Renewing contact, new hope

Hello friends,

With great excitement, I present to you Challenge's first newsletter after a long wait! As we navigate these tense times, I hope that during the last holidays – Passover, Ramadan, Easter and Eid Al-Fitr – you enjoyed peace, serenity, and succeeded to maintain quality relationships with your loved ones.

Like any non-profit organization, we have experienced periods of intense work as well as downsizing and significant difficulties. However, our belief in the power of partnerships has allowed us to successfully navigate the lean years, including the challenges of the COVID era. This same belief has led us to connect with new partners and embark on a phase of growth over the past year and a half.

As we move into the spring of 2023, a season of renewal and growth, we at Challenge are also experiencing impressive development. We are currently operating several significant programs (which you will read about some of them in the following paragraphs), have been recognized as a "Public Institution" for the purpose of granting tax exemption for donations, and are in the process of refining our vision, mission, and strategies. Additionally, we will soon be upgrading our website and expanding our Board. In this newsletter, we would like to introduce you to our core team: Phil Saunders, Dora Bender, and Daniela Kehat. Along with the four of us, we have a new secretariat consisting of nine members who lead the main projects and initiatives within Challenge's new action plan.

However, to continue on our important path, increase our impact, and strengthen our financial stability, active involvement from everyone is needed. This involvement can be through joining our activities or providing financial support. Whatever you choose, we are grateful and blessed to have your support.

With thanks and excitement,


Challenge faces the state of the country and the region

A constitutional crisis with large-scale social protests, a tangible security escalation with physical and mental casualties on both sides, and the continued deterioration in the personal security parameters of those deemed as "unconsidered" groups (women, Arabs, etc.) - these are just some of the burning issues that have shaken us on an almost daily basis in the previous months. The future might look bleak, and there is hardly a sliver of hope on the horizon.

And precisely because of all this, our role is doubly important! We are here to produce and promote alternatives. To produce some light and connect with all the other activities and organizations that are also committed to a better future. Our uniqueness stems from the fact that we do not act out of intuition but use the tools and theories of the "Conflict Transformation" approach to understand the deeper dimensions and envision the most significant goals for the rest of our lives, even if they are ideals for the long term.

Thus, it is clear to us that without underestimating the severity of the current crisis surrounding the roles and powers of the judicial system, even if there is a compromise, and the spirits calm down, the real internal crisis will not pass. After all, the legal issue is only the latest symptom of a deeper process that has plagued and divided Israeli society for many years. Previous incarnations focused on other issues - the "Balfour protest," the disengagement from Gaza, the cost-of-living protest, Rabin's murder, the Oslo process, and it is possible to continue even further back in time to the policy of absorption and melting pot during the country's early years. These near and far crises created and deepened wounds at the group level in front of society as a whole or in front of the government. In all these difficult events, we see the polarization growing.

The analysis of the sociopolitical dynamics in the realm between the sea and the river - both within Israeli society internally and in the relationship between Israelis and the Palestinians - brings us to the insight that we must act to change the dominant and leading paradigm. Instead of a paradigm of competitiveness, separation, and striving for a unilateral victory (and if that is not possible, then for deterrence of the other), we must promote a paradigm of listening, of partnership, and of assuming mutual responsibility for improving the condition of all demographic groups, without exception, in our diverse human mosaic.

How do we produce such a paradigm? We do so by focusing on three unique but complementary ideals: a deep process of social reconciliation, fostering the dynamics of a shared society, and creative thinking to define acceptable elements for the creation of a new social-constitutional contract in which we all feel represented and protected.

And to reach those ideals, we act in many different ways. You can read about a (small) part of our programs in this email. In future emails, we will spotlight others. Our hope is that this email will be a source of inspiration and strengthening of the belief that despite the difficulty and obstacles on the way, change is possible and worth investing in building an alternative. The involvement and support of each and every one of you is extremely significant for us, and our appreciation knows no bounds.

The Core Team

Phil Saunders

Hi everyone, I’m Phil Saunders, the new Chairman of Challenge. I’m a British Jew who moved to Israel in 2005, and then settled in 2013 into the town of Tzur Hadassah, next to the Green Line.

I soon met an extraordinary Palestinian named Ziad Sabateen, who lived in the town of Husan on the other side of the Green Line. He told me that his town has developed a mutually beneficial economic relationship with the neighboring ultra-orthodox Israeli settlement city of Beitar Illit.

