Israelis assist North Ireland’s peace process

Friday, October 27, 2006 |  by Avida Landau

While peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have virtually come to a halt since Hamas’ rise to power, some regular citizens, both Israelis and Palestinians have decided to lend their hand in resolving other international conflicts. The first stop: Northern Ireland.

A group of Israelis and Palestinians participated in weeklong workshop in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where they attempted to offer their experience. The workshops were organized by the Ulster Defense Association (UDA), considered the most violent Protestant terror group in Northern Ireland. The UDA has so far refused to join the peace process there, which began in 1998.

The purpose was to transform the UDA, responsible for killing dozens over the past three decades, from a violent terror group into a non-violent community development organization. The workshops were backed by the British government, which still lists the UDA as a terror organization. The workshops were led by Joe Camplisson, a conflict resolution expert from Northern Ireland, who is, ironically, Catholic.

The Israeli representation included three delegates from the organization “Young Israeli Forum for Cooperation” (YIFC): Ofer Zalzberg, Nimrod Goren, and Dror Kraus, along with three representatives from a Palestinian counterpart organization, who wished that their names not be used.

About 40 of the UDA’s military and political leaders, most of them ex-prisoners, participated in the workshops, which were held under a heavy cloak of secrecy. They learned from YIFC’s experience of working with its Palestinian counterparts to create a new environment and diffuse the conflict by empowering young leaders from both sides and building a framework for dialogue and cooperation between them.

Ofer Zalzberg, YIFC’s co-chairman, said that that they agreed to participate in the workshops after they were assured that the UDA truly wishes to denounce violence. He saw a strong correlation between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the situation in Belfast.

“The Catholic neighborhoods support the Palestinians and the Protestants neighborhoods support the Israelis,” he said. “You cannot help but wonder when such a process will take place in our area. Just imagine Hamas calling on an Israeli expert to help them change their ways, then being assisted by Bosnians and Serbs who share from their experiences. I think it’s amazing and possible on the Israeli side as well.”

Afterwards, the leaders of the UDA thanked both the Israeli and Palestinian groups for their participation, they expressed their desire to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority and said they will continue the dialogue that began in Belfast.

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