The presentation by Eco Peace/Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) at the Reconstructionist Synagogue left organizers scrambling for extra chairs for the standing room only crowd.
Port Washington resident Rick Grove wasn’t surprised. Grove, a member of the FoEME International Advisory Board said this area was a natural stop on the group’s tour, pointing to Port Washington as a place where cultural divides are crossed everyday.
How we get along across religious and ethnic differences is a model for tolerance, he told the Port News. “We come together across the divides to form friendships and work toward common community goals here in Port Washington. This is exactly what FoEME is attempting to foster in the Middle East. FoEME looks to communities like ours and wanted to specifically come to this area to engage people in our efforts.”
FoEME was founded 20 years ago as a group of concerned Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians came together to work on shared environmental issues and along the way established a respect and rapport between local people—Muslims, Jews and Christians —working toward common environmental goals. FoEME’s most recent efforts have been directed toward cleaning up the pollution in the Jordan River. FoEME is a non governmental group (NGO) with financial support throughout the international community including the governments of the United States, England, Sweden and Japan as well as contributions from individuals.
FoEME co-directors Israeli Gidon Bromberg, Jordanian Munqeth Mehyar and Palestinian Nader al-Khateeb each spoke to the group describing their successes on environmental issues, the challenges of promoting understanding and cooperation among people who are inherently skeptical and intolerant of one another based on years of hostility, and the formidable task of dealing with three governments.
Each director works in a different location. Bromberg in Tel Aviv, Mehyar in Amman Jordan and al-Khateeb in Bethlehem.
All three described the satisfaction of engaging people one village at a time to achieve common goals and mutual respect.
Grove sees the FoEME model of bottom up engagement as an important compliment to top down diplomacy in providing a hope of peaceful solutions in the Middle East.
Grove said that as he reached out to the leaders of local churches, synagogues and mosques, “Spiritual leaders of all faiths embraced the principles of FoEME,” he said. “In the end 21 local faith based organizations supported the event.”
FoEME representatives will return next year to visit college campuses. Additional information is available at www.FoEME.org