January 26, 2003, Updated September 12, 2012

Representatives of dozens of groups working towards Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation and NGOs from at least 10 countries will participate in the Givat Haviva conference. US Peace Corps alumni will present their model for coexistence and peace-building in among Israelis and Palestinians at an international conference in Israel.

The Peace Corps alumni feel they have a useful reconciliatory role to play a role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they recently visited Israel to hear firsthand about the challenges of co-existence and peace building in the region.

The heads of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) met with two dozen local Non-Government Organization (NGO) heads at the Givat Haviva Jewish-Arab Center for Peace – a meeting that resulted in an invitation to present their model at the conference at Givat Haviva next month in Nazareth, which will be held under the auspices of the UN cultural organization UNESCO.

“Representatives of dozens of groups working towards Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation and NGOs from at least 10 countries will participate,” Givat Haviva’s director Sara Usetsky-Lazar told ISRAEL21c.

“It will be more like a four-day workshop. Peace Corps alumni will sit with small working groups to concentrate on various aspects of peace building based on their in-field experiences from other parts of the world.”

The conference is a flagship event for UNESCO’s Decade for a Culture of Peace”, and is in partnership with Education for Peace Globalnet – Building a Planetary Culture.

“Your continued work under difficult circumstances is most commendable,” former NPCA Director Charles (Chic) Dambach told the Jewish and Arab staff of the Givat Haviva center, which won the 2001 UNESCO Prize for Peace Education. “We’re here to find ways of working together.”

“You take the lessons of that experience into the rest of your life,” said Dambach. “As we grow older, we have more skills and resources and can do even more for peace around the world.”

42 years and 167,000 volunteers after President John F. Kennedy proposed the program, the Peace Corps have earned a reputation for impartiality.

“We Americans don’t have all the answers,” explained Dambach, an internationally renowned expert on civil society and leadership who heads the Washington-based Boardsource consultancy for worldwide NGOs.

“The concept of ‘working with’ is so important. We first build trust as a neutral party, and don’t impose ourselves or do anything uninvited,” he said.

“We’ve traced about 50 former Peace Corp volunteers now living in Israel,” said US-born Jerusalemite Ilana Rosenman of the NPCA’s Israeli alumni. “We can also make a contribution. There is no Peace Corp program in Israel, but many volunteers served in the Middle East and speak Arabic. We can offer skilled volunteers such as water engineers and health workers.”

“We’re exploring the potential of influencing the Middle East situation,” concluded Dambach. “We envision a long-term relationship.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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