On a stifling July afternoon in Jaffa, I met with Yael Patir, the Israeli coordinator for the Palestinian Israeli Peace NGO Forum. The Peace NGO Forum is a community of 100 peace and dialogue non-governmental organizations that are registered and operating in cross-border cooperation.  The organizations are both Israeli and Palestinian, including joint organizations that have joint management.

The Forum was founded in 2006 with “the idea to coordinate and create synergy between all these different groups and individuals that are working in the peace building field, as well as create a whole which is greater than its parts and to see how and when and where we can cooperate as a group,” describes Yael. The goal has been to strengthen the impact and voice of these organizations and bring awareness on a regional and international level.

The 100 organizations belonging to the Forum are organized into three groups under the umbrella of the larger initiative of promoting peace and a viable, just solution to the conflict that takes all parties into account. The first subset is “groups that are working today on the ground against the wrongdoings of the occupation. These are human rights organizations, legal aid, advocacy groups. It can be Machsom Watch, that has volunteers stand at checkpoint and monitor the movement and help people with urgent needs and problems…[they] are trying to prevent the situation from becoming worse.”

“The second group is organizations that are promoting a political solution to the conflict. These are organizations that are either political movements, like Peace Now, and Geneva Initiatives, that are actually showing that there are agreements that we can reach,” says Yael. “Usually
all of these organizations work in Palestinian cooperation because it’s very important for both sides to show their constituency that there is a peace camp and there are people who want peace on the other side.”

“The third group is a group that works with more long-term, people-to-people activities, education for peace. These are organizations that
are working with all age groups and geographical areas. They bring people together from both sides. It can be interfaith on the basis of studying
religion, it can be on a professional base. For example, bringing journalists from both sides and discussing the way they portray the conflict. It can be working with the children, showing the narratives of history on each side. Those organizations are really planting the seed today for a much longer process.”

Yael focused on working with children briefly and the importance in educating both Palestinians and Israelis on the other side. “It is a matter of perspective not just objective facts,” she explains.

The Forum works on the basis of believing that in order for sustainable peace, all of these different strategies are necessary. “Peace is holistic and
it is made out of all these small pieces and efforts,” Patir describes. “No effort is redundant…everybody has a role and all of these activities should be supported.”

The services the Palestinian Israeli NGO Peace Forum provides to these organizations include capacity building and networking opportunities,
such as finding a partner for a certain event, as well as providing trainings for free on such topics as how to present oneself in the media, how to write proposals, how to fundraise, and so on. “We try to enlarge the amount of funds that is given to the field. We provide them the platform to come together and promote whatever they want to promote.”

In the short time we met, Yael emphasized how the work of these organizations is far from complete and can expect to have the struggle of
pushing forward for years to come. She explained that, even if a peace agreement is reached at a political level, the social climate is one that will
persist along the lines of stereotype and separation unless further consciousness and awareness are created.

“Sometimes I am told: ‘When peace will come, you’ll be out of work! So it’s good for you as a peace organization that there is no peace.’ But it is really not true,” describes Patir. “The conflict is so rooted in our cultures, in both Israeli and Palestinian cultures. The culture of fear, hatred, intolerance, all these things that have to do with peace education. We have a lot of work to do, even after an agreement will be signed.”

To learn more about the work of the Palestinian Israeli Peace NGO Forum and the member organizations, visit: http://www.peacengo.org/

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