November 5, 2010
Rallying for a change
There are calls to boycott environmental event.
A grassroots event whose aim to bring people together in the spirit of greater environmental sustainability in the Middle East has been met with political resistance, despite the mandate for peaceful coexistence among people residing in Israel’s Arava Desert region.
With Earth and Each Other is a free, Internet-based “e-rally” that will be broadcast on Sunday, Nov. 14, and is produced by Friends of the Arava Institute, a U.S.-based nonprofit that supports the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, an Israeli graduate institute that brings together Arabs and Jews to find solutions for the region’s environmental challenges.
Congregation Or Shalom will be hosting local participation in With Earth and Each Other and the broadcast will be followed by a panel discussion with locally based activists and experts.
The hour-long web session will be hosted by award-winning actor Mandy Patinkin and will feature musical performances by Israeli and non-Israeli musicians, including David Broza, Tuck and Patty and iconic folk singer and longtime civil-rights activist Pete Seeger. Local panelists will include Rena Lazar of Peace it Together, an organization that uses multimedia and filmmaking to promote Middle East peace, Noam Dolgin, an environmental educator and alumni of the Arava Institute who has participated in the institute’s annual fund-raising desert bike ride.
Last month, however, a group of 40 organizations urged Seeger to withdraw his appearance from the virtual rally as part of a boycott of the Arava Institute, which receives partial funding from the Jewish National Fund. Those calling for Seeger’s withdrawal believe that a boycott is the best way to achieve peace and justice for Palestinians who they say are displaced through JNF-led and other Israeli activities.
Vancouver rally organizer Valerie Lev Dolgin said that while she agrees that some JNF policies have been questionable, conflict in the region will not be resolved with a boycott or with Seeger’s withdrawal from the event.
“I’m sure that the organizations calling for the boycott believe this is the only path toward the resolution of the problem, but I don’t agree. I think the Arava Institute and the coexistence organizations and the people who are doing that kind of work, it’s the harder route, it’s the slower route, but I think it’s the correct path. I think the only way to peace is through dialogue and conversation, not disconnection – that’s how conflict starts to begin with, when we disconnect from our humanity and our neighbors,” she said.
Lev Dolgin is confident that the programming for the event speaks for itself. “There really is nothing controversial about this as far as I’m concerned. It’s people talking to other people and learning about their experiences in a non-judgmental way to find a way that we can all live together in peace, and the people who are going to be coming to the event will hopefully see that highlighted. It’s a part of the conflict and a part of the region that we don’t normally see and it’s a very hopeful way of looking at all the possibilities of the region.”
With Earth and Each Other will highlight coexistence projects in which the Arava Institute is involved. Arava’s curriculum brings Israelis, Jordanians, Palestinians and North Americans together to study environmental issues and to experience living alongside each other.
“By living with and listening to the different voices, people can look at each other face to face and try to understand from someone else’s point of view what exactly is happening, rather than across headlines or via what the politicians are trying to tell them,” she said.
Lev Dolgin said the online forum will hopefully begin a quest to find commonalities. “I think the Jewish community needs to learn more about this, maybe model some of it, because we do tend to get polarized in an us-versus-them dialogue.” She added that reenergizing people with a more optimistic outlook about the Middle East is integral to positive change.
“What I would like to come out of this is for people to feel some hope for the region. I think that there has been a lot of burnout. I see people feeling hopeless about the future of the region. Knowing about the good stuff that’s happening ... maybe that’s the only way that these things are going to change – at a grassroots level, the person-to-person connection.”
Visit orshalom.ca or withearthandeachother.org for more information.
Jeanie Keogh is a Vancouver freelance writer.