Case study: Influential ultra-Orthodox women are change agents for peace

This case study captures the changes influential ultra-orthodox women have undergone and how Interpeace's programme in Israel, Base for Discussion (B4D), has contributed to this transformation. It also documents the impact of the work with ultra-Orthodox women at large - both on their community and for the peace process in general.

Local ownership of capacity development

This document highlights the importance of local ownership in a short case study. It illustrates the role of Palestinian-Arabs in Israel in strengthening their own capacities for constructive action.

Israel and northern Ireland: Sharing peacebuilding experiences

The Interpeace programme in Israel, Base 4 Discussion (B4D), in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme, works with various key groups of Israeli society to promote commitment to peace and dialogue. One of these groups, with which B4D has been engaging since 2007, is the traditional religious population. Notably, several influential ultra-orthodox rabbis, who took part in an 18-month training programme organized by B4D, created the Committee of Rabbis, which is currently working on a Religious Peace Initiative – a set of concrete recommendations for solutions to the conflict, with a focus on religious elements. As part of this process, a delegation of rabbis recently had the opportunity to travel to Belfast, Northern Ireland to meet with religious and political leaders from both the republican and unionist communities.

Relationship between religion and politics
During these meetings, the rabbis were able to have discussions about the relationship between religion and politics, both in the context of Northern Ireland and of Israel. The speakers from Northern Ireland gave an honest overview of the challenges to peacebuilding they have faced. The rabbis also had the opportunity to hear testimonies from influential religious figures who had personally managed to negotiate peaceful settlements within a theological framework. The Northern Irish particularly highlighted the potential for religion to play a positive role in resolving conflict.

Peaceful coexistence
The delegation of rabbis also traveled to London, where they held meetings with imams in the East End of the city. At the East London Mosque, which neighbours the historic Fieldgate Synagogue, the religious leaders discussed the commonalities between their two faiths shared their perspectives on the challenges and opportunities of providing religious education to youth. The rabbis were able to witness the peaceful relations between the Jewish community and the Muslim population of East London. The tour was concluded with meetings with British Members of Parliament and officials at Westminster.

One of the members of the delegation concluded: "Religious leaders have an important role to play by stepping in and providing a peaceful, moderate voice that can influence large crowds to seek a non-violent end to the conflict."

The delegation of rabbis was hosted by the organization Forward Thinking, in association with the Causeway Institute for Peace-building and Conflict Resolution and the East Belfast Mission.

Including the ultra-Orthodox community is key to peace in Israel

Interpeace's programme, Base for Discussion (B4D) has been working in Israel since 2005. It works with previously excluded, yet influential, sectors of Israeli society and engages them in a dialogue that confronts participants with a range of opinions so they can assess possible solutions to the conflict in the Middle East.

The programme currently works with the Russian-speaking population, the Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel and the ultra-orthodox community. B4D engages these communities in an internal dialogue process that prepares them for interacting with other sectors of society. The B4D team works with the intermediate leadership structures of each of these communities in order to have a bigger impact and enhance the possibility of a meaningful engagement with external groups.

Itzik Sudri, Project Officer has recently described B4D's engagement with the ultra-orthodox community in an article published in Al Monitor on 13 February 2014. Click ici to read the complete story.

Israel: Ultra-Orthodox women become catalysts for peace

Base for Discussion (B4D), Interpeace's peacebuilding initiative in Israel, engages a group that is often overlooked when it comes to issues of peace and conflict: ultra-orthodox women. Despite their influence on the political and spiritual leadership, no efforts have been made to enable female members of the traditional religious community to play an active role in the peace process in their country. A two-year Master's programme specifically tailored to ultra-orthodox women aims to change that.

A two-year Master's programme on conflict resolution

The first group of women is now about to graduate and has been exposed to a wide range of issues concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "The educational programme empowers women by providing a platform where they can play an active part in the peace process. At the same time, the women learn about different conflict resolution tools, study the scientific literature and familiarize themselves with the historical background of the conflict in the Middle East. Back in their own communities, they then share what they have learned and use the acquired knowledge in the development of nonviolent solutions," explains Noam Shuster, Communications Officer of B4D.

