April 05, 2021

What Inspired the Alliance for Middle East Peace

Avi Meyerstein

Founder and President

When you meet an Israeli or Palestinian peacebuilder for the first time, one of your first reactions will be amazement. You realize quickly that, too often, the people who are doing some of the most incredible, positive things are invisible. Outside of the region, almost no one knows they exist. 

I learned this lesson back in 2003 when I first started the work of building the Alliance for Middle East Peace, known as ALLMEP. At that time, there was plenty of news about Palestinians and Israelis, but all we saw on TV or read about in the papers was violence. The last serious attempt by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to negotiate peace had crashed, giving way to the Second Intifada. 

The flames of violence sucked up all the oxygen in the room, so to speak, and dominated the news cycle. Of 9.5 million Israelis and Palestinians at the time, only a tiny fraction of the population was engaging in violence. But saying and doing extreme things was the surest way to get on TV, and the wave of suicide bombings and Israeli military operations had reached unprecedented intensity. If anyone was working to build peace, you would never have known it.

When we began building an alliance of people-to-people organizations—first a few, then a dozen, then several dozen within just a few years—I quickly learned that if you met a peacebuilder or two, you had only just opened the door a crack. Swing the door wide open, and you would find dozens of projects involving thousands of people. 

The programs included—then and now—everything under the sun: schools, clean-water initiatives, health services, interfaith projects, bereaved families, and job training programs to name a few. They were connecting people across the divide, improving lives through cooperation, and building trust between the two sides. I was shocked to learn that many of the organizations in our alliance had waiting lists of people wanting to participate in their programs. How could no one have known about this?

When we began introducing these organizations to members and staff in Congress for the first time in 2004, the policymakers were equally surprised and amazed. They thought they knew all about the Middle East, and yet they were almost entirely unaware of an entire field of activity that was steadily chipping away at the conflict. 

We have all paid a price for the invisibility and under-funding of these peacebuilders. With greater resources and a higher profile, they can touch exponentially more hearts and minds. If more people see their example, they can have a profound effect on the politics within and between each society, which has only grown more toxic in the intervening years.  

At ALLMEP, we believe that elevating these organizations both in the region and internationally can actually make them more effective and accepted in both societies. Greater visibility can blunt some of the stigma in each society of working with the “enemy.” It can re-center the public dialogue, putting engagement, cooperation, and non-violence on the map as legitimate solutions.

In fact, showing and telling the stories of the peacebuilders has a rippling effect on the wider audience that sees and hears how change is possible. When this inspiring work is part of the public conversation, it serves as a critical counterweight to the ever-visible rejectionists and widespread cynicism and despair. 

We at ALLMEP have always dreamed of turning up the volume, and now we’re getting our chance. In December 2020, our very first global gala drew over 2,500 people worldwide, including celebrities and world leaders. We also recently launched Mid East Storytellers, a storytelling workshop for peacebuilders to finetune and share their inspiring stories with wider audiences. 

And now, just as the peacebuilding field is about to leap to new heights with the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act’s $250 million in funding, we’re excited to launch this blog. We hope it will be a new online home for sharing inspiring stories, unheard perspectives, and news of our progress toward sustainable peace. 

We hope it gives you some inspiration, something to think about, and especially, something to share. After all, spreading the good word is part of creating the change we seek.