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Organizations working toward a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

Encounter is an educational organization dedicated to providing Jewish leaders from across the political spectrum with exposure to Palestinian life. Motivated by the relentless Jewish pursuit of hokhma (wisdom) and binah (understanding), Encounter has partnered with Palestinian organizations to bring close to 500 Jewish leaders on groundbreaking journeys to Palestinian cities to engage with Palestinians face-to-face and witness realities on the ground firsthand.

Encounter groups represent the most significant, non-military Jewish presence in Palestinian areas of the West Bank since before the second intifada. Encounter is also pioneering in outreach to religious and self-defined politically conservative Jews. With participants regularly describing the program as "mind-blowing" and "life-changing," Encounter is creating breakthroughs in understanding and conflict transformation between Jews and Arabs as well as between Jews and other Jews.

The Parents' Circle--Families Forum is a nonprofit organization that promotes dialogue and reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis who have lost loved ones in the conflict. Members grieve together, speak together, and share with one another, breaking down boundaries and promoting healing rather than revenge. The Parents' Circle believes that the people of Israel and Palestine want to, and will, work together for peace. Face-to-face reconciliation programs, such as weekend trips abroad, are designed to bring together Israeli and Palestinian youth and adults who may not normally have the opportunity to meet. Public media campaigns seek to reach a wider audience. In 2002, the Parents' Circle launched the program "Hello, Shaloml/Hello, Salaam!" ("Hello Peace!"). This is a phone line that can be used by anyone living in Israel or the Palestinian Territories to reach someone on the other side of the conflict. Many people connect with their phone buddy and exchange numbers to keep up the relationship. Within the first two years of its creation, 400,000 people had participated, making over one million phone calls.

Rabbis for Human Rights has branches in Israel and North America with a membership that includes several hundred rabbis and rabbinical students, including those of the Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Renewal movements. RHR has been endorsed by the North American rabbinic associations of the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements.

Since its founding in 1988, RHR has worked courageously in advocating for the human rights of all. Its activities include:

* Protesting home demolitions and rebuilding demolished homes;

* Bringing food and humanitarian aid to besieged Palestinian villagers;

* Mobilizing rabbis and supporters in Israel and around the world to petition Israeli officials regarding human rights abuses;

* Helping to bring human rights issues to the Israeli Supreme Court;

* Supporting equal access to health care for all;

* Supporting equal allocation of educational resources between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel;

* Providing teacher training on Jewish and Islamic teachings about human rights;

* Working with others on behalf of the unemployed; and

* Working with Israeli Arab citizens to preserve Muslim and Christian holy sites.
  We condemn Palestinian violence and support Israel's legitimate
  efforts to defend her citizens. However, Judaism teaches that even in
  times of conflict, there are lines which we dare not cross. The
  harming of innocent civilians crosses those lines.
  Rabbi Arik Ascherman (RHR Executive Director)

The Palestine-Israel Journal is the only independent, non-profit quarterly publication co-published and produced by Israelis and Palestinians, as an explicit joint venture promoting dialogue, in the search for peaceful relations. It serves as a unique venture that testifies to the fact that it is possible to work together in a spirit of mutual respect, cooperation and recognition, even on the most conflicting issues.

Face to Face/Faith to Faith is an international youth leadership program sponsored by Auburn Theological Seminary in New York. It brings together teenagers from the Middle East, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the United States. They are Jews, Christians, and Muslims, for the most part, but sometimes those from other religious traditions. The teenagers commit to a yearlong program that begins with a summer intensive at a camp in Holmes, New York, and continues when they return to their home countries. For many of the teenagers, this is the first time they have come face to face with "the other." In the program they learn communication skills--how to tell your own story while listening with respect to another's. They also learn about each other's faith traditions, both the values that are shared and also the distinctions and differences that are special to each. They learn about activism--how each person and the community collectively can change the world.

The emphasis of this program is on how the world's great religious traditions can and must be implemented in support of peace, rather than being manipulated to heighten conflict or provoke violence. Face to Face/Faith to Faith is now in its eighth year and has involved several thousand teenagers and their families both in its intensive training programs and through its local affiliations in the home countries. (1)

Seeds of Peace was founded in 1993 by journalist John Wallach and is dedicated to empowering young leaders from regions of conflict with the leadership skills required to advance reconciliation and coexistence. Over the last decade, Seeds of Peace has intensified its impact, dramatically increasing the number of participants, represented nations and programs. Beginning with just 46 Israeli, Palestinian, and Egyptian teenagers in 1993, the organization still focuses on the Middle East but has expanded its programming to include young leaders from South Asia, Cyprus, and the Balkans. Its leadership network now encompasses nearly 4,000 young people from several major conflict regions. Its program begins at the International Camp in Maine and continues through programming in regions around the world with innovative initiatives in the form of conferences, regional workshops, educational and professional opportunities, and an adult educator program. This comprehensive system allows participants to develop empathy, respect, and confidence as well as leadership, communication and negotiation skills--all critical components that will facilitate peaceful coexistence for the next generation.

