On Monday evening, Colorado College hosted the two founders of Achvat Amim, a peacemaking organization based in Jerusalem, for a presentation and discussion on the Israel/Palestine conflict. The event was hosted by the CC chapter of J Street U, a national pro-peace organization focused on promoting a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine.
Karen Isaacs and Daniel Roth, the cofounders of Achvat Amim, started the program after being involved in the same Jewish youth group as teens. Isaacs cited the “responsibility to understand what’s happening [in Israel and Palestine] as Jewish people” as the reason they initially became interested in the conflict. Their interest evolved into a five-month program based in Jerusalem where members live communally, work, and learn about the issues at hand. “You’ve got two groups of people who call the same place home,” said Roth.
The Israel/Palestine conflict has had an effect on a large number people at CC, whether directly or indirectly. Maher Abu, the current Arabic Cultural Program Coordinator, came to Colorado from the Gaza Strip, one of the Palestinian territories most severely affected by the occupation. “I come from a place which is basically a war zone,” said Abu. “I am only 27 and I have already gone through three wars and two intifadas and am still suffering from PTSD from the last war, which occurred in 2014, and was absolutely the worst ever.”
Experiences like Abu’s drive Achvat Amim forward. In their presentation, Roth and Isaacs described some of the work that the organization does on the ground in Palestinian territories, a large part of which consists of helping Palestinians whose houses were demolished in the West Bank by the Israeli occupation.
Abu’s house in Gaza “was partially demolished due to a bombing of the house next to it,” she said. “It was really hard to literally have to cook in a kitchen without walls for almost a year because we lost the walls in the war, and it was impossible to rebuild them as the occupation did not allow construction materials into the Strip.”
The idea of home is really core for Achvat Amim. Roth and Isaacs emphasized the importance of “the right to build a home for yourself, and to build a home for your people.” Abu has hopes and dreams for the future of her own home as well. “I really hope that this [ongoing conflict] will stop one day,” she said. “I am away from my family and crossing my fingers that nothing bad would happen. And I hope I would be able to come back since I faced a great difficulty leaving Gaza. As you know, it is really hard to go in or get out of Gaza because we are under siege.”
She added that she thinks she speaks “for most of the Gazans when I say that we need peace because living like this is not a life at all,” and also commented on the importance of talks like this one to inform young people in the U.S. about what’s happening in Israel and Palestine. “I believe that it is essential for American students to understand what is going on in that area because there is a huge American influence on the political conflict in the Middle East,” Abu said. “I trust that maybe one day, one of the students will be able to change the terrible reality for the better in the future.”
As emphasized by their mission statement, Achvat Amim is striving for peace in the region just like Abu is. Isaacs made sure to mention the privilege that she and other activists have and their responsibility to utilize it. But this is just the beginning; they hope to inspire students, like those who attended the presentation, to learn about what is happening in the world around them.