|October 11, 2001
Volume 32 Number 4
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
Hope Flowers: Grass Roots Peacemaking in Middle East
Gene Sandretto, mediator, social worker, and administrator of the Hope Flowers School of Bethlehem, believes in the value of grass roots relational peacemaking. Getting to know ones counterpart from a different culture and getting to see that other person as a human being is a natural condition for no longer maintaining the same degree of prejudice toward that person, said Sandretto during his recent visit to campus.
His Sept. 27 lecture, Seeking Peace and Facing Evil, was presented by the Building Bridges program, which seeks to build bridges of support to reject intolerance, promote mutual respect, and celebrate diversity.
For the past nine years, Sandretto has worked at Hope Flowers, a Palestinian school located on the West Bank, founded by a Palestinian refugee, Hussein Issa, and dedicated to peace and democracy. More than a mission statement, peacemaking for the kindergarten through sixth-grade students is based in action, as they meet with Jewish children from Israeli schools.
Sandretto said, If, from the talk tonight, you take away only one idea, I would like it to be that you go away knowing that there are Palestinian advocates for peace, and that some of them have taken the initiative themselves to build relationships with Jews in Israel who are also interested in peace. This effort has faced many obstacles, such as border closures between the Palestinian areas and Israel, the bureaucratic process of getting permits for Palestinian students to go into Israel, and the caution on both sides about the people on the other side. What always worked, every time the kids got together, said Sandretto, was attitudes changed stereotypes reversed.
One project for Palestinian and Israeli third graders brought the children together in a neutral agricultural preserve in Jerusalem. The students met once a week to build a garden together. They cleared rocks, tilled the soil, planted, tended, and harvested together. They learned songs in each others languages, played games, learned each others blessings over food in Arabic and Hebrew, and ate together.
As the Middle East peace process faltered and then came to a standstill, other projects had to be cancelled. The children are told the current political situation is a temporary obstacle, and it is an obstacle between the governments, not between the peoples, Sandretto said.
Does grass roots peacemaking apply to America today? While Sandretto supports protective measures and thinks the Sept. 11 perpetrators are not candidates for relational peace efforts, he believes the hardening of other hearts can be prevented. We need to be working on some level of relatedness with our enemy and not only putting all of our energy into protecting ourselves, because if you dont work, in some way, on some level, on relatedness, there will be no possibility for building trust, no possibility for really rooting out the causes of resentments, and thus, less probability for peace.
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