The Jerusalem International YMCA, with its elegant arches, domes, and 152-foot observation tower, is a city landmark acknowledged as a center of cultural, athletic, social, and intellectual life in Jerusalem fostering harmony and building the spirit, mind, and body. Founded in 1878, its first president was George Williams, who had established the first YMCA in 1844 in London. On April 18, 1933, the present home of the Jerusalem YMCA was dedicated by British General Edmund Lord Allenby. The neo-Byzantine-style complex was designed by Arthur Loomis Harmon, architect of the Empire State Building. It is a sermon in stone, rich in symbolism representing the three monotheistic faiths.

The Jerusalem International YMCA actively strives to foster inter-faith, interracial, and intergroup understanding and is committed to these goals in its day-to-day programs. The building houses a fitness center and swimming pool, Jewish-Arab kindergarten, 600-seat auditorium, library, restaurant, hotel, and conference center. For its efforts in promoting peace, unity and the dignity of humankind, the Jerusalem International YMCA was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

The Abraham Fund Initiatives, based in Jerusalem and New York is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization. A pioneer in the field of Jewish-Arab relations, the organization was founded in 1989 by Alan B. Slifka and the late Dr. Eugene Weiner and named for the common ancestor of both Jews and Arabs.

Abraham Fund Initiatives works to advance coexistence, equality and cooperation among Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens by creating and operating large-scale initiatives, cultivating strategic grassroots projects and conducting public education and advocacy that promote its vision of shared citizenship and opportunity for all of Israel's citizens.

Its founders and current leaders view coexistence as the ability of people of different backgrounds and beliefs to live side-by-side in mutual respect. Coexistence is not assimilation. Rather, its objective is to enable individuals and communities to live cooperatively while maintaining their own unique cultural identities. The Abraham Fund Initiatives sees civic equality for Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens as a moral and pragmatic imperative, whereby individual rights and the political, cultural and religious character of the Arab minority must be clearly and unambiguously recognized and respected.

The Peres Center for Peace is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization founded in 1996 by Nobel Peace Laureate, former Prime Minister, and current President of Israel Mr. Shimon Peres, with the aim of furthering his vision in which people of the Middle East region work together to build peace through socio-economic cooperation and development, and people-to-people interaction. The first Director General of the Peres Center was Ambassador Uri Savir, who, together with Shimon Peres, established the organization and currently serves as President.

Through extensive communication and interaction with Arab partners, the Peres Center has come to understand that sustainable peace and stability can only be developed in the Middle East region through the elevation of social and economic capacities. Accordingly, the peace-building activities of the Peres Center focus on common Arab and Israeli social, economic, developmental, cultural and educational interests, with an emphasis on nurturing Palestinian-Israeli relations. The Peres Center designs and facilitates tangible peace-building projects that address these interests, utilizing cross-border, regional and international partnerships to bring these initiatives to fruition.

Panorama--The Palestinian Center for the Dissemination of Democracy & Community Development was established in 1991 in Jerusalem. The center works to contribute to community development, and to promote issues that are related to the relationship between the citizen and the society, as a means to build a pluralistic Palestinian civil society.

Panorama was the first Palestinian NGO to introduce the democracy issue in the Palestinian arena, at a time when others did not even considered it to be an issue among the Palestinian people. More than 1,300 workshops were conducted over a period of 10 years, and covering almost every town, village, refugee camp, in both West Bank and Gaza Strip. In addition to its work promoting democracy and good governance within Palestinian communities, Panorama also works with Israeli organization such as the Peres Center for Peace to further cooperation among activist organizations on both sides of the green line.

The Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGOs Forum promotes cooperation and interaction between Palestinian and Israeli Peace NGOs. Forum members work together to influence decision making and public opinion, support the peace process and reconciliation efforts by mobilizing civil society and greater populations of the region.

The Palestinian NGO, Panorama Center and the Israeli NGO, Peres Center for Peace commenced preparations for the launch of the "Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGOs Forum" in November 2005, with a view to coordinating a program of activities to enhance the independent and joint efforts of Palestinian and Israeli Peace NGOs.

The program focuses on Peace NGOs, recognizing that they serve as a unique link between the macro and micro levels. On the micro level, most of the organizations that are members of the forum are grassroots organizations and consequently, have direct connections to the citizens. This, of course, enables them to reach a vast range of audiences. The program also enhances the capacities of these Peace NGOs, allowing them to better work toward their goal of reconciliation among the populations. On the macro level, although there is stagnation at the governmental level, the fact that there are joint efforts from Palestinian and Israeli peace NGOs that are dispersed over different fields makes them potential catalysts for change and dialog.

Holy Land Trust is a Palestinian not-for-profit organization established in 1998 in Bethlehem. It seeks to empower the community in order to address the challenges of the present and the future. This is done by working with the Palestinian community in developing nonviolent efforts that aim to end the Israeli occupation and by building a future that is founded on the principles of nonviolence, equality, justice, and peaceful coexistence.

Holy Land Trust also seeks to deepen international awareness and advocacy by presenting unique travel and encounter programs as well as authentic and comprehensive media and news programs.


(1.) Full disclosure: My spouse, Katharine R. Henderson. Executive Vice President of Auburn Seminary is a co-founder of Face to Face/Faith to Faith.

* This list is suggestive rather than exhaustive. There are scores of organizations doing work equally deserving of support.
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Author:Henderson, Charles P.
Publication:Cross Currents
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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