Understanding the different points of view

As part of the programme, a recent two-day tour took the women to the West Bank and the border areas with Syria and Lebanon. Some of the women had never visited areas populated by Palestinians before nor met with Palestinians directly. This entirely new experience and the exposure to members of the Palestinian community increased the understanding for each other's problems and led one of the participants to state that "the only way for our children to have a better future is by making sure our neighbors have the same conditions and equal opportunity for their children."

During the visit, the women also discussed the controversy surrounding the separation barrier that has been set up by Israel. The ultra-orthodox women were able to see the implications that the barrier has for daily life in these regions and this helped them to visualize the theoretical knowledge that they acquired during their classes.

Conflict resolution specialists

After two-years the women are now specialists in the area of conflict resolution especially with regards to the conflict in the Middle East. They do not shy away from meeting members of the Palestinian community and debating solutions with them. Some even plan to launch projects of their own and influence the peace process within their respective communities to make sure that their voices are no longer sidelined.

This initiative is part of "Partnerships for Peace", a joint project with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported by the European Union (EU).


Israel: Challenging perceptions among the Russian-speaking community

Recently, members of the Russian-speaking community in Israel had the opportunity to attend a screening of the documentary film "The Gatekeepers" that was nominated for an Academy Award. The event was part of Interpeace's work in Israel that engages influential actors from the Russian-speaking population in the peace process. Following the screening of the film, participants were able to ask their questions to the director of the movie, Dror Moreh.

"The Gatekeepers"

The film portrays six former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli secret service agency, and allows them to share their views on the peace process and the future of the Middle East. To the surprise of large parts of the audience, these prominent figures of Israeli society are now promoting a negotiated solution between Israel and Palestine as the only option for peace even though they had previously advocated a hardliner position in their roles as heads of the secret service. Based on their experiences in the intelligence agency and their work with Palestinians, the group portrayed in the film unanimously advocated for a negotiated settlement.

"Most of the participants were really surprised to learn that the views of the protagonists had turned around completely. To hear from six former heads of the secret service that they are regretting large parts of their actions has been quite shocking for some members of the audience. I could really feel that tensions among the participants were rising," explained Dina Libster, Programme Officer. "A lot of the questions for the director were consequently related to the authenticity of the testimonies."

Challenging beliefs and perceptions

"The movie challenged the beliefs of the participants and caused them to question their own perceptions," adds a participant who is a senior reporter at the Russian channel in Israel. "This caused grievances of the Russian-speaking community to openly come to the forefront. A lot of them are frustrated with the current political leadership that asks the Russian-speaking community to make large sacrifices, but in the end it turns out the leadership is not making the right choices. This is leading to a change of attitudes and mind-sets among members of the Russian-speaking community and might increase their openness to a negotiated peace."

Social media has a multiplier effect

After the meeting participants continued to share their views and discuss impressions of the event on social media. Sharing the messages of the film with members of their networks and communities increased the exposure and impact of this event. Some of the participants were even interviewed by an Israeli Russian-speaking TV channel, thus amplifying their own impressions further.

The Russian-speaking community as a key stakeholder for peace

Interpeace started to work with the Russian-speaking population, which makes up 20% of the Israeli population, back in 2009. The core group that is regularly participating in peacebuilding activities is composed of influential media actors, political advisors and young entrepreneurs. Due to their large influence on political and public opinion, the consideration of this group is critical for reaching a sustainable peace agreement. Interpeace works with this group to include their voices in the development of a vision for the future of Israel.

Interpeace's work in Israel

Interpeace's programme in Israel, Base for Discussion (B4D), engages marginalized groups of Israeli society in the peace process. Through its work, B4D is targeting more than half of the Israeli population – the Russian-speaking community, Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel and the traditional religious population.
The Interpeace initiative in Israel, Base for Discussion is jointly implemented with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and supported by the European Union Partnership for Peace programme.