One might work a lifetime for peace in the Mideast, to no avail.
Or, one might land in the middle of the Arab Spring. Suddenly, all things are possible.
Sociology Prof. Paula Rayman found herself surrounded by possibility during her tenure this spring as Senior Fulbright Fellow with Haifa University in Israel. As director of the UMass Lowell Middle East Center for Middle East Peace, Development and Culture, she has many connections with peace scholars in the region.
“The Arab Spring caught everybody by surprise,” says Rayman. “At the International Women’s Summit in April held at UMass Lowell, we were all amazed at the events in Tahrir Square Cairo. Nobody would have dreamed a year ago that Egyptian Pres. Hosni Mubarak would ever step down.”
The changing atmosphere has energized discussions among peace scholars and activists within Israel and Palestine. Rayman met with these leaders at two invited presentations in the Distinguished American Speakers series of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Chargé d’Affaires Thomas Goldberger and his wife, Eden, hosted the program, “An American Scholar Looks ‘Beyond Coexistence’ in Israel.” In her presentation, Rayman spoke about how nonviolent action has been instrumental in advancing the quest for democracy and better social and economic conditions in the Mideast.
She examined how interactions between Arab and Jewish populations, within Israeli society, may bring about constructive change. Rayman repeated her presentation to an invited group of women leaders. Both talks led to lively discussions – and a new alliance.
“Women will play a critical role in social change,” says Rayman. “UMass Lowell can facilitate other institutions in building multi-dimensional partnerships.”
The new initiative, Women’s Leadership for Nonviolent Action for Change, brings together Palestinian and Israeli women leaders to build trust and leadership capacity for nonviolent social change. Rayman led meetings in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beit Jalla, Palestine, as they developed an invited grant proposal to the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem.
Three organizations are partners in the proposal:
- Kayan, which focuses on Arab women in Israel;
- Shatil, which focuses on Arab-Jewish leadership in Israel; and
- The Parents Circle, which links Palestinians and Israelis who have lost a family member in the conflict.