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Co-Chairs Chancellor Emerita Gretta Chambers and the Honourable Herbert Marx look back on the Program

founding members

Founding ICAN members, McGill Chancellor Emerita Gretta Chambers, and the Honorable Herbert Marx

GRETTA CHAMBERS

Gretta Chambers, with over 30 years experience in the media, is a columnist and political commentator. Ms. Chambers has served in many public-interest capacities, including Chancellor of McGill University from 1991 to 1999 and Governor of McGill University since 1978 (emeritus since 1988). Ms. Chambers was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 1994. A founding member of ICAN, she recently spoke with us about her memories of the beginnings of this program.

[Reprinted from the June 2006 MMEP Newsletter] The MMEP has been a great, great success. It has developed into its own, created its own dynamic. It is a small project if you look at the size of the area and the problems they live through but it is important. Even at the beginning, it was a good time to start into a program like this. The first Intifada had just ended. I remember going into a big market in Jerusalem. It was on the East-West, Jewish-Arab line. I remember Jim standing at a stall and the owner rushing out to greet him. They were friends and hadn’t spoken in six years. It was very emotional.

Even the name of the program is ambitious. The McGill Middle East Program in Civil Society and Peace Building, to which Jordan, Israel and Palestine would send Fellows. They would need a first degree in order to come, and from McGill they would obtain their Masters. Later, it could maybe even develop a PhD program in various aspects of social work. There were different sets of problems in each of the three communities but negotiations began.

In the first year each university sent three fellows. For the first week, then month, then several months, connecting was hard. It’s not that they didn’t get along but it was a challenge. With time they started to look at simple problems and slowly they developed a sense of purpose. The other universities needed to set up practicums, and to set them up with social work reasons that were applicable to the disadvantaged populations in their midst. The Universities got involved. Little by little the practice centres began to take on a life of their own. They documented the needs in their own areas, which were quite different, but they never lost contact with one another. Even during the latest Intifada relationships between partners grew stronger.

They broke a mould and they started to believe. They believed that ordinary people wanted peace. It was not about winning but about living decent lives. The MMEP has remained intact as a program when many organizations and individuals believed there was no hope in peaceful initiatives. It is on the strength of the partners’ commitment to each other that the program has survived. This program must be preserved. It’s a jewel in McGill’s crown. It may not be the brightest jewel in the crown for the general public but it is a jewel and it’s a great accomplishment.

THE HONORABLE HERBERT MARX

The honourable Herbert Marx, co-chair and one of the founding members of ICAN, started out working in industry, returning to school to study law at the age of 32. He was a professor at the Université de Montréal for ten years, before entering politics. During his term in the Quebec National Assembly he served as Minister of Justice and Attorney General. He served as a Superior Court Justice for more than seventeen years before his recent retirement.

[Reprinted from the June 2006 MMEP Newsletter] Judge Marx was studying at the Harvard Law School in the late l960's when President Lyndon Johnson declared the war on poverty. Influenced by events in the United States, Professor Marx started a course in Law and Poverty when he returned to teach at the Université de Montréal. He was interested in how law could alleviate poverty and soon