Breaking ground for discourse on peacebuilding in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
On July 21, 2021, Amal-Tikva CEO Meredith Rothbart testified before the United States House Foreign Affairs Committee in a hearing entitled “People to People: Examining Grassroots Peacebuilding Efforts.” Below is a transcript of her remarks.
Chairman Deutch, Ranking Member Wilson and members of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism, thank you for the opportunity to testify on the critical role of people-to-people peacebuilding efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.
My name is Meredith Rothbart and I’m the founder and CEO of Amal-Tikva, which brings together NGO leaders, philanthropists, field experts and activists to support peacebuilding between Israelis and Palestinians. As an expert in the field, working well over a decade in Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding, I’m here to share with you my view from the ground.
We have seen, especially in the last few months, the role that grassroots movements can and do play in our region for better or for worse. Sheikh Jarrah. The Temple Mount. Mixed Cities. Gaza.
And yet we have seen for thirty years, since the failure of the Oslo Accords, peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians categorically disregarding the complex entanglement of identity, nationhood, belief, grief and ideology which are at the root of the conflict.
We have learned a lot since Oslo. We have learned that no, peacebuilding is not a hashtag. We have learned that dialogue groups alone will not end the conflict.
We have learned that civil society peacebuilding must systematically break the intractable nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict down into more manageable parts, tackling each of those parts one by one, and leading to a popular belief that peace is in fact possible, and that all people have an integral role and responsibility in its pursuit.
We have learned that peacebuilding efforts must include concrete actions that improve lives today.
The Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act of 2020 (known as MEPPA) is so monumental. It invites, for the first time, the possibility of creating a peacebuilding field that could operate at the same scale as the conflict itself.
From where I’m standing, MEPPA has two main objectives.
To engage a critical mass of Israelis and Palestinians in people-to-people peacebuilding
To develop and host significant peacebuilding infrastructure.
Years of program evaluation and research have proven that person-to-person peacebuilding is highly effective in changing attitudes and enhancing cooperation in ethnic and territorial conflicts around the world.
We’re using those models and we’re doing our best. But until now it hasn’t worked because it hasn’t been enough. The field is not at scale.
MEPPA’s success is vital. This funding provides us as a field an opportunity, and success is not a given. We have to be strategic. We have to examine best practices, examine what worked and what didn’t with the International Fund in Northern Ireland. This is what I and my colleagues are working on.
It’s early evening here. I’ve spent my day consulting Jerusalem based NGOs, made up of Israelis and Palestinians working for change. We’re working to build their capacity.
I sat with Lissan, a language program run by Israeli college students who volunteer to make Hebrew language resources more accessible to their Palestinian peers, life changing resources like public transit, healthcare, employment opportunities.
Yesterday I sat with Tami, who works with Wafaa in the community center adjacent to hers here in Jerusalem. They are neighbors, promoting shared community activism to make day to day life in their neighborhoods better, safer, and more convenient.
There are dozens of more organizations like these. They’re doing incredible work. Until now they have all been unable to scale.
We need infrastructure in order to reach more people. MEPPA can provide that.
MEPPA can and should support capital projects, things like a Center for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, a Museum of the Other where each side can experience the reality of their enemy, or a Peace Leadership Institute.
Some of these may sound obvious, but none of this has ever been done before.
MEPPA can and should create a Laboratory for Program Innovation, rooted in the most up to date research on best practices, offering seed funding to support new projects, that require close mentorship, training, regular meetings with consultants, maybe USAID support staff.
MEPPA can and should offer Impact Investments and Microgrants that generate social impact alongside financial return, investing in startups and business ventures that promote social peace, or income-generating programs for not-for-profits. This would leverage the US government’s investment.
Through passing MEPPA into law, you have demonstrated an understanding that peace between the Israelis and Palestinians must be built strategically, between the people themselves who are at war with one another, living right next to each other.
Thank you again to the Commission for focusing on this important issue and for extending me the privilege of testifying today. I truly believe that MEPPA provides a once-in-a-conflict opportunity to change the dynamic on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians for the better, and to lay the foundation for a sustainable, just and lasting peace.
The full hearing is accessible here.
Meredith is the co-founder and CEO of Amal-Tikva. She brings over 10 years of experience with Israeli and Palestinian NGOs in project management, fundraising, strategic planning, and process leadership, including as Director of Kids4Peace Jerusalem. Meredith holds an MA from Hebrew University in Community Development. She lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children.