Born and having lived in Jerusalem for most of her life, Palestinian peace activist Abeer Bandak has been anti-Israel for several years. She grew up hating the Israelis because she was taught that they were her enemies. Later she worked for the United Nations. Fifty-four miles away, Noam Alon grew up in Tel Aviv, Israel. She then served in the Israeli army, as all young Israelis are required to do. Then she attended Columbia University before returning to Tel Aviv to work for a startup.
Today, Bandak and Alon are part of the management team Tech2Peace, a non-profit organization bringing together young Israelis and Palestinians to learn technological skills and engage in conflict resolution dialogue. Founded in 2017, the initiative has nearly 200 alumni from Palestine and Israel, and has grown from volunteer-led seminars to a year-round program with a full-time operations manager. By keeping equal representation at the heart of their peacebuilding activities, the Tech2Peace team and participants are balanced in number between Palestinians and Israelis and men and women.
To date, most of the young people the organization has attracted have moderate opinions. Now, however, in light of the recent air strikes and riots between Palestine and Israel, Tech2Peace aims to connect with more extremist groups.
âThe riots in Israel and the situation in Gaza were tough, but it was so touching to see how the Tech2Peace community supported each other,â Alon said. âWe had a Zoom dialogue every night during the operation, and we had a Whatsapp group and a Facebook group where the alumni met. We talked about how Instagram and other groups seem to use the algorithm to brainwash people and show the extremist point of view more. When they return home to Tech2Peace, our community remembers how to see the people behind the propaganda. ”
See the people behind the propaganda
In May, Tech2Peace alumni logged in every night during the 11 days of destructive fighting between the IDF and Palestinian armed groups, primarily Hamas. Clashes in Gaza City claimed the lives of nearly 250 people, most of them Palestinians, and left parts of the Gaza Strip to rubble. Both sides have been accused of committing war crimes.
Against the onslaught of negative headlines and violent, disturbing imagery, cutting through propaganda can take years for some people. Peace seminars can help people shed their first tear and provide them with the tools they need to begin to see humanity in their enemy. This is exactly what a rally in Holland did for Bandak in 2007.
âWhen I attended the event in Holland, I went there wanting to talk about the Israelis with bloody hands,â Bandak says. âIt was my mission. But during my training I started to feel like maybe I wasn’t thinking rationally and that I was motivated by my emotions. I wanted to gain more knowledge, so I pursued my masters in Israeli studies.
From there, Bandak immersed himself in the study of Israeli society and establishment. “It opened my eyes to different aspects that I had never thought of,” she shares. It helped me start to see my enemy as a human rather than dehumanizing him.
âOn the Israeli and Jewish side, there is a very strong underlying racism, fear and hatred towards Arabs and Palestinians with nothing to back them up,â Alon shares. âIt’s just very systematic in the way we’ve grown up here. âThis is part of what makes Tech2Peace’s activities so important because it is the opportunity to meet the people behind the title. The fact that we meet young leaders, people in their early twenties, is crucial because it is a very important point in the maturity life cycle. They’re done being in the military, so they’re kind of waking up from the delusions that come with being in the military for the Israelis, and they’re ready to rediscover their ideology and put a question mark on it. things they thought were true. ”
Believe in the rights of the other as much as theirs
During Bandak’s transition from anti-Israel to friend and collaborator, much of her work focused on understanding Israeli soldiers.
About this internal and external confrontation, she said: âWhen they stand at a checkpoint, how do they do it? [Israeli soldiers] think of a Palestinian standing there? For me, it was that they felt hatred and wanted to hurt us. That was my opinion until I started talking to people who have been in the military. They explained to me that many of them are really afraid of being attacked by Palestinians. And I know my people; they are not going to attack. It only takes one person to attack to create fear inside these soldiers. For a Palestinian, all it takes is having a bad soldier standing at a checkpoint and giving him a hard time, and then people start judging the Jewish people and the entire Israeli community based on that one soldier.
For Bandak, changing his perspective on the Israelis took a number of years, but the process was worth it. Tech2Peace’s goal is to instill a level of awareness so deep in its participants that they believe in the rights of others as much as theirs.
âI believe the community we are cultivating can do this because the clashes in May were really hard for everyone to see,â Bandak says. âThey are peaceful people and they are also agents of change, and that is what we want. And they have the ability to create startups with people who were once their enemies. “
One of the highlights of Tech2Peace’s two-week seminars is a Google hackathon for startups. The program takes participants on a journey from ideation to live presentation in front of experts, so they can experience what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.
In addition to Google’s involvement, MIT (MISTI) took inspiration from Tech2Peace and adopted the Tech2Peace model for implementation in South Africa between refugees and local youth.
Creation of a new generation of entrepreneurs and peace
While teaching high tech skills, helping tech interns get jobs and seeing them start their own businesses is an integral part of running Tech2Peace, Alon and Bandak’s long-term goal is to see more of the miraculous ripple effect that members of the ancients exhibit. .
Some former participants are launching their own peacebuilding projects. One of them, an Israeli settler, uses her skills as a facilitator to lead groups in Jerusalem and supports Tech2Peace in recruiting.
âBecause she’s a settler, she has access to more extreme groups, people who are less inclined to attend a Tech2Peace meeting,â Noam explains.
Other Tech2Peace graduates, who have never spoken to people on the other side, continue to build their startups and remain active with the initiative.
âWe are seeing real friendships develop through Tech2Peace,â says Alon. âIt’s a long-term impact that extends the reach of initiatives. “
To find out how you can support Tech2Peace’s peacebuilding program, visit www.Tech2Peace.com.