Building Bridges Vancouver


BBV, which started in 2008, was a public education program concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Here is its mandate.

BUILDING BRIDGES VANCOUVER is a non-partisan and non-sectarian organisation that provides a public forum for dialogue and information concerning the conflict in Israel-Palestine and its resolution by peaceful, non-violent means. We want to contribute to justice and security for both Palestine and Israel, to a future time when their two peoples will both be and feel safe. We view the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its blockade of the Gaza Strip as in violation of International Law and as breaches of human rights. We oppose violence in any form and support the rights of both peoples to live free from oppression and fear.

BBV, as all organic realities, has reached the end of its life-span. For seven years it held up in the public sphere the need for justice and peace in Palestine and Israel. Interestingly, BBV is one of three Vancouver programs on this subject that have run out of energy simultaneously. However, a number of other organizations (see below) are actively continuing their work; and I trust that those who have supported BBV these past seven years will give their support as they are moved to one of these organizations–or, who knows? to another organization that will rise with a new vision. My own interest in the issue continues, inasmuch as I believe its resolution to be crucial not only for peace in the Middle East, but also in the larger geopolitical sphere. Many bridges remain to be built, both here and in the Middle East.

Here is the farewell message that BBV sent out in the spring of 2015 to its supporters. I don’t know who wrote it, but I want to say that I very much appreciate the kind words of recognition. Justice for Palestine, security for Israel, peace in the Middle East.


Reposting: Building Bridges Vancouver Ceases Operations

It is with deep regret that we inform you that Building Bridges Vancouver no longer will be able to sponsor educational and informational events concerning the ongoing occupation in Israel-Palestine and will also close down its website.

We honour Donald Grayston, the founder of this organization, for his vision in leading the way, and we thank the many who have served on BBV’s executive committee over these past years. It is our hope that we’ve been able to build a few bridges of understanding that will one day bear fruit in a peaceful solution that upholds the human rights of all Palestinians and Israelis to live in freedom and safety.

To continue following news and events on this issue, see:

Canada Palestine Association, Vancouver

Canada Talks Israel-Palestine, blog of Peter Larson, Chair, National Educational Committee on Israel-Palestine, National Council on Canada-Arab Relations

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME)

Democracy Now

Independent Jewish Voices

Jewish Voice for Peace

Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA)

News Nosh

United Network for a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel

We thank you, our faithful followers and event attendees. May we all learn to build bridges and live in peace.


Israel and Palestine: how I got started with the issue

Spring of 1968: I was 28 years old. I was travelling from Denmark to Germany on a ferry. As I drove off the ferry, I found myself on the Autobahn, on which, strangely enough, all the signs were in German. I had planned to stay in Germany for a couple of days before meeting a friend in the Netherlands; but when I read the German signs, everything I had ever read about the Holocaust flooded over me. I stepped on the gas, and didn’t stop until I had reached the Netherlands.

Immature, over-emotional, of course: but a moment I thought back to in 1995, when the film, “Schindler’s List,” came out. After seeing it, I knew the time had come for me to teach a course on the Holocaust. I sat down at my desk, and within 15 minutes, because of my wide reading in the subject, had drawn up a full course syllabus, including the reading list. I called the course “The Holocaust in Literature, Film and Theology,” and I was particularly interested in the varied theological responses to the Holocaust, both Jewish and Christian. Of these Arthur Cohen’s The Tremendum remains in my memory as the most profound. On the reading list I placed André Schwart-Bart’s The Last of the Just, Elie Wiesel’s Night, The Holocaust for Beginners, Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and a number of historical works. Later I added Anne Michaels’ magnificent Fugitive Pieces.

I taught the course for nine years, until my retirement from SFU in 2004. During my last offering of the course, however, things changed. One of the students showed me a book called The Holocaust Industry, by Norman Finkelstein. When I started teaching the course, I offered it largely in a spirit of Christian guilt for anti-semitism, later shifting, under the guidance of Gregory Baum, from guilt to grief. Guilt? No, I didn’t do it. Grief? Yes: I grieve that members of my own Christian tradition were guilty of crimes against Jews over many centuries, culminating in the Holocaust.

But when I read Finkelstein, a larger shift took place. Up until that point I had accepted the Jewish-Israeli narrative not as one narrative among others, but as the simple truth. After the tragedy of the Holocaust, Israel had risen again on the soil of its own ancestral land. After centuries of saying “Next year in Jerusalem!” at Passover, Jews could celebrate Passover in Jerusalem itself–I found this very moving. From Finkelstein, however, I learned that there was another narrative, the Palestinian narrative–a narrative of catastrophe (Al Nakba in Arabic), displacement, occupation and brutalization. I learned that the memory of the Holocaust was being dishonoured, trivialized and manipulated for political purposes by the government of Israel.

Then in 2006 I went on what I call my Big Walk, in the UK, starting at Land’s End and ending in Newcastle–400 miles/620 km, one pair of boots, no blisters [ ☺ ]. I had undertaken this walk to draw a line between my teaching career and my third adulthood. Before leaving, I resigned from all my organizational responsibilities, meaning that on my return, my desk, so to speak, was clear.

When I got back, I sat at my beautiful, clean, oak desk (the same one my parents gave me when I was about 11), acknowledged that I wasn’t going to live forever, concluded that I should focus on one concern, and asked God/The Universe what that concern should be. Within about 90 seconds the answer came: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gandhi speaks of how, when he was trying to decide what his next move in the Indian struggle for independence should be, he would just sit still until the answer rose up within him. With no intent to compare myself to Gandhi, I can say that my experience at this moment was similar. It arose as a felt conviction, rather than simply one possibility among others.

For the moment, let me just say that I believe that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue has the same moral claim on us in our time as the civil rights movement had on us in its time. I firmly believe that this is not an overstatement, even if the issue ranks low in the consciousness of most of my fellow Canadians. Manifestly, there is work to be done. Some new energy was generated by the conference on Christian Zionism that was held in Vancouver April 23-25, 2016, hosted by Sabeel Canada, co-sponsored by three national churches (Anglican, Presbyterian, United), and endorsed by many organizations (check out for follow-up). You can read my article about the conference at this link:

“Unholy allies: Christian Zionists are among Israel’s most ardent supporters. But their apocalyptic theology comes with dangerous strings attached”–a report on the Sabeel conference held in Vancouver April 23-25 (see The United Church Observer, September – – and in the print edition, pp.20-21. Six reader comments at the web link.


Meanwhile, to anyone reading this, I wish shalom (Hebrew), shelama (Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke), and salaam (Arabic)—and notice how similar are those ancient words for the same thing: the well-being of all!


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