Helping connect Israel and Palestine peacefully through transition
By: Deborah Heifetz, Ph.D.
BraveHearts International – www.braveheartsinternational.com/elt
The creation of the Israeli Hub has gathered momentum. We had our first meeting July 15, 2012, when Frieder Krups and I returned from a Thrive training in Totnes. Before I begin the story about the Hub’s unfolding, I’ll give just a little background about what motivated me because a Transition Hub in Israel exists within a larger socio-environmental-political context unique to the region. That said, I am not an environmentalist per se, but engaged in peacebuilding through pedagogy and activism. Recently exposed to and inspired by Hub directors Isabela in Brazil, Niels in Denmark and Carolyn in the U.S. and then experiencing the Thrive training I decided to create a Transition Israel Hub as a vehicle that could help bring about peace through parallel shifts in both Israeli and Palestinian civil societies. Frieder and I have Palestinian friends and colleagues working on the Palestinian side with transition-like projects but who are not yet connected to Transition per se. I see the potential to give mutual support for the parallel shift either directly and/or through the larger international network of the Transition Network. With this background, I finished the Thrive training and reached out to Ben Brangwyn to explore what to do.
Ben provided me with the names and emails of Israeli activists who had contacted him in the past. I then followed up with emails to gather these activists into a meeting, where we could discuss creating a Transition Hub in Israel. We gathered at Tel Aviv University on July 15th, where we explained ourselves, decided to meet again and go deeper after the summer. What Frieder and I found were dynamic, serious and committed men and women who had formed either a Transition initiative (such as Yoav Egozi in Ein Hod) or various other sustainability-oriented projects throughout Israel. Some of these activities included establishing the Israel Energy Forum to creating bike paths in villages, translating Transition materials into Hebrew, writing blogs on sustainability, creating perma-cultural courses and forming community gardens. We were blown away by the energy and seriousness of pro-active and positive initiatives of life-affirming idealism made practical.
There are traditions here in Israel that gives the Transition idea fertile soil. The first value is that community plays a central role in Israeli life. The second principle is that sustainability and self-reliance is a motivating force since resources are scarce and the ‘neighborhood’ is rough. The third is a high social value placed on creativity, innovation and daring to try new ways to thrive and survive as a community. We have a history of the Kibbutz movement of communal and self-sustaining farms and to current variations on that theme. These ingredients are palpable among the people gathered around the first and subsequent circles of Transition Israel Hub meetings.
The second meeting was held on October 4th at a restaurant called “Bar Kayma”, which translates to mean Sustainability Bar. The restaurant is the brainchild of activists who had gathered in Tel Aviv last summer in massive demonstrations to bring about social change and social justice. The restaurant is owned by anyone who chooses to become a member of the cooperative and paying a one-time fee of about $300. Wall gardens, organic food, and a value-based mindset made us think the location conducive for our meeting. We were wrong – it was way too noisy and difficult to communicate, let alone meditate before we began our circle and our discussion. We worked against the noise. Despite the difficult conditions, by the end of the meeting we decided to coordinate efforts on one location in order to test out establishing a TI in a town, neighborhood or village that we thought ripe for the occasion. We wanted to work as a group and learn as a group. We thought it a good idea to hold our third meeting at the home of a well-respected permaculturalist and activist who lives in a village east of Caesarea in the north, called Karkur. She also happens to be the mother of one of the Hub members. We thought Karkur a great place to introduce TI.
In preparation for the meeting, Yoav Egozi and I went to visit this remarkable teacher and activist at her home. Her story is a story in itself. Suffice it to say, that we saw a self-contained home where water was being harvested and recycled, energy conserved and food grown. What would TI have to provide? She wanted to know more about TI, she wanted materials in Hebrew and we wanted to evaluate whether it makes sense to hold our meeting at her home and impose ourselves on her – let alone start a TI in her village. We decided “no.” But we found a village with many individual projects and activists working on a per project basis. Organic produce – Organic restaurant – permaculture gardens and courses – sharing among neighbors. Following our meeting and our decision to meet at another location, her son sent an email asking us a very telling question, one that has since guided us in our third meeting and will continue to do so:
“There are many interesting initiatives in the region – what is obvious is that there is a need for some kind of organizing concept or some arena for the different people to meet and communicate. But, there’s the question if the Transition process is the right one for the task. As I see it, the Transition concept is a rigid one, and I think that the region needs lighter and more flexible process.”
Neither Yoav nor I wanted to take on the question. Instead, we continued to work towards the next and 3rd meeting scheduled for November 26th and have actions accomplished on the ground. Yoav has taken on the leadership role to mobilize funding for translations of the Transition material from the website. He is still waiting. Yoav has been traveling all over Israel lecturing on TI. Additionally, he has created an affiliation with the Heschel Center for Environmental Education and Leadership – an affiliation that allows us to apply for funding under the umbrella of an established NGO and use their offices to work and hold meetings. Additionally, I have made contact with environmental leaders who work with the Tel Aviv municipality, which has a vibrant activism to stimulate community participation in sustainability projects – from creating bike paths and city-supported bike rentals to city supported community gardens. The city actually gives the seedlings and trainings for free and is developing a program to support sustainability-oriented business.
These activists arrived to our third meeting. They included a leader from the Heschel Center, activists who work with the Tel Aviv municipality, an activist doing ‘transition-like’ projects in Tel Aviv, an architect involved in sustainable design working for the city and mobilizing his own neighborhood and a businessman/activist from Haifa. Incredible people, but we realized during our meeting that in order to move forward we needed to create a stable core group. It depletes motivation, momentum and depth to start from the beginning each time new people come and we have to repeat our personal and collective story over again. The pace becomes too slow to sense moving forward.
We made three concrete decisions during our third meeting. The first decision is to go slowly by closing the group and building the core team. This is where we currently stand.
The second decision is to shift focus and intent away from creating a specific initiative somewhere in Israel as a ‘pilot’. Instead, after a round of discussion we decided to more deliberately and consciously establish ourselves as a group. The Hub would be grounded by creating deeper and more connected relationships and communication between the core team. In other words, we would model community building through our own group processes and the unfolding friendships that we would develop among ourselves.
The third decision is to study and learn together. This is, by the way, a culture-specific pattern and very much in the spirit of the Rabbinic scholar, philosopher and teacher, Abraham Joshua Heschel after whom the Heschel Center was named. Indeed, it was the leader from the Heschel center who asked the following two questions to each person from the group:
- What is the nourishment that I need from this group?
- What would bring me to the next meeting?
To that we added a third question:
- How often would I like to meet?
Some of the answers included:
“I want that the group will be a learning process – for example, how do we gain theory?”
Or “how do we build the knowledge” or “how do we build community?” These will be among topics for discussion. The plan now is to set a meeting once/month or so.
I must now complete the meeting summary from last week and send it out to our group together with a Doodle calendar to coordinate the meeting date. Until then and the next meeting, I send all of you around the world warm greetings from Tel Aviv for happy holidays and a New Year of increased well-being and peace.