pounding the pavement

Israeli, Palestinian dialogue group runs for peace

Roots/Judur/Shorashim on track to raise over $100,000 with crowdfunding campaign ahead of its seventh ‘Run for Reconciliation’

Dozens of Israelis and Palestinians will come together this Sunday in the Gush Etzion area of the West Bank to go for a jog as part of its seventh “Run for Reconciliation,” an event organized by the Roots/Judur/Shorashim nonprofit.

The organization, whose name means “roots” in English, Arabic and Hebrew, was founded some nine years ago by Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, who lives in the Alon Shvut settlement in the Etzion bloc, Ali Abu Awwad, who once served time in Israeli prison for throwing rocks and firebombs before turning to nonviolence, and Shaul Judelman, who lives in the Tekoa settlement in the West Bank. The organization works with Israelis — particularly those living in West Bank settlements — as well as Palestinians and foreigners to promote dialogue and understanding and to reconfigure the nature of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, through lectures, discussion groups, summer camps, photography clubs and other initiatives, as well as on-the-ground activism.

Schlesinger, who has been a runner since high school, told eJP that he came up with the idea for the “Run for Reconciliation,” which this year will feature a 5K and 10K race, as well as a 3K family walk. In addition to the enjoyment and sport, the event is also a demonstration of Roots’ mission of shared society. 

“A run like this is something that represents normal life. It’s people walking and running together, wearing the same clothes, going on the same path. Afterward, eating and drinking together. It symbolizes shared society,” Khaled Abu Awwad, the Palestinian co-director of the organization, told eJP.

The run will take place at Roots’ Dignity Center near the Gush Etzion Intersection — an area that has often seen terror attacks — but people abroad can also participate in a virtual run, he said.

“It brings together Israelis and Palestinians, most of them from Bethlehem, Hebron and the Jordan Valley,” Schlesinger said.

Schlesinger, who serves as the organization’s director of international relations, expected some 80 people to participate in this year’s run in the West Bank, with another 30 taking part in the United States, many of them college students affiliated with Roots’ affiliated university program, Atidna (Arabic for “our future”).

Sunday’s run also serves as a central feature of a crowdfunding campaign by Roots, which Schlesinger said was expected to raise over $100,000 for the organization through a donation-matching program, which triples the amount of money donated. (As of this writing, the organization’s fundraising website reported that $43,702 had been raised.) A large portion of the fund-matching comes from a $25,000 cash prize — the Paul Carus Award for Interfaith Engagement — that Roots received last month at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. Another $20,000 was donated by a local Israeli donor, who asked not to be named, and $18,000 was donated by the Nelson Family Foundation, Schlesinger said.

In addition to the run itself, the event also includes a listening circle, activities for children and a closing ceremony in which people share stories about the organization’s effects on their lives. Schlesinger recalled one speaker last year, a Palestinian man from Tarqumiyah near Hebron, who spoke about how the head of the local Roots chapter, an Israeli woman, had become “like a second mother” to his three teenage sons, whom he said had “grown into strong Palestinian men with an ethical conscience dedicated to helping people.”

As the event is taking place on Roots’ privately owned campus and the runners will not be crossing any roadways, Schlesinger said the organization was not required to get authorization from the police or military for the gathering, but had informed the relevant authorities that it was taking place.

Schlesinger acknowledged that there are always security concerns around Roots’ activities — from both Israelis opposed to such outreach to Palestinians and Palestinians opposed to “normalizing” ties with Israelis — but that the organization as a matter of policy “strongly discourages” guns on its property or at its events.

“We’ve always said very clearly, there are no guns at Roots. Guns kill people,” he said, adding that since only Israelis would be permitted to carry guns, they also “frighten Palestinians” and therefore “create a true sense of inequality.”

“Our security comes from the fact that there are no guns and from the fact that the Palestinians are together with us so we are here to defend each other,” he said, noting that the organization does, however, have a closed-circuit security system because “we know we have enemies.”