People Power

June 28

            I had an unexpected day off yesterday because there was nothing for me to do at the office, since everyone was making calls and such to finalize the schedule for the multinational camp in Jordan. So, today when I got to the office, I was working on some preparation for activities or presentations that will be included at the camp. For most of the day, this meant research and report writing again. Since the theme of the camp is “people power” I was researching successful people-driven movements. They did not have to be political, since the camp is about making any kind of change, so some of the stories I found were about youth activists that had rallied and made change in their schools or local communities. Mohammed wanted these examples to share with the camp participants to show them that it is possible for them to take action and actually make a change; it is not just an idealistic notion. It was interesting to read about all of the amazing things that youth and ordinary people continue to do for their communities, merely through the power of desire for change.

            Anyway, the most educational part of my day was a bi-national staff meeting in Jerusalem regarding the multinational schedule. The staff from the Israeli office and the Palestinian office met to go over the draft of the plan and try to find the difficulties or issues that might arise from the travel and execution of the multinational plan. The most interesting thing that came up was the difficulties presented by having religious Jews in the Israeli delegation. One issue that was raised was the difficulty of feeding them, since they keep kosher, meaning that they will only eat food that has the correct stamp from the rabbi counsel. The food at the hotel will not meet these standards because it is in Jordan, so the logistics need to be worked out. The food could be brought with the Israeli delegation, but the issue that had arisen from that was taking it across the border. The Israeli logistics director is working to get prior approval to transport the kosher food for the few religious Jews in the delegation. The second issue was the religious “material” that the kids will want to take with them, such as prayer shawls, belts, books, etc. Apparently, the Jordanians will not allow religious Jews into the country, and especially not their religious necessities. This was a big issue because Seeds has a policy that it will not prevent kids from participating because of their religious practices, but at the same time if the kids try to bring their prayer things, they will be sent back and not allowed to enter Jordan. However, Seeds does not feel comfortable asking the kids not to bring their own things, perhaps borrowing them from the Israeli diplomatic places once already there, both because of the personal attachment to these items and because some of the parents of the religious Jews participation are already not very supportive of Seeds of Peace, and telling their kid that they cannot have their religious items would make this worse. So, again, the Israeli staff is working on getting prior permission for the kids and their religious items to be brought across the border, though if the Jordanian government refuses, it will be a sticky situation. Finally, when we were going through the schedule, there was a potential issue with the religious Jews due to the Shabbat. According to their tradition, after sundown on Friday, they are not to do anything or especially use things such as appliances or electronics, but since the camp is multinational and takes place in limited time, there are activities involving electronics and things on Friday night and Saturday. The Israeli staff said that the religious kids had already been informed of this, and they would be excused to pray on Friday night and would be able to exercise limited participation, depending on their comfort while maintaining their religious beliefs.

            These issues were a little overwhelming for me, some of them things that I did not really consider before they were pointed out. However, hearing them in the staff meeting made me think of some concepts I have picked up from the classroom. For example, I was reminded of several reading from both Peace Paradigms and Conflict Resolution Theory and Practice that emphasized the importance of cultural sensitivity during the process of peace-building. As I experienced, coming into a program as an American, I bring with me a certain worldview and a certain set of concerns. If I were to try to implement a program like the one we are working on without regard for the worldviews and practices of the other cultures participating, it would be very disrespectful. Likely, such disrespect would lead to resentment, counteracting the purpose of the program. Much of the material read in the classroom emphasizes the importance of remembering the different cultural or religious context into which you often enter as a peace-builder rather than blindly stampeding through important traditions and considerations merely because in your worldview, there is no problem. Hearing the issues with the religious Jews’ participation in the multination was a great reminder for me to rein in my enthusiasm for what is unfolding and instead remember that it will not be effective to impose my own solutions or programs that are shaped by my particular worldview. Instead, I must integrate my ideas with the methods and practices of those in the conflict setting where the program is implemented in order to show respect, gain respect, and give the program a better chance of succeeding. From reading these ideas, I always thought “yeah, it’s obvious that you need to keep in mind the traditions and practices of those you are working with”. However, as highlighted by the staff meeting and my surprise at not having thought of things like the need for kosher food for the religious Jews, I see how easy it is to neglect the differences and fail to incorporate them into program planning. I think it is understandable that this happens because obviously, each person lives within his norms and rarely has to consider what it is like to live by someone else’s. However, it is crucial to consciously work to consider the accommodation of differences in the name of respect and the success of the peace-building work. Working at my internship, I am beginning to see how many threads of peace-building and conflict resolution topics, such as culture, mediation, relational transformation, dialogue, and logistics come together and play a role in the practicalities of real programs.