Friends of Hebron hold festival in Sydney

June 28, 2010 by J-Wire Staff
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Sydney’s Leichardt Town Hall was the venue over the weekend for the Friends of Hebron’s Festival of Friendship

Member of the Inner West Chaverah, a Jewish group who live in the neighbourhood, attended the Festival. A spokesperson told J-Wire:”All in all, the event went peacefully but it was a little bit tense at times. Palestinian participants approached our Jewish group and made it abundantly clear they were looking to create a dialogue where both sides could discuss the future.” He added that the opening speech took the sting out of the evening and that the Australians who were part of the Friends of Hebron were more strident in their comments than the Palestinians attending the Festival.

The Festival was launched on Friday evening by Leichardt mayor Jamie Oarker. J-Wire published his speech in full:

Welcome to Leichhardt to the Festival of Friendship

On behalf Of Council I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land  we are meeting on tonight – the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora nation and pay respect to their elders both past and present. I also extend this acknowledgement to aboriginal people here tonight.

I’m delighted to open this event tonight and thank all of the people who have been working make this evening come to reality. As the title suggests tonight is about friendship and the power of that wonderful idea of friendship.

This idea speaks to the power of humanity over adversity. And here in this concept of friendship are the seeds to the resolution to many conflicts today.

And for people who genuinely care about peace and justice in the Middle East we all have a choice. We can choose whether to nurture the seeds of peace, to build friendship or increase divisions and difference. We can make an active choice  to promote and nurture friendship between people. This is especially true of  those of us who are neither Israeli nor Palestinian. This is not to forget injustice and suffering but to activtly build the foundations of friendship over hate.

And we can see tonight in our local community these seeds of peace. Tonight we have Palestinains, Jewish people and a diverse range of Australians.

For many people say what is the role of local government. Well I’m not about to debate a one or two state solution but I we know most keenly in our every day work in our local community that people to people understanding is critical.

And we can see that the  seedlings of peace are the many grassroots joint initiatives taken by courageous Palestinians and Israelis from both sides of the borders, often at  considerable risk to themselves. These initiatives include common school, sports, health, business, artistic, and community-building activities. These activities in the big scheme are fragile and need our support.

I wanted to talk about the project that this evening’s event is supporting

“The Villages Group: Cooperation in Israel-Palestine”

Perhaps we cannot bring about a general peace, but we can perform deeds of  peace.

“We started as a group of Israeli individuals who, since 2002, have maintained  daily contact with residents of two villages in the Nablus area. We have provided support to help them sustain and develop their communities under extremely difficult physical and emotional conditions. To date, we are not a formal organization but rather as an alliance of individuals who feel that the situation calls us to action. We do not operate under any banner or ideology, nor do we wage organized advocacy campaigns. ”

Rather than confront settlers or soldiers (where we are less effective), we choose instead to work where we can be most effective: in the human sphere.

As a result of on-going visits to the villages over the last four years, our contacts have evolved into partnerships with mutual responsibility and
dedication. We now consider ourselves one group with both Palestinians and  Israelis
They go on to say on their web site
“significant and consistent improvement in relations between individuals and
grassroots groups in human, cultural and economic relations can send a strong
signal and incentive to the political leaderships, encouraging them to proceed
towards a comprehensive settlement.

While the responsibility for the top-down political process clearly rests with  the formal leaderships, the responsibility for the little-noticed bottom-up
process is placed upon the shoulders of each and every one of us, Palestinian and Israeli, at any given moment. This activity, whether or not it is perceived as political, gives clear priority to individual lives and local issues.

Therefore, our Villages Group aims its activity to improve awareness and familiarity between Palestinians and Israelis, and to deepen the human relationships between them. Our working assumption is that patiently creating and maintaining an infrastructure for such relationships on the local and personal level, is essential for the possibility of peace between the two nations, especially in the present, when peace seems so far away.”

