What does it mean to build a community of peace?

Letter from the Director

What does it mean to build a community of peace?

That is the question I have been asking myself since Hamas’ brutal, savage atrocities of October 7, 2023 showed the world a new definition of the word evil.

Let us start by asking, what is peace? For peace without security is an illusion. Peace without a future is an insult. Peace without tolerance and respect is an impossibility. Peace is not just an absence of conflict. Every time we allow dialogue to be upended, every time we choose to ignore the signs of discord, we feed the flames that lead to a systemic breakdown in the perceived inherent value of humanity. Over time, these flames grow. Wounds that have never been healed always cause more harm because they have been allowed to fester.

The events of that now infamous day have made me question whether building a community of peace, our slogan as a foundation, is just an unachievable, utopian ideal. The blood-stained kibbutzim of Israel, like the concentration camps of Germany, stand as a monument to hatred. The flattened homes and hospitals of Gaza stand as a stunning reminder of how innocent and guilty alike perish in the flames of unethical leadership. News stories reek with the horrors of violence against women and children. And yet again, textbooks will be filled with the savagery of terrorism and war. It brings me deep pain to recognize that most of human history reflects our incapacity as a species to achieve peace.

I believe that peace is a conscious decision, encompassing accumulated daily words and actions that lead to finding ways to coexist that do not harm others. What we say and do matters. By carefully listening to and respecting others’ points of view, by fostering understanding and finding common ground, we give birth to the possibility of peace. Achieving it as a global society requires personal growth as well as an acceptance and honoring of others in all of their differences, a goal made all the more difficult by the current culture of extremism. It also depends on an active upholding of the rules and guidelines that make that coexistence possible. Thus, if we truly seek peace, it is our responsibility as both members of our local communities and citizens of the world to consciously hold space for its very existence.

The shock the attack produced left many of us frozen, beyond speechless, due to its sheer savagery and to the glee with which Hamas’ fighters celebrated torture and loss of life. The taking as hostages of babies, children, women and the elderly, some of them Holocaust survivors, stunned the world. For Israel, this coordinated attack from land, air and sea represented a death toll by some counts 15 times higher than 9/11 in the US.

In addition to the depravity seen in Israel, Jews around the world faced the threat of significantly increased anti-semitism, with the Anti-Defamation League reporting an almost 400% year-on-year increase. Jewish students on campuses around the US and in many European countries faced real threats to their physical safety. Campus protesters marched to the tune of “From the river to the sea”, Hamas’ genocidal chant that students may or may not have known explicitly calls for the adoption of the terrorist organization’s charter, whose state goal is to kill all Jews and eliminate the State of Israel. In cities around the world, Jewish homes were yet again marked with Stars of David and protesters shamefully called for people to “Gas the Jews” while college presidents hedged their responses to the danger, calling it “context dependent” in US congressional hearings. What world are we living in?

And if witnessing this sudden dismantling of the chains that kept ancient anti-semitism remotely in check were not sufficient, what then, of the silence surrounding the unspeakable horrors deliberately committed against Israeli women and girls on October 7, 2023: Systemic genital mutilation, sexual violence that literally broke women’s pelvises, women’s dismembered body parts literally tossed around as “toys” by members of a terrorist organization that had been instructed to inflict the greatest possible damage on Israeli society through rape and torture, often performed in front of loved ones whether in person or broadcast over the victims’ own social networks. It is so painful even to read about the horrors that many prefer to whitewash the reality, to pretend it didn’t happen. But this was truly the fate of so many that day, many of whom died and left only their bodies to tell the tale.

And yet, many if not most of the large international organizations that fight for women’s rights remained silent, for weeks or months. These organizations, which for decades have demanded that the world believe women’s stories of violence, without question, said nothing in the face of one of the modern era’s most barbaric and deliberate uses of sexual violence against women as a weapon of war. This “deafening silence” described by Cochav Elkayam Levy, of the Davis Institute for International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, stands as witness to how far humanity still has to go in terms of lending credence to accusations of sexual violence and thereby guaranteeing basic rights for all women. The stories, eyewitness accounts, and expert testimonies required as “proof” by these organizations are slowly beginning to surface, as is the permanent, psychological and often physical trauma that now undermines the lives of previously happy, whole, healthy women. What happened to Israeli women can easily happen to all of us.

