Noam Shuster-Eliassi, 29, grew up in Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam (Oasis of Peace), an Arab-Israeli village dedicated to promoting peace and co-existence. A fluent Arabic speaker, she is the daughter of an Iranian mother and a Holocaust survivor from Romania. She has dedicated herself to peacebuilding and has worked since 2012 with the international organisation Interpeace, where she is coordinator of the Base for Discussion program. She was a delegate speaker on peace, security and conflict resolution at One Young World’s Summits in Dublin (2014) and Bangkok (2015).
This is her best advice on building bridges across political divides.
1. Make room for others. Yes, just like that. Learn to make space for people of different backgrounds. Don’t cooperate with a camp that excludes the majority of the population. Create mechanisms, whether in your projects, writing, and activities that will ensure a wider representation of marginalized groups among the participants. Travel across the country. Don’t say “there are no suitable people.” There are many of them, of all kinds and colors, whose work is far more difficult than yours. Someone who comes from a traditional, right-wing community might have a much harder time raising the flag of peace. Go find this person. These are your people — put time and energy into them.
2. Speak with honesty, bravery and determination to hardliners from your own side who refuse to compromise. Negotiation is not only to be held with those on the other side of the argument. Israeli-Palestinian dialogue has been taking place for years. Israelis from the left and the right must sit with one another and talk about our vision for this place, without ignoring one another. Or we won’t make any progress.
3. For heaven’s sake, please do not hold your meetings on religious holidays. You complain that religious people are not participating in bridge-building yet schedule your events to clash with prayer times. Enough. Oh, and make sure there is food for the meeting which meets religious dietary requirements. Really, it’s not that hard.
4. Compromise on your positions: yes, move a bit. Be flexible. Listen. Even Palestinians would be happy to hear a few alternatives and new ideas considering that the two-state solution has been stuck for 20 years. Ask questions out of a real desire to understand, not out of a desire to expose the ignorance of those sitting before you. Be leaders, not closed-minded elitists.
5. The term “peace” does not belong to the residents of one place. Allow activists and people from places you haven’t heard about define what peace is. Then listen. You will be surprised by the diversity of voices and will probably feel a pain in your stomach from what you learn.
6. Religious leaders are not an obstacle to peace. On the contrary: they are the key. Religious edicts that support brave political processes of reconciliation exist in spades. Go out and learn, sit with those who are more learned than you. The religious world has the knowledge and experience on how Jews can live in peace and brotherhood with their Muslim neighbors.
7. Do not speak in the name of other groups. There is nothing more embarrassing. You haven’t sat with an entire people, yet you tend to speak in its name. Just because you read a few articles does not mean you know about the current hardships of the Palestinians, or the Jews from the former Soviet Union. Now return to point 1.