This past August, at the Gdansk Shipyard in Poland, Nobel Laureate Lech Walesa presented me with a Medal of Gratitude on the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Solidarity Movement in Poland. The Medal was given for the organizing work I did as a young engineer in Chicago, helping Poland hold on to her dream of freedom when the Polish army arrested thousands in the Solidarity Trade Union Movement.
Eventually, against all odds, Solidarity prevailed. -- Historians tell us that it was the definitive movement that brought the fall of Soviet Communism. In 1990, less than a year later, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the U.S. mobilized for what would be the first Gulf War. I drew upon what I learned from the Polish Solidarity Movement to propose a way to end the then-stand-off with Iraq. My NYTimes op-ed, “Small Lights in the Darkness,” proposed a direct way to connect with families in Iraq to convey our desire for a just peace. Thousands of people participated and my essay was translated into Arabic by the First Lady of Greece and presented to the 20,000 members of the Iraqi Women’s Federation just a week before the war. This was my defining moment.
It would take me another 10 years before I would leave my engineering job to pursue peace-making as my life's work. I formed the Rebuilding Alliance in 2002. an American nonprofit organization dedicated to rebuilding war-torn communities and making them safe. For the past seven years, we have brought Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers together to help Palestinian families rebuild their demolished neighborhoods.
I believe that if our world is to meet the big challenges that face us at this time in history, we must make peace in Israel and Palestine. We must find a way to free-up the energy and expense spent on this conflict, celebrate success, and redirect resources to the pressing global crises ahead. I am not Israeli, I am not Palestinian, I am an American, and as such, I am responsible for the actions my country takes in the world.
I work for a just and enduring peace in Israel and Palestine founded upon equal value, security, and opportunity for all. Our rebuilding is village-directed and it includes rebuilding not just structures but also relationships, trust and mutual respect. Each project is built on a foundation of shared interest that honors human dignity, and aids people recovering from trauma.
Rebuilding offers officials at all levels of government - in the judiciary and the military - tangible and immediate opportunities to make good policy. We’ve see that this is true of officials both locally and internationally.
I believe a child’s life can be changed for good by rebuilding her or his home and neighborhood.
I believe construction is the best response to destruction -- and it is important to start rebuilding as soon as possible.