Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Jews sat together in a Beduin tent in the
heart of Amman this week, joking that the tableside nargila was a different kind
of peace pipe. They dipped into humous, Middle Eastern salads, rice, chicken and
beef, and sampled the paper-thin bread baked on a stone at the entrance to the
spacious Rem Al- Buadi restaurant, alongside Jordanian families whose children
chased each other around the illuminated fountains.
from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Israel were in Jordan for the continuation of a
two-week workshop that began in Israel, focusing on community development,
community resilience and disaster risk reduction.
Led by Israeli experts
at the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center in Haifa, the
workshop was sponsored by Tag International Development; Mashav, Israel’s Agency
for International Development Cooperation; and the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Tag, a British nonprofit, apolitical, international organization, is devoted to
bringing Israeli and Jewish expertise to communities in developing nations and
In Amman, the group was hosted by Tag and the
Jordan Red Crescent (JRC), which presented sessions on its experience with
disaster preparedness and community development.
Stressing the importance
of people-to- people peacemaking efforts, JRC president Dr. Muhammad al-Hadid
pointed out that the JRC has excellent relations with Magen David Adom (MDA).
Both organizations are members of the International Federation of the Red Cross.
In fact, in 2009, in cooperation with MDA, the JRC sent a group of 15 paramedics
to study at Ben-Gurion University for two years, and two members of the group
are staying on in Israel for further MDA training at Soroka Hospital before
returning to Jordan to apply their training at home.
Noting that this was
the first (and so far only) group of Jordanians to study at an Israeli
university, Hadid said the decision to send the students had drawn criticism and
opposition from some of his countrymen. However, he said, “I believe in what I’m
doing, so I don’t pay attention. I visit Israel whenever I am invited, which is
sometimes every couple of months. I believe in patience and compassion, and also
in the difference between ‘loud’ and ‘sane’” – a reference to his
“I remind them that during the days of the Prophet Muhammad,
during the wars, the prophet said, ‘Every prisoner you have who can teach 10
Muslims to read and write, set him free,’” he continued. “I am sending
paramedics to learn from Israelis. The Israelis are the best paramedics in the
world – if it was good enough for Muhammad, it’s good enough for me.
you feel strongly about things, and you do them with your whole heart, things
Hadid repeatedly stressed his commitment to humanitarian
connections between all peoples, citing Tag for its efforts around the
Referring to the cold peace between Israel and Jordan, he said,
“There should be no borders between peoples of the world. People of different
backgrounds are all human beings… they all want a safer region, a better future
for their children. Humanitarian relations are very important. We always judge
people before we meet them.
Humanitarian relations give us the chance to
explore the other person and see them in another way.
“King Hussein once
said that war is launched by governments, but it is the people who make peace,”
“If people are prepared for dialogue, they will realize that
there is no difference between us – as we are realizing in Amman
FURTHER EVIDENCE of humanitarian motives trumping diplomatic
hostility was on display at the training center in Haifa just a few days
earlier, when Muslims and Christians from Indonesia – which is home to the
world’s largest Muslim population and does not have diplomatic relations with
Israel – shared experience, dilemmas and best practices with their Israeli
The interfaith group was organized by Indonesia’s YAKKUM Christian
Foundation for Public Health. The Muslim participants represented one of the
country’s largest Muslim organizations.
With 12 hospitals, YAKKUM, a
church-based NGO, is the largest Christian organization in Indonesia. It
operates a comprehensive social, educational and health-care system throughout
the country in 350 poverty- stricken and disaster-prone areas.
YAKKUM’s Paula Hartyastuty, as a Christian who had “studied the Bible since
childhood,” a visit to the Holy Land was “a dream come true” – but she admitted
that she had expected Israel to be an expanse of desert land, and had been
surprised to find that it was “just like Europe.”
The head of the
Community Development Unit at YAKKUM’s largest hospital, Hartyastuty had also
been sure Israel was overrun with soldiers and police “like we see on the news,”
and the dangers of terrorism had crossed her mind. Following 10 days in Israel,
she was impressed by the country’s “pluralism – there are mosques
here...In Indonesia, people think that in this Jewish country, all the
Jews are religious, but this isn’t true.”
