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Vivian Silver. Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Fatima Faroun. Photo by Rhonda Spivak.


By Rhonda Spivak

Working together as equals with Palestinian women

Established  in 2009, Ventures for Peace is an organization that brings together Palestinian and Israeli women entrepreneurs and artists who work together as equal partners to create products for sale internationally.

Vivian Silver, who was raised in Winnipeg before making aliyah, (and is the sister of Rachel  Gamliel)  is one of the founders of this creative business development.

Silver, who lives in Be'er Sheva and is co-executive director of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development (NISPED), wanted to find a way for Israeli and Palestinian women to work cooperatively and to build mutual bonds that foster visions of peace.

Silver told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, "Through this project not only do Israeli and Palestinian women cooperatively design and market products, but the women can hear each other's perspectives and learn about each other's lives."

A longtime Zionist and peace activist, Silver favors a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, and noted that Ventures is a way of "building peace on the ground," by promoting "sustainable cross-border economic activity" and peaceful relations between the two sides to the conflict.

A variety of products is being developed, Silver explained. "For example, a Palestinian soap maker and an Israeli ceramic artist have partnered together to produce soaps cradled in ceramic dishes. An Israeli jewelry maker and a Palestinian olive wood artisan have come together to make jewelry in olive wood boxes. A Palestinian embroiderer and an Israeli designer have produced an organic cotton yoga bag. Another team has weaved a special line of baskets made from organic materials from date palms. The idea is that weaving baskets is also weaving peace between people.

"We believe that producing a product collaboratively builds confidence and mutual understanding between the women," Silver noted.

NISPED, which is an Israeli nonprofit, has been working together with the Shorouq Charitable Society for Women, a Palestinian nonprofit organization based in Al-Azarriyyah, to develop this project. Shorouq is committed to integrating women into the economy as a way of enhancing their status in Palestinian society. It is open to all Palestinian women, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.

"About 20 Palestinian and 20 Israeli women were selected to join the project, and attended training sessions to enable them to develop their products," said Silver. She explained that plans were made to launch Ventures for Peace during Israel's Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.

"Despite the violence that engulfed us, we met to try to get this venture off the ground. The Canadian government gave us $100,000 to support the project and I met with Jon Allen, Canada's ambassador to Israel, who is also originally from Winnipeg, to arrange for Canada's support of this project."

Silver, who believes that Israel ought never have built Jewish settlements in the West Bank, said that she has Palestinian friends who want peace. She said she fears that if Israel does not make an agreement to bring about a two-state solution soon, "then what we're going to get in the end is a one-state solution," where Jews will live as a minority in a state with a Palestinian majority.

Silver said her Muslim counterpart in Shorouq, Fatima Faroun, is "a really courageous" forward-looking woman, committed to peace and empowering women within Palestinian society.

Faroun told the Winnipeg Jewish Reviewt that Ventures will help "women make a better future.... Because of the Israeli wall [security fence] built around Palestine," the Palestinian economy had suffered greatly "and often the woman of the family has had to become the bread winner to feed her children.... We need to have a state of Palestine and a state of Israel, living next to each other."

NISPED and Shorouq are establishing ties with micro-financing sources to help the women entrepreneurs access the capital necessary to expand their businesses.

"We will also be developing a website that will provide women participating in this project a platform to market their products and engage others in this initiative."

An art exhibit, Cooking Peace, is being planned. Guided by an Israeli and Palestinian artist, each participant will create a sculpture designed around a cooking pot, which will be organized into an exhibit, available for display in Israel and the West Bank and internationally.

This article first appeared in the Vancouver Jewish Independent.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.