 

I have sat in public silence since October 7, certainly not because I have nothing to say, but because I wanted to make sure that anything I shared with the world could contribute to building a community of peace, the focus of my work for the last decade with Pa’Arriba Foundation. I also have a responsibility, as the leader of an organization that has always built consensus within its ranks, to continue to faithfully walk our talk. And that means facing the difficult issues, informing and educating about topics most others avoid. It means trying to find shared values and emotions, in a way that the modern world seemingly finds impossible. It means breaking bread with people who don’t agree fully or partially with your point of view, giving weight to their perspective and respectfully disagreeing on whatever points do not break your personal ethical limits. It takes time. It takes great strength. And, it takes people who are willing to be vulnerable and who value their relationship enough to put in the hard work needed to maintain and grow it. These qualities have become harder and harder to find. Once again, I have confirmed what a special group of people I am honored to call friends and colleagues.

So now, over a month later, we sat down as a team to model what we have always proposed as a solution for the violence that we believe starts at the individual level and grows, in the aggregate, at a societal level. We joined each other over Zoom calls and in cafés and talked, really talked, about the current situation in the Middle East and the world. Each one of us had our own opinion, but we tried to find some common ground. And we have decided to share the results of our conversations, because in the words of holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, “silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Now that we have taken the time to reflect, it is a time to speak, taking responsibility for our words and hoping they will encourage others to touch base with their shared humanity.

The team members of Pa’Arriba Foundation have agreed that:

 

  • We condemn Hamas’ brutal terrorist attack on October 7, 2023 on Israeli civilians and all extremist terrorism that aligns with this attack.
  • We repudiate the taking of hostages and recognize Israel’s right to recover its citizens as well as citizens of other nations that have been abducted.
  • We recognize the right of all peoples to enjoy permanent and lasting security and the right of people, communities, and States to defend that right when attacked. Notwithstanding, and considering the particularly complex nature of this specific conflict, we recognize that the only way to guarantee this right is for the entire region to join together with leadership committed to State-building to devise a permanent solution for peaceful co-existence and prosperity for people who are historically tied to the same land and ancestors.
  • We condemn any violence that specifically and purposefully targets women and children and lament the horrible effects of war on these vulnerable populations. Any instances of rape or other violence against women used as weapons of war should be denounced by international organizations and prosecuted to the full extent of applicable law by competent and impartial authorities. All victims of sexual and other violence should receive adequate and appropriate psychological support as part of their recovery process.
  • We stand in favor of human rights, which are inherent to all people without any discrimination, whether based on their ethnic origin, sex, religion, nationality, race, language, skin color or any other condition.
  • We reject anti-semitism, just as we have rejected and fought to eliminate all types of hatred, and to educate, knowing full well that ignorance leads to distrust.
  • We express our condemnation of the indoctrination of children as soldiers of wars based on multi-generational hatred that serves to support power structures who care nothing about their future. We call on all educators to promote respect, love for life, and the right to innocence and peace for all children.

We hold space for peace. We refer not to an empty ceasefire that serves only to regroup and attack again, but for real peace, in which all human life is respected, in which people and their communities can thrive, in which evil is uprooted and defunded, and in which good becomes the ideal to be achieved.

We place responsibility on all peoples to actively work to build the lives and societies they dream of, conscious of both their rights and their responsibilities, actively working with vulnerable populations to discover how best to assist them so that all members of the society can take steps toward freedom and hope.

——————————————————————————————————–If you are interested in helping us build a community of peace, join us at one of our weekly, Spanish-language dialog circles, contact us about helping implement more educommunicational campaigns to reduce violence, or donate at www.paarriba.org/donate.