By Khaled Diab
East Jerusalem’s Ambassador Hotel is a favourite gathering point for civil society and that is where I was due to meet with representatives of the fledgling umbrella alliance of Palestinian and Israeli peace NGOs.
The Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum does what the label says: it brings together over 100 Israeli and Palestinian civil society organisations striving, either directly or indirectly, for peace. Its name might be a bit of a mouth full and may need to be reinforced with a media-genic and shorter alternative, but its mission is an important one.
Nancy Sadiq of the Palestinian Centre for the Dissemination of Democracy (Panorama) and Yael Patir of the Peres Centre for Peace are in charge of the day-to-day coordination of the initiative. Traffic is a problem in some megalopolises but this part of the world has its own unique mobility problems.
Nancy and her colleague, who work and live in Ramallah, were delayed for around an hour longer than expected at a checkpoint for reasons unbeknown to them. Nancy has a special longer-term pass that allows her to make the 15-km journey to Ramallah. Her colleague is not so fortunate and was only issued a two-day pass.
While we were waiting, Yael filled me in on the purpose and activities of the forum which was officially established in January 2006 after a long process of negotiations between its various member institutes.
“The idea of the forum is to bring together civil society from both sides to build understanding,” she explained to me. “We also want to join our voices together to make sure we’re heard.”
The forum pursues a bottom-up approach to peace-building and focuses more on the socio-economic aspects than. "We are a coalition that is targeted more at the grassroots. We try to minimise political activism."
The initiative received funding fromp the European Union for its first two years. "We don't see this as a temporary project but something that is here to stay," she explains. "But funding will be a major challenge."
The forum's activities to date have included written support for the Arab peace initiative. "We issued a joint statement supporting [it] which we sent with Abu Mazen [aka Mahmoud Abbas] to the Arab League summit. We also published an advertisement in the paper." They also issued a joint statement in support of non-violence, Nancy explains when she finally manages to join us.
The platform does not plan any major activities for the 40th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, because many of its member organisations are already planning large events. Instead, it will provide them with support.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the first intifada. "On the Palestinian side, we are discussing the possibility of organising events to mark this date focusing on the non-violent aspect of that conflict," describes Nancy.
©Khaled Diab. Text and photos.