The Non-Violent Movement for Peace
URI in Jerusalem
by Nicholas Porter and Jack Karn
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls and quietness within your towers.
For my brethren and companions’ sake, I pray for your prosperity.
Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.”
– Psalm 122, vss. 6-9, BCP translation
Across the world millions of Christians, Jews, and Muslims pray for the peace of Jerusalem each night. It is an ancient prayer with modern aspirations that defy the conventions of a bitter 71-year-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel’s late prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, famously remarked that advancing peace between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs was like jumping from a second-story window onto a galloping horse. Yikes! In his mind, peace required exceptional leadership, involving courage, timing, resilience, and planning. He was right, but his assassination on November 4, 1995 by an Israeli extremist opposed to the Oslo Peace Accords revealed that peacebuilding in the Holy Lands demands more than a bold rider. Peace in Jerusalem requires a different horse.
To this end, Jerusalem Peacebuilders (JPB), a United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circle (CC), promotes transformational encounters among the peoples of Jerusalem, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories. Our experience in the field bears out the claims of academic literature, that while only leaders (“riders”) can draft and sign peace treaties, only ordinary citizens (“horses”) can make and maintain the mutually positive, healthy human interaction that we call peace.
And those different horses – those people – willing to reconsider their history and build peace? They require a well-crafted and artful blend of nurture and challenge to emerge. In societies where conflict and trauma have become acculturated into essential elements of personal and group identities, peacebuilding requires patience, persistence, and prayer. JPB focuses on the heart of Israeli and Palestinian society – on a strategic triangle consisting of youth, parents, and teachers.
Our interfaith programs provide sustained, critical engagement among Christians, Druze, Jews, and Muslims to foster the “re-humanization” of the other and reframe the chosen glories and chosen traumas that animate societal behavior. To be effective, our intensive approach necessitates small cohorts of 15-20 participants and close partnerships with local families, schools, and organizations. It also demands that participants and educators alike maintain a vulnerability and a commitment to each other and to the wounds that have brought them together.
Jerusalem Peacebuilders was born of the 9/11 Attacks. With the fall of the Twin Towers in New York, co-founders Dorothy and Nicholas Porter felt something collapse and die within themselves. Their ministry of building bridges between peoples and religions suddenly looked so small against mountainous flames of hate. Was Huntington’s theory of the clash of civilizations unfolding before us? Their hearts quailed at the thought.
Ten years would pass before they dared to unveil the dream. At first, it came like an involuntary reaction to the hatred and bigotry they witnessed surrounding the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in the United States. But as Dorothy and Nicholas spoke, people listened and agreed: the daughters and sons of Abraham could choose another path. They were quickly joined by their closest friends, Stuart and Angie Kensinger, as well as Jack Karn and other supporters, who shared their conviction that the future of Jerusalem is the future of the world.
Years of living in London, Paris, Geneva, Cairo, and Jerusalem had blessed the Porters with many Middle Eastern friends and considerable knowledge of the region. But they soon realized that we knew nothing about organizing residential peace programs (a.k.a. “peace camps”). Thankfully, from 2011-2015, Kids4Peace International (K4P), a URI CC, offered JPB a framework in which to nest, learn, and grow.
K4P also helped JPB establish partnership and enhancement of civil society as hallmarks of JPB’s approach to peacebuilding. In 2011, together with K4P, we launched our first summer peacebuilding institute for Israeli, Palestinian, and American teens, in West Brattleboro, Vermont, US. Eleven teens participated. In 2019, together with several partners, JPB will operate five intensive summer institutes – two in New England for teens, two in Texas for teens, and one in England for Arab and Jewish educators. One hundred twenty teens and adults are expected to participate.
In January 2016, God flung open new opportunities. After a providential meeting with the principle of Sts. Tarkmanchatz Armenian School in the Old City of Jerusalem, JPB was invited to teach peace and leadership courses to 10th and 11th graders.
Other schools in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Haifa, Nazareth, and Jaffa soon followed Sts. Tarkmanchatz’s lead, opening their doors to JPB programming. Partnerships with Debate for Peace, QSchools, the Israeli Ministry of Education, and the Amal Group have expanded our scope to include schools in the Negev, Netanya, Petah Tikvah, and central Israel. Today, JPB educators work regularly with hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian teens.
Providing in-school courses prompted a major, positive shift in JPB’s approach to peacebuilding. It led to the development of a consecutive, four-year high school curriculum, and it allowed us to deepen our impact on students as well as engage with school teachers, and avoid the endless complications of after-school events. In-school courses also furthered JPB’s dependence on local partners, thereby causing us to become better listeners and better supporters of their initiatives.
Methodology and Approach
At the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stands the dispute over Jerusalem. The impulses to possess the Holy City and the surrounding lands exclusively appear less tied to the means of economic production or security than to issues of societal identity. For the majority of both peoples, Jerusalem and the land are understood to be essential elements of their spiritual, psychological, emotional, and national topographies. Without possessing them, Israelis and Palestinians alike feel they cannot honor their heritage or fully be themselves. Yet these core identity symbols of Jerusalem and the land are physical realities and must unavoidably be part of an eventual bi-communal arrangement. Therefore, Israeli and Palestinian identities are negotiated identities.
JPB programs bring together Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans to co-negotiate their identities in community. Our four-year curriculum explores identity, communication, recognizing conflict and managing conflict through religious values and belief, teambuilding, dialogue, volunteering, arts and drama, sport, journaling, leadership training, and follow-up projects. It is decidedly experiential (i.e., interactive and analytical) and Freire-ian (following the learner-based principles of educator Paulo Freire)
By engaging different aspects of their core identity, attitudes, and behavior, JPB catalyzes an evolutionary process of moral restructuring within the Israeli and Palestinian participants. Our goal is to unite them and to empower them to reject being objects of a forgone history and to become co-creators of a positive shared society. High rates of program retention, social activism, and exceptional university placements by JPB participants are significant indicators of lasting program impact.
Growing the Non-Movement
JPB exists to raise up both new leaders (“riders”) to draft and sign peace treaties, and new citizens (“horses”) to make and maintain the mutually positive, healthy human interaction that we call peace. Our tiny cadre of staff and volunteers facilitate all this and more through the grace of God and a loyal network of partnerships. On a good day, we can be likened to yeast leavening dough for a future much greater than ourselves.
We understand our participants, alumni, and supporters in much the same way. With our limited resources and the unlimited might of entrenched interests, JPB cannot claim to be a “movement” with a hierarchy and organized, large-scale initiatives for social change. Instead, we are a “non-movement” of Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze, working individually (and in informal networks), but simultaneously, for peace, prosperity, security and dignity in Jerusalem, Israel, and Palestine.
Is this not exactly how the Spirit of God silently shapes history and the human heart? We believe that God is a verb, and this is our prayer for the peace of Jerusalem. We hope that you will join us in honoring God and transforming lives. You can get involved by going to the Jerusalem Peacebuilders website.
Header Photo: Jerusalem Peacebuilders