Everyone wins. The reality is that not everyone will win because there is another population there. The challenge the BDS movement faces is how they come to terms with that fact and engage with it.

More worrying still is the anti-normalisation movement, which seeks to police interactions between Israelis and Palestinians, cutting off all links that the BDS activists deem not to contribute to the right of return, the end of occupation, or full equality. Ultimately, these attempts to enforce separation are futile. But they make life especially difficult for those in the ‘people-to-people’ community, whose work is premised on bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. The philosophy of the anti-normalisation movement, built as it is on a refusal to believe in the power of conflict resolution or in the value of anything that does not directly support Palestinian struggle or protest, is intellectually coherent, but ultimately self-defeating. The average Israeli is not going to join Anarchists Against The Wall, yet almost everyone in the anti-normalisation movement is from the constituency of people who would. This ideological dogmatism chokes these movements, as they will achieve none of their goals by refusing to engage with the very Israeli Jews who disagree with them and that they need to persuade.

The unhelpful attitude prevails on both sides of the conflict. Anti-normalisation should be set alongside the proposed Israeli NGO laws to tax donations from foreign governments, brand NGOs that receive such donations as ‘foreign agents’, and limit government co-operation with such potential. Government restriction of funding to control the debate is the parallel of the anti-normalisation community. Just as the anti-normalisation community seeks to shut down anything that does not directly advance their specific agenda, such legislation attempts to shut down anything that disrupt the image that Israel puts out to the world.

‘People-to-people’ work has brought thousands together and has the potential to do so much more. A sceptical parent’s outlook might be changed by sending their children to a Hand In Hand School, a farmer’s through cross-border agricultural work with Olive Oil Without Borders, and someone with limited access to water can be reached by a cross-border water programme with EcoPeace. The best people to convince Israelis that Palestinians are not monsters, and to show the Palestinians that Israelis are not monsters, are the respective populations. It is only through affecting this kind of change by building trust that Arab-Jewish relations will be normalised. Yes, Jewish-Arab alliances must be built on the political level: Israeli governments routinely exclude 20 per cent of the population and a fundamental shift in political culture is needed there. But they must also exist on the local level. Until trust is built through practical action on the ground, every solution will ultimately be swallowed up by its absence.

Shutting down dissent in both Communities

This first appeared in Haaretz July 2nd and was co-authored by Huda Abuarquob 

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has dominated headlines of late, with anti-BDS legislation being passed in Congress and in the Knesset; pro-Palestinian students in America being “exposed;” an Israeli government minister being appointed especially to combat this threat; Britain’s national student union joining the BDS movement; the list goes on. Perhaps the BDS movement’s greatest achievement is the seriousness with which it is taken.

Yet, for those who are interested in advancing the cause of peace by building the necessary trust between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, the BDS movement is not the greatest threat; the anti-normalization movement is.

The anti-normalization movement has called for an end to all interactions between Israelis and Palestinians that do not subscribe to three key tenets: ending the occupation; equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians; and a full right of return for Palestinian refugees. These three tenets are shared with the BDS movement, and, as such, the two movements are joined at the hip. Yet the effects on the ground of the anti-normalization movement are far more serious.

It seeks to police all interactions between Israelis and Palestinians, and, as such, disrupts programs that it perceives as being unaligned with its agenda. This makes life particularly hard for those of us in the “people-to-people” community – who bring Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians together in school, agricultural, high-tech and advocacy programs or camps.

The movement does this because it believes that normalized relations between Palestinians and Israelis draws a false equivalence between the parties, and does nothing to address the power imbalance created by the occupation. Normalization, it contends, would remove the urgency for ending the occupation and granting Palestinians independence and sovereignty.

The only joint programs anti-normalization advocates condone are those that support resistance or protest. All others, they believe, undercut the Palestinian national struggle.

While the argument for anti-normalization is intellectually coherent, it is ultimately self-defeating. How, for example, will those who seek a full right of return for Palestinian refugees but refuse to allow them to engage with Jewish Israelis who reject the idea, succeed in convincing the Israelis that it is a viable option? How do they expect two conflicting parties to empathize with one another’s narratives when neither side has the opportunity to learn of the other’s struggle on a personal level? And how can they break the victim-perpetuator cycle if they do not seek an end to the victim-perpetrator identities? Preventing the conflicting sides from interacting enables anti-normalization activists to define the “other” in their own terms.

In their effort to delegitimize coexistence programming, anti-normalization activists lampoon people-to-people activities as Israelis and Palestinians coming together to eat hummus then go home. This is an utterly false representation of the people-to-people movement today. Look at the thousands engaged by Parents Circle or Combatants for Peace, the farmers whose crops have not wasted thanks to Olive Oil Without Borders or the communities receiving fresh water owing to the work of EcoPeace. These are just a sample of thousands of people whose lives have been changed through joint programs.

Change is painfully slow and real progress does not come fast enough for those who suffer the brunt of the occupation, but these joint programs are the best hope of fundamentally changing the worldviews of those who have been fighting for generations. People-to-People work today has evolved to be less about dialogue and far more about building trust. This is painfully slow and offers only incremental progress, yet given how each population fears the other, offers a real option for progress.

While the anti-normalization movement’s intimidation tactics and efforts to shut down dissent make up the Arab part of the challenge facing groups that operate in the people-to-people community, from the Israeli, Jewish side, the key challenge lies within the coalition.

We fear that legislation in the Israeli government could shut down discourse on a people-to-people level by weakening NGOs. The government has already introduced bills to tax donations by foreign government to such organizations, and brand NGOs or individuals who receive funding from foreign governments as “foreign agents.” Another bill would limit the degree to which the Israeli government and army cooperates with groups who receive financial support from foreign governments. This has the potential to prevent these NGOs’ programs from ever being integrated into Israel’s public sector.

By starving their funds, limiting their access to the government, and preventing them from communicating to the public at large, Israel portrays these groups as foreign interlopers, branding them, at best, as naïve, or, at worst, as the enemy within; dangerous agitators who draw false equivalences between Israel and her enemies.

Israel’s efforts to limit discourse mirror the anti-normalization movement’s efforts to curb dialogue – only the former does so via legislation, while the latter uses threats and intimidation. Together, these efforts become an anti-democratic front against coexistence groups working to create a shared society. Both sides hope to prevent having the voices heard of those who seek a different path to that of the majority. Both sides fear that unchecked discourse will undermine the majority’s political posturing and goals. Both sides seek to control the debate by preventing it from happening.

Yet, if we are to see any progress in the areas of peace, coexistence, security, freedom, justice and rights, it will be on a basis that Palestinians and Israelis have a shared future. We need space to run programs that bring Israelis and Palestinians together to explore these values as one, without fear or intimidation. Jews and Arabs are either destined or doomed to share the land together. Let us work for the former to avoid the latter.