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Peace-Building in the Middle East: Joining hands across borders, religions and institutions

This is a story of peace-building amidst all the stories of war-mongering. The McGill Middle East Program (now known as the International Community Action Network - ICAN) is based on the ground even as rockets fly through the air. It is a story of hope, faith, trust, hard work, and cross-border, inter-faith and institutional collaboration. It is a story of people much more than a story of politics.

Amidst the fray of Middle East dramas (btw the USA bombs kids too - they are called 'collateral damage'), it is good to remember that that there are many people in Palestine and Israel wanting and fighting for peace. People who believe in peace despite all the reasons that make it seem impossible. People who have risked life, limb, sanity, health etc to create community-based peace solutions (that also involves politicians at high levels). 

In the interest of disclosure I acknowledge  that this blogpost is also committed to giving props to my mentor, friend and best teacher ever -- Jim Torczyner of McGill School of Social Work -- an energetic, tenacious rebel of a (Jewish and Israeli) man, who has always believed in peace solutions and has applied his incredible gifts of gab, humour, intellect and tenacity to creating peace strategies. He inspired who I am as 'intellectual', practitioner, teacher and activist as he so strongly believes in, and acts on, the belief that ordinary people are at the heart of social change and that all humans deserve basic human rights. As an academic he is brilliant and as a 'doer' he is amazing! There are many more people like him (well, not quite... as he's quite the character:-) who believe in peace and are fighting for it but it is difficult to see and hear them among the cacaphony and visual horror of Middle East geopolitics. 

This is also the story of a peace project rooted in human rights, collaboration, community mobilization, political strategy, practical 'intellectualism' and a whole lot of trust and faith. It is a story of bridge-building across cultures, faith systems, institutions, political ideologies and national borders.

"“The argument is: Look, there will be an earthquake,” Torczyner explains. “It’s not going to be a Jewish, Muslim or Christian earthquake. It’s going to kill people.” He argues that to save lives, victims must be taken to the closest medical facility, even if it’s across the border. Protocols for such cooperation are being developed now. Thanks to the efforts of the MMEP, 18 Jordanian students are now studying emergency medicine next door in Israel—instead of Australia, as they needed to do in the past."

As an example of 'practical education' and education for social change, the project builds networks of like-minded people to change people's lives. It directly links classroom and community to make education useful and relevant to the people whose lives are the focus of study.

"Each MMEP centre is founded and directed by a McGill graduate, and that initial connection blooms into even more connections on the ground. “It connects universities with practice and practice with real people,” Torczyner says." 

Despite the never-ending challenges that are presented by conflict, mistrust, history, politics, stereotypes and discrimination, Torczyner is focused on the future of the lives touched by the project, and war makes things more difficult but he plans to keep going.

"Torczyner doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. He’s planning 20 new centres and aims to enlist young volunteers in the next five years as part of a cross-border social movement: “Imagine having 10,000 Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian social entrepreneurs in these neighbourhoods, pushing the same message and learning from each other!”"


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