Delegates from seven countries, including Morocco and Tunisia, are visiting Israel this week as part of an initiative led by the Anna Lindh Foundation for Dialogue between Cultures, which leads regional initiatives and supports local activities that promote better understanding among people and religions.
The delegation, composed of civil society leaders and artists from Europe, North Africa and Middle East, are in Israel Wednesday and Thursday before moving on to Ramallah on Friday. The group's planned visit to Gaza was canceled due to Israeli security concerns.
The Lindh Foundation, which is based in Alexandria and headed by Jewish Moroccan AndrÃ© Azoulay, was established in 2005 and is funded by the European Union and the 43 member states that make up the Union for the Mediterranean.
"We are not a peace-making organization, but rather an organization dedicated to promoting the culture of peace," said Andreu Claret, executive director of the foundation.
"It is not easy for me to be here, but I am very happy to be here," said Driss Khrouz, director of the Moroccan National Library.
"My visit is important for the Moroccan network because they adopted the ideals of the foundation. In this problematic region, it is important to form cooperation between peoples and religions. It is only through dialogue, that democratic men and women can find solutions.
"In Morocco we have a very big and deep Jewish culture and we have associations that work on Jewish-Moroccan dialogue. We want to help promote dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and offer the organizations that act in the field international recognition," added Khrouz.
Following Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the foundation launched an initiative titled "Restore Trust, Rebuild Bridges," which is aimed at promoting a culture of coexistence and peace in the Euro-Mediterranean region. The delegation's visit and a series of coexistence-oriented events that took place in Bat Yam and Jaffa, culminated the initiative.
The foundation operates through local networks of individuals and organizations, all coordinated by a network head in each country. The Israeli network is headed by the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem and consists of 117 members. Most of the institutions work in the areas of education, youth, arts, democracy, human rights, gender issues, media and research.
On the Palestinian side the network is headed by UNESCO and has 187 members. Most of the organizations work in the areas of youth, education, arts and human rights. Members are established in West Bank as well as in Gaza Strip.
Last month the Lindh Foundation awarded the Euro-Med Award for the Dialogue between Cultures to Combatants for Peace, an anti-occupation group made up of former Israeli soldiers working together with former Palestinian militants.
"We want to thank the foundation for the international recognition we received, which highlights our cause and proves that sitting together and talking is the only way to overcome hatred and discrimination," said Raed Hadar, a Palestinian member of the group who lives in East Jerusalem. "The same people who used to kill each other are now cooperating to bring an end to the occupation."
More than 50 activities were launched since the start of the Restore Trust, Rebuild Bridges initiative. These include programs in places like Romania, Portugal and Lebanon as well as Israel and the West Bank. From "Bridges On Air" a joint Israeli -Palestinian documentary radio program produced in Italy to "Youth Incubator 4 Reconciliation," a religious diversity project taking place in Turkey, the foundation has helped fund a wide variety of voices dedicated to peace and coexistence.
The main events, which took place Wednesday in Bat Yam and Jaffa, included an academic round table on Mediterranean identities organized by the Bat Yam Urban Mediterranean Institute and the Van Leer Institute, and a series of artistic events including video art installations, a "Polaroid station," a concert and a theater production.
"The European Union played a full part in the establishment of the foundation and is fully supportive of activities of peaceful dialogue in the region," said David Kriss, press and information officer for the delegation of the European Commission to the State of Israel, which co-hosted the events.