The council wants to make a commitment to nurturing the Palestinian/Israeli grass roots, people to people peace making, building the basis of civil society.

After many problems Council in Sept 2007 by adopted a unanimous resolution to lend its support of projects in the Middle East that included people from both
sides of the conflict, had widespread local community support and were genuinely humanitarian, amongst other things. I note that both the Leichhardt
Friends of Hebron and the Inner West Chavurah worked on this resolution.

I want to reassert and renew the heart of that that commitment here tonight

There are many excellent Palestinian and Israeli organisations and courageous people, who are working together on practical peace-building programs, some of which involved people from Hebron, or are taking place there and also in Bethlehem. Many of these programs have international supporters, including regional and national governments.

There are some great examples:

There are linked Peace Sports schools – an extra curricular program for school children, that has been taking place in Hebron in recent years, where the kids
come together to play sport through a peace education program; similar programs include Palestinian and Israeli girls soccer teams and father and
sons joint teams

There are linked Peace Kindergartens, where Arab and Jewish children meet weekly to participate in a joint session, that is delivered in both Hebrew and Arabic. The kids do activities that foster cooperation and teamwork, allowing them to learn about each other, and be open to “the other”. There are also Family days so parents and siblings can also come together and be involved  …this may be something that could be built into the kindergarten project the FoH are fundraising for at the moment.

There is joint NGO cooperation – for example there is a Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum that brings together some 100 Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations, including groups from Gaza, sharing ideas and common learning and activities.

There are joint media initiatives – for example, there’s a Palestinian/Israeli network of women journalists, there have been projects that have co-produced TV series, docos, and films.

The Frames of Reality project is another interesting example. In 2009 and 2010, 12 Palestinian and 11 Israeli photojournalists met and worked together over the course of a year to share their perspectives of working in a conflict zone, and their photographs, and by doing so, have deepened their understanding of each other, their common humanity and approach to their work. This program has resulted in an exhibition that’s travelled internationally.

There are also other examples in the area of business and economic development, in artistic, cultural areas – there’s a Palestinian-Israeli Chamber of Commerce started in 2009, joint Business to Business seminars, and so on.

These types of programs actively lay the foundations for future peace on the ground. They aim to break down stereotypes of the ‘other’, break down barriers
of language, and focus on the humanity people share – short build friendship between people of goodwill.

It’s not all sweetness and light, of course. I know there are genuine grievances, and much suffering, but what is fostered by these examples does not add fuel to the flames, it is an attempt to build on the common humanity and the needs of people on both sides to have a future for their children that is based on peace and freedom.

We want to lead the way in local government, here in Australia, by supporting a grass roots peace making project/program. Volunteer groups have made great progress in building relationships across the divide but its important to provide institutional support to these activities.

This is where the role of local government can be important by bringing the resources and support of the organisation to bear.  I will re establish the committee established by council in 2007, and in the coming weeks we will work with our local community including the Friends of Hebron, The Inner West Chavurah, some of whom are here tonight – part of Jewish community in the local area who reflect the progressive make up of our community and who are in the forefront of many important social issues in our community, and others to promote and support a project that we can all be proud.

I believe the best approach will by bring together community groups with a passion for peace and justice in the Middle East Peace. I trust our committment to this joint project that will create trust both locally and in our own modest way internationally. I believe it opens a way for genuine discussion and reveals the truth of the struggles and hardships those who strive for a just peace face each and every day.”

Finally can I say I’m very proud that this important message is being voiced at this Festival here in Leichhardt and thank all the local councillors, community members and supporters who have encouraged and build such a positive start to what I hope will be an ongoing success.


One Response to “Friends of Hebron hold festival in Sydney”

    Mayor Jamie Parker and Leichhardt Friends of Hebron are to be congratulated on their work which brought about this Festival. In addition to being financially extremely successful, it was also very successful in terms of telling the Palestinian story, banned by the previous administration, and building local relationships.

    Vivienne Porzsolt
    Jews against the Occupation

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