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Peace delegates from Israel hold summit at International Civil Rights Center and Museum

Members of the Sharaka Delegation at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. L-R: Noam Bedein, Fatema Al Harbi, Haisam Hassanein and Dr. Najat Al Saied.
Photo by Ivan Saul Cutler/Carolina Peacemaker

Peace delegates from Israel as a part of an international grassroots organization called Sharaka visited North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia on March 21-25 to engage with other leaders who work towards social change.

Sharaka, which means ‘partnership’, was founded by young leaders from Israel and the Arabian Gulf in order to turn the vision of “people-to-people peace” into a reality. The Sharaka delegation is made up of people, who hail from countries that were part of the Abraham Accords.

The Abraham Accords is a joint statement between the State of Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, reached on August 13, 2020. The Abraham Accords between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco have opened the door to a new era of cooperation, friendship and partnership opportunities between businesses and individuals that were previously unthinkable.

The statement marked the first public normalization of relations between an Arab country and Israel since that of Jordan in 1994. The accords are named after Abraham to emphasize the shared origin of belief between Judaism and Islam, both of which are Abrahamic religions that adopt the belief of the worship one God, as told in the Holy Scriptures Book of Abraham. The Abraham Accords currently has 120 agreements from surrounding countries and that count is rising.

The group came to share the groundbreaking work that is already being done between all countries, new opportunities on the horizon and what it means for America and the rest of the world.

“What this delegation is trying to do is engage in people-to-people diplomacy. Start the conversation,” said Samantha Von Indie, director of academic affairs with the Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast.

The group spent a few hours at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in downtown Greensboro, where they participated in a guided tour and then held an intimate group discussion with the museum’s director, Jon Swaine; museum scholar in-residence, Dr. Will Harris and local community and religious leaders, Ivan Canada, NCCJ Executive Director; Rabbi Andy Koren, senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel; Rev. Alan Sherouse, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Greensboro and Deonna Sayed, a Greensboro author.

“I know for me being here specifically, simple acts can change a lot. We must always know history so that it doesn’t repeat itself. I think it’s very important to share our experiences and share what we saw today, so it doesn’t happen again,” said Fatema Al Harbi, Sharaka Gulf Affairs Director and delegation coordinator from Bahrain.

Dr. Najat Al Saied, delegation head, media and academic affairs advisor, Sharaka member, professor and columnist noted that there is a connection between the Civil Rights Movement in America and the Abraham Accords in the fight for peace and justice.

“It was so inspirational to see these pictures. The Abraham Accords is not only a peace agreement, but it is also a movement. A movement that started a new kind of history,” she said. “Sharaka means partnership in Arabic. We don’t want this for it only to be confined to government relationships. We also want to approach people-to-people relationships. That is what peace truly means,” she added.

The delegation is working on bringing additional groups of people from diverse backgrounds to build a cabinet that allows for learning across geopolitical perspectives on topics such as militaries, security and IT (information technology) and even to collect opinions on why people may be against the Abraham Accords.

“Diversity is not in only race in religion, but even in different types of opinions,” said Dr. Al Saied. “There is a direct analogy between our movement and what we’ve seen here in the Civil Rights Movement.”

The museum’s principal scholar in residence, Dr. Will Harris said the museum believes in not only telling our individual stories, but our stories as a community.

“The stories that we decide to tell constitutionally should not just be about the individuals, there’s been a great emphasis recently to focus on my story and your story individually and much less about cultivating the story of us together. Here at the museum, we try to add to the previous focus on combating injustice and undoing the negative and talk about moving forward. What does that vision look like from the community perspective?”

The group also discussed the contrast in relationships that are happening between the first generation of peacemakers from 20 years ago and the new generation of peacemakers now.

Haisam Hassenein, foreign affairs and Middle East analyst and scholar and Sharaka member, shared that although there have been sensitive relations between Muslims and Jewish people in the Middle East for decades, religious acceptance is being seen in the younger generations.

“It’s more common nowadays to look on social media and see Jewish and Arab people dressed in their traditional clothing and able to walk down the street together in Saudi Arabia. For the first time you have a Jewish presence going back, talking about it openly, meeting with Arab Muslims on Arab soil. More work needs to be done, but at least it’s a start. Right now, we’re learning,” said Hassenein.

Sharaka delegates also advocate peace through cultural community programs that can bring people together in an engaging and entertaining way.

Greensboro’s NCCJ Executive Director Ivan Canada talked about ANYTOWN, the 35-year-old community program that teaches high school students from various backgrounds about diversity and acceptance and touches on topics such as race, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual identity and orientation.

“Students are really learning and being exposed to these concepts in a way that is self-reflective for themselves to think about who am I in this world. And for marginalized students, I think it provides a sense of pride that they don’t feel in a lot of spaces that they occupy in their schools. This program is the spark that gets many of them thinking, how I, as a teenager or as an individual, can play a role in social change.” said Canada.

Anat Sultan-Dadon, the consulate general of Israel to the Southeast, based in Atlanta encouraged people to speak about peace in the ways that relate to you. She added that seeing the museum’s lunch counter for the first time was remarkable.

“Knowing and learning about the history becomes different when you see it with your own eyes, where it took place, where these courageous young men stood up for equality, was remarkable to see,” she said.

The delegation wrapped up its visit to Greensboro with a meet and greet with U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning at her downtown office.

“I’ve been to Israel many times over the last few years. I’ve seen how the country has developed and how it has struggled to create the right situation for its people. The brave things that these countries involved are doing together, can set an example for other countries in the region to join in, and really change the way people view the Middle East,” said Manning.

Before making a stop in Greensboro, the delegation met with Tracey Burns, deputy secretary of diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion, under the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources in Raleigh. Then they joined city leaders for a “Tree of Peace” planting ceremony in East Durham Park with Mayor Pro Tem Mark A. Middleton. The City of Raleigh also issued a proclamation naming March 21 as “Sharaka Day.”

“Anti-Semitism is still here, racism is still here, and that is why it’s important to work together. This delegation is about peace, and the mutual learning that is happening in reshaping the Middle East. It is important that we bring all sides together because through learning from one another, it’s really how we can affect change together,” said Sultan-Dadon.