Building Unity: Cleaning the Hate

About seventy people gathered under the pavilion in Cass Park for the Vitamin L concert that kicked off Building Unity: Cleaning the Hate on Aug. 21. The youth choir sang of understanding and human rights, inviting the audience to sing along.

During the pot-luck after the concert, participants broke into small groups to get to know one another and discuss what “cleaning the hate” meant to them. Numerous communities and at least four nationalities were represented; the discussions, too, were wide-ranging, including reflections on family immigration history, Middle East conflicts, microaggressions and homophobia.

After the discussions, the group embarked on cleaning up the trash in Cass Park, a civic gesture intended both as a symbolic statement and a practical contribution to Ithaca. Armed with plastic gloves and trash bags, participants fanned out, picking up garbage from the playground, pavilion, and surrounding areas.

Feedback on the event was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. As one person noted, “This is a very beautiful idea and gives me hope for a much better world than we currently see evidence of.”

Palestinian Human Rights Activist Bassem Eid

After 33 years in the Shuafat refugee camp, Palestinian Bassem Eid has dedicated his life to exposing human rights violations and supporting a democratic and pluralistic Palestine. On Wednesday, October 28, he spoke at an event organized by the Ithaca Coalition for Unity and Cooperation in the Middle East (ICUCME), held at The Space@Greenstar, 700 West Buffalo Street, at 7 pm.

“For 26 years I have been devoting my life to the mission of defending human rights,” Eid noted at his recent presentation to the British Parliament. “As a proud Palestinian, I must take responsibility for what will happen to our people.”

Eid is the founder and director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, a non-partisan organization. His many honors include the Emil Gruenzweig Memorial Award from The Association for Civil Rights in Israel; the Robert S. Litvak Human Rights Memorial Award from the McGill University Faculty of Law and the International Human Rights Advocacy Center, Inter Amicus; and the International Activist Award from the Gleitsman Foundation. The 2009 book Next Founders profiled him as the leading Palestinian human rights activist.

Egyptian Activist Offers Hope

Peace starts with the people, not with governments, said Egyptian activist Ahmed Meligy, speaking at the inaugural event of the Ithaca Coalition for Unity and Cooperation in the Middle East (ICUCME), held June 14 at the History Center in Ithaca.

Throughout his talk and the lengthy Q&A, Meligy encouraged the nearly 100 people packing the room to act, person to person: reach out to Arabs and Muslims over Facebook and Twitter. “Even if you receive some bad responses, keep going,” he said. “Share your side of the story. Reach out to one another for the sake of our children.”

In May, 2011, Meligy helped start what he described as the first peace movement on social media, YaLa Young Leaders. What began with 1,000 followers now has a million. “We collect Arabs, Jews, Palestinians, and help them listen to one another and see the truth about each other,” explained Meligy. The group also runs an on-line university that teaches conflict resolution and peace studies to Arabs and Israelis.

When younger, Meligy said he was full of hatred, brainwashed to see Israel as an enemy to destroy. But then Meligy actually met an Israeli. “She turned out to be a human being, not a demon,” he said. “My curiosity started to grow and I began to question everything I’d been told.”

That curiosity eventually led Meligy to visit Auschwitz and other concentration camps. “To be an effective activist you have to understand both sides,” he said.  “Now, when I talk to my people and they say there was no Holocaust, I say stop. I was there, I saw it. They pause – and ask me more questions.

“All you need to do is seek the truth and tell it,” said Meligy.

“Ahmed’s courage is inspiring,” said Ruth Collins, co-chair of ICUCME, at the reception after the talk. “He’s been jailed twice for his peace work, but he’s going right back to Egypt after this trip to continue his efforts. He’s a living example of what we can accomplish if we don’t give in to our fears.”

Meligy’s commitment to respectful dialogue as a way to promote peace and justice in the Middle East was a key motivation for ICUCME inviting him to Ithaca, explained Collins. “Like Ahmed, we’re working at the grassroots level to promote positive, constructive relationships, both locally and in the Middle East. We use our Facebook page to highlight the kind of collaborative projects Ahmed advocates for.”