A Muslim participant (the
Muslims in the group preferred that their names not appear in print) pointed out
that despite the absence of diplomatic relations, Israel and Indonesia benefited from unofficial exchanges of knowledge. He expressed his gratitude to
Tag for initiating the seminar that had brought him to Israel and succeeded in
creating what he hoped would be lasting connections among the participants from
the four countries.
Another Muslim participant, an academic and volunteer
community activist, stated that much of what he had learned in Israel could be
adapted to the needs of his organization. He was especially intrigued by Israeli
methods for sustaining community centers economically and for attracting and
maintaining skilled volunteers.
Both Indonesians and Sri Lankans said
that while the idea of a physical center for the community that was available to
different interest groups was well-entrenched, the concept of an arena for
promoting community resilience and development as it exists in Israel was new
and exciting to them. All were eager to bring the model home and adapt it to
their particular needs and conditions.
AT THE Neve Yosef Community
Center, in a disadvantaged Haifa neighborhood that was on the front line during
the 2006 Second Lebanon War, participants discovered that lessons learned by
Israelis under fire could be applied to disasters as apparently dissimilar as
the eruption of Mount Merapi in 2010 in Central Java, Indonesia, and the 2004
tsunami in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
In between disasters, Israel’s
community centers strive to improve quality of life, based on the communities’
needs, values and priorities. They also help their members to overcome social
obstacles, and provide opportunities for empowerment, volunteerism and the
assumption of leadership roles.
This experience also contributes to the
projects Tag is implementing, with the support of the American Jewish Joint
Distribution Committee, in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
Kirubaharan, a 29- year-old Sri Lankan pastor who was born in a Tamil refugee
camp, “heard God’s call at the age of 10.” Today he works as a district
coordinator in the North of his country for Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka’s largest
grassroots organization dedicated to social and economic empowerment. In their
spare time, he and his wife are busy with English lessons and reconciliation
work for children, following their country’s 30-year civil
Kirubaharan was most impressed with the concept of asset-based
community development, and the way the Israelis he had encountered during the
workshop put a “positive spin on crisis and conflict” – leveraging it as an
opportunity for streamlining and growth.
Abdul Careem Lasalebbe, director
of Sarvodaya’s largest training center in Batticaloa, in eastern Sri Lanka,
smiled as he confessed to being pleasantly surprised at Israeli driving habits –
he had heard some pretty bad stories, he said.
With Tag’s support,
Lasalebbe hopes to create a pilot community center based on the Israeli model in
his training center as early as September. The center will serve the returning
Tamil population that survived the tsunami and was displaced by the civil
Tag Chief Operating Officer Dr. Amos Avgar confirmed that his
organization would continue to contribute expertise to projects in both
Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The project in Indonesia, to be carried out by the
interfaith contingent from YAKKUM, aims to develop a community center model to
help to facilitate YAKKUM’s response to the needs of the villagers around Mount
Merapi. The flow of lava and ashes from last year’s eruption left more than
100,000, homeless and traumatized.
Similarly, in the villages in eastern
Sri Lanka, Tag is partnering with Sarvodaya to help develop a model for a “safe
community,” in an attempt to strengthen resilience in communities that suffered
multiple traumas following displacement during the civil war, the effects of the
tsunami, and the displacement and damage caused by recent recurring floods,
which affected more than one million people. Additional ideas for projects that
developed during the workshop are also under consideration.
Wijayanto, a senior member of the board of YAKKUM and leader of the interfaith
cohort, expressed his group’s deep appreciation to the JRC for its “wonderful
hospitality” and to the Mount Carmel Center in Haifa “for providing an excellent
environment for learning – simple, homey and friendly facilities.”
workshop content, he commented, “The participants learned much from the 25
sessions. Although not all can be adapted in the Indonesian context, it has led
to many ideas and inspiration. For example, the participants were very impressed
with Israel’s success with dairy cattle and integrated farming as a source of
income for rural people.”
YAKKUM’s Hartyastuty believes that “it is
difficult to influence the government, but people-to-people connections will
make the difference...the programs that we implement in our hospitals
and villages, in our ‘hospitals without walls,’ like primary healthcare, HIV
prevention, [programs for] sanitation and [clean] water, mother and baby health,
tropical disease and leprosy prevention… the Israeli model will help us to
maximize the communities’ potential to continue to cope with these problems on