When Ziad asked me if Tzur Hadassah might be interested in joining this economic symbiosis, I said just economics wouldn’t be enough for us - we would also need improvements in our area’s security situation. We began a project named ‘Path of Hope and Peace’, to forge strong relations between Tzur Hadassah and Husan in the economic, security, and intercultural spheres.

Our project strengthened and expanded over the next few years, and in May 2021 our model of coexistence proved robust enough to survive the war completely unscathed. In recognition of this success, we were awarded the IIE Victor J. Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East.

The model also suggested a possible future of Israelis and Palestinians sharing the entire land, at the same time as preserving their distinct identities and complementary characteristics. I began to meet many Israelis and Palestinians who advocate a federal solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Mario Schejtman, the Executive Director of Challenge.

Together we established a project named the ‘Federal Forum’, and in 2022 decided to formally merge our efforts, with Challenge embracing ‘Path of Hope and Peace’ and the ‘Federal Forum’ under its umbrella.

This brought multiple kinds of conflict transformation under one roof, combining theory and practice into a multi-pronged strategy. For me, it also demonstrates the power of partnership – when we combine our different skills, we develop collective strength, for greater impact.

I dream of a day when this land’s many diverse and multifaceted communities will realize our complementary potential, cherishing each other, and working together to build a joint future for us all.

Daniela Kehat

My name is Daniela Kehat, and I am active in Challenge, responsible for fundraising and strategy. I am a translator, mediator, and lawyer, and for many years (I lost count), I have focused on gender inequality in our country across all parts of the population.

I got to know Challenge, its founder Mario, and the field of conflict transformation a little over six years ago. The work done is essential, with the potential to bring peace to the Middle East, and I say this without a hint of cynicism.

Over the years, Mario has worked around the clock so that more people would know about the activity and the reality he dreams of for all of us. On his way, he met other great people who think like him and work to change our reality. In the last two years, Challenge has made great strides in expansion and professionalization in its field.

Out of the desire to increase the work and the budget needed to carry it out, I look for another way to financially establish the association daily. This work is a little less romantic and ideological but is entirely connected to the goals Challenge sets for itself. The annual program we built includes sending fundraising requests from foundations, various institutions, individuals, and private businesses - everything we know as traditional fundraising.

But I find it equally important to establish a permanent income. And if we can combine the two - even better!

Therefore, as a first step, I suggest developing the field of Challenge's workshops, courses, and lectures. I believe that in this area, there is no other organization more professional, along with its pool of lecturers, coordinated by the fantastic Sharon Gordon.

In addition, I am honored and invite you all to be in touch with me to help spread the light in the great darkness presently taking over our reality - whether by offering to volunteer in a field that you see fit or by donating, big or small, at this link.

I would be very happy to meet all of you at the meetings we will hold in the near future.

Dora Bender

Hi, my name is Dora Bender, and I am the Director Communication & Public Relations at Challenge. I am an Israeli-American, born in Israel, and moved to the USA in 1999 to represent Israel at Walt Disney World - Epcot. I met my husband during my program and stayed after that for 15 years in the USA.

I returned to Israel in 2015 and chose to be socially active in my community. In 2020, I attended a tour of Husan water springs, where I met Ziad and Phil. They introduced me to ‘Path of Hope and Peace’ and the great work being done in the area. In 2022, ‘Path of Hope and Peace’ joined Challenge, and we combined our peace activities.

Part of my role is working on building and updating the website and social media and creating marketing materials. I am also leading our new branding process for Challenge, and it's very exciting. A part of my role that I enjoy is networking and representing Challenge at different events and attending conventions that are important to our success. It creates connections and introduces our activities, as well as finding new partners.

I am also taking an active role in the ‘Federal Forum’ project that brings new hope of change and inspires creative thinking in solving the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Our work is very unique, it brings people together, connects them and builds a path for a better future. Please join us to create this change together.

Report from selected projects

Path of Hope and Peace

Path of Hope and Peace" is our flagship project aimed at promoting the concept of shared society between different identity groups that are often hostile towards each other. The project operates in the area between the pluralistic settlement of Zur Hadassah inside the green line, the Palestinian village of Husan on the other side of the line, and the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Betar Ilit.

