Israeli, Palestinian peace advocates connect online
BY RYAN TOROK
A social networking site recently featured Israelis, Palestinians and others chatting together online about the crisis in Libya and its implications for Israeli-Palestinian relations. Elsewhere on the site, a circulating letter of Jewish support for Egypt gathered signatures and a discussion forum featured photos of daily life in Gaza, which has prompted more than 200 comments.
Welcome to MEPEACE.org, where the goal is to mobilize moderates supportive of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Eyal Raviv, the site’s founder and executive director, believes that peace starts with each of us — the “ME” in MEPEACE stands for “Middle East” as well as for the users themselves.
“The idea is to create a network completely dedicated to peace,” he said during a phone interview.
Raviv refers to his site, which went live in 2007, as the “Facebook of peace,” and its similarities to Mark Zuckerberg’s social network become readily apparent after a new user signs up. MEPEACE users create personal profiles; comment on each other’s walls; post blogs, videos and photos — all with the aim of establishing peace between Israelis and Palestinians. A color-coded calendar on its main page is updated by staff and users, highlighting related events in Israel, the Palestinian territories and internationally.
The site has more than 4,300 members — referred to as “peacemakers” — from Israel, the Palestinian territories and elsewhere in the world, including Los Angeles.
In addition to social networking, which is being used increasingly by pro-democracy movements and activists in the Middle East and North Africa, MEPEACE also organizes on-the-ground events, such as Peace Cafés, and participates in and organizes international peace conferences, such as its 2008 “MEPEACE: Making Things Possible” meeting in Amman, Jordan.
“We start with a peace consensus,” said Raviv, referring to the users on the site. “We don’t have to agree on everything. But the consensus we start with is that peace starts with our interests, supersedes our differences.”
Raviv, a 35-year-old Israeli American who grew up in Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, originally intended to set up the site as a forum dedicated only to Israeli peace activists. But after taking part in a 2007 meeting between Israelis and Palestinians in France, he told Haaretz, “A Palestinian told me I was the first Israeli he had met, and that made me realize the site could build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Raviv’s current goal is to grow MEPEACE to 10,000 users and 100,000 page visits per month. Based in Tel Aviv, he also wants to open offices in the Palestinian territories, New York and London as well as train leaders and host more events.
Michael Feldman, an L.A.-based lawyer who authored the letter of Jewish support for Egypt, is currently using MEPEACE to find sponsors for an interfaith Passover dinner, dedicated to peace in the Arab world, which he wants to hold this month at the Skirball Cultural Center.
“People who are a part of MEPEACE are already people who have an inclination toward talking to people of the other side,” Feldman said.
During a March 9 presentation at the Levantine Cultural Center in Los Angeles, Raviv spoke of the exposure Feldman’s letter has received on MEPEACE, which he says is a testament to the power of the site.
A few days earlier, Raviv spoke about MEPEACE in San Francisco, at the San Mateo home of Len and Libby Traubman, longtime activists who hold living-room dialogues about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Traubmans contributed $500 to MEPEACE, a nonprofit that Raviv funds with private donations as well as contributions from his own pocket.
“We saw that [Raviv] fulfills the conditions of somebody who can really make a difference,” Len Traubman said.
Although supportive of MEPEACE, Jordan Elgrably, executive director of the Levantine Cultural Center, says he would like to see Raviv’s nonprofit do more than facilitate online conversations and in-person meetings.
Elgrably cited organizations such as The Parents Circle and Combatants for Peace, “where Israelis and Palestinians are already working together and taking action.”
Traubman, however, maintains that having conversations and building relationships are fundamental to the peace effort.
“A lot of people want peace, but they don’t want relationships,” Traubman said. “And it’s not going to happen unless people meet. And Eyal knows that.”