The Peres Center for Peace Brightened my Day

by on April 17, 2008 at 5:00 am

Business in Israel has to overlap and integrate with humanitarian issues because these issues are at the core of their culture. Israelis live in volatile and unstable part of the world, surrounded by anger, fighting and uncertainty.

The Peres Center for Peace is designed to build an infrastructure of peace and reconciliation by and for the people of the Middle East that promotes socio-economic development, while advancing cooperation and mutual understanding. Their Assistant to the Director General Yael Patir talked to us today about the Center’s mission.

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It 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.

Says Yael, “Arabs and Jews are surrounded by hostility and mutual mistrust. Peres allows people on both sides to communicate with and understand each other.”

Today, I watched snippets of plays put on by Palestinians and Israelis. Through these plays, the actors can act out their hostility voicing their frustration on both sides. Then, viewers can learn about positive ways to reach a peaceful solution. “It’s important that children can see that there?s hope and that they can learn to trust,” she says.

Over 50,000 Israeli and Palestinian youth have participated in these programs. Project Manager Yarden Leal talks about how they use technology in their programs.

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“The Center has peace computer centers, run innovative IT projects that allow students on both sides of the fence to communicate with each other, first over the web and then face-to-face,” says Yarden. “When I talked to them, I started to realize that it is our responsibility to make peace.”

Says a young boy who went through one of their programs, “it?s as much our responsibility as it is government. When we started talking to Palestinian children, we realized they wanted peace as much as we do.”

Palestinian, Egyptian, Israel and Jordanian farmers gather through a Peres Center program to only learn that they share a number of the same problems, including limited water supply. They learn about solutions that benefit all of them through cross border cooperation and research projects.

The Peres Center organizes Arab Israel business activities as well. Says their IT Peace Projects Unit Ushi (Asher) Krausz, “we want to get the word out that we ARE communicating and talking. Inside and outside the country, people need to see that there are some peace initiatives.”

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Inside Israel hospitals, there are no check points. Dozens of Palestinian doctors undergo training in Israel hospitals every year. Says Yarden, “we are surprised again and again to see what happens when we bring Palestinians and Israelis together who come back to us and say, ‘how can it be that we have never reached peace?’ It is the people who can make peace, not governments.”

45 people work in the Tel Aviv office facilitate the Center’s activities. Says Yael, “we build the infrastructure to help the peace come. When a peace agreement happens, the ?ground? will be ready for it. During the period of the Oslo agreement, the people were not ready for it even though they reached an agreement at the government level.”

We learn that their projects are based on four different pillars, the first pillar the most interesting: the people-to-people pillar.

They bring people together based on their professional background. “We look for agents of change, whether they are researchers, academics, business executives or mental health professionals. We look for the added-value on both sides so both sides can see how they can gain from cooperation.”

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They work with close to forty other organizations, i.e., mental organizations in Gaza or other peace organizations. The second pillar is peace education, which are mostly projects with youth. There are over 24 programs in the areas of mathematics, art, technology, sports and social interaction that kids can participate in. Last year, they helped over 2,000 kids.

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Yael says, “the third pillar is capacity, where we try to build capacity on the Palestinian side so they can become equal partners to us on our side. We assist Palestinian businessmen, so they can learn about the chain of supply. They are blind to the process so we help facilitate that.”

The last pillar is what they call ?ad-hoc? assistance – essentially saving children wherever and whenever they can.

Yarden asks, “how do we utilize computers and computer games to create an atmosphere of peace education? We target the youth. The Peace Computers Center project is new. Here, we connect Israelis and Palestinians.

We had 400 kids involved in the first program and the next one, we’ll have over 600. After Israeli kids communicate online with Palestinian kids, they meet in-person. We encourage them to use IM and other online tools to meet other children. What we learn is that they often start with politics but then the conversation quickly moves to sports, exchanging music files and school activities.”

They involve families as well. Says Ushi, “we have family days once or twice a year. We never overlook the adults and we integrate them into our projects.”

Its a fascinating set of programs and inspiring to see them succeed. Raising awareness among the current generation will be key for building a better future. Kids need to see that there’s a way to reach peace, that there’s hope for an integrated, united Israel.

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