The project was established in 2016 by Ziad Sabateen from the village of Husan and Phil Saunders from Tzur Hadassah. The aim was to improve relations between the populations and create a more respectful and worthy living space in the area for all residents. The project initiated a series of combined moves to strengthen security (mainly driving on Route 375) and develop the economic dimension (e.g., in the areas of commerce and tourism to the natural springs in the village). These initiatives became the cornerstones in establishing respectful neighborly relations for both sides. Work was invested with religious leaders and other community leaders to create the necessary social legitimacy.

Over the years, the initiatives have expanded to other settlements in the vicinity, such as the village of Wadi Fuqin, where regional solutions were found, such as preventing the drainage of Betar Ilit and Tzur Hadassah from spilling onto their fields.

The project also developed moves to increase awareness and familiarity on a cultural level between the populations, such as holding a course to learn Arabic for the residents of Tzur Hadassah in collaboration with the "Blend.Ar" NGO.

The project has been successful, with independent initiatives beginning to emerge, integrating all populations in the area, including the ultra-Orthodox community of Betar Ilit, such as the "Cholent HaSheikh" project, a collaboration between ultra-Orthodox entrepreneurs and the Palestinian restaurant "The Lonely House."

Accessing Knowledge and Skills

Challenge works to spread knowledge and tools in the field of conflict transformation among the general public. They introduce the field through online conversations, podcasts, and face-to-face workshops with men and women activists and researchers in the field.

The podcast series "What is it?" introduces the audience to the world of conflict transformation, its concepts and tools, such as mediation, restorative justice, and reconciliation mindset. Frontal workshops include non-violent communication, holding constructive conversations with those who radically disagree with us, and mindfulness’ contribution in conflict situations.

In addition, Challenge holds lectures and home circles where participants can meet Palestinians, ultra-Orthodox, secular, men or women from all the identity groups that make up our social mosaic, and who seek to find ways to live together and bridge tensions in new ways. We also host researchers in the fields of sociology, culture, history, and politics about Israeli and Palestinian society. The variety of these activities provides cross-fertilization between theory and practice, and feeds the general public and participants in various programs.

Federal Forum

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a longstanding and persistent issue with various points of contention. Besides the core issues, such as Jerusalem, holy places, refugees, Nakba, and natural resources, which are difficult to resolve and agreement is hard to reach, the parties disagree also on many other issues.

Antagonistic attitudes prevail and increase with time and incidents of violence. Some of the actors in the conflict do not even acknowledge the legitimate existence of the other. Many attempts have been made to resolve the conflict, but they all seem to be based on the paradigm of separation between the two peoples. This paradigm assumes that the two peoples cannot live together and exercise their right to national self-determination jointly. It concludes that a geographical division into two homogeneous nation-states is required. However, despite this broad consensus, the resolution of the conflict is not in sight, and new attempts to "correct the formula" are not sufficient.

One of Challenge's initial projects over a decade ago was to examine the deep obstacles that prevent the implementation of peace plans using the analytical tools of "conflict transformation." After presenting this analysis at a conference at Harvard University in 2014, two essential issues were identified as missing from the proposals for a solution. These were acknowledging the deep connection of the two peoples to the entire area between the sea and the river as their historical, cultural, religious and national homeland and creating recognition and acceptance of the national identity of the other.

Therefore, a formula that has a high probability of being implemented must allow the qualitative relationship of the two peoples for the entire geographical space and also the realization of the right to national self-determination of both in an equal manner. Most of the proposals based on a model of "two states for two peoples" are flawed in at least one of these parameters, making it difficult to implement and easier for actors who still strive to convince the other side to continue their efforts.

To search for an innovative formula, Challenge initiated the "Federal Forum" project in 2020. This project brings together men and women from Israel, Palestine, and all over the world who share the understanding that a paradigm shift is necessary as the first step to reach a real, just, and sustainable solution to the conflict. The project combines learning from models of federations and confederations, from the present and the past, and examines how federal characteristics can be adapted to our reality.

Invitation to involvement and support

These programs and the organizational development presented in this newsletter are only the tip of the iceberg of all the activity that takes place in and around Challenge. The support and personal involvement of each and every one of them is essential to us, because only together will we improve reality and build a better future for all of us.

Our reality is difficult, and the general feelings are quite pessimistic among all groups from all sides of the crisis. In order to build an alternative and create a new hope of sustainable reconciliation, of mutual listening and understanding the deeper needs of each and every one, and to reach solutions that will help us overcome the power dynamics and provide a benevolent response to everyone together – we need your involvement and your support.

This involvement can be expressed in different ways.

We thank you in advance and we greatly appreciate any assistance.

May we know better days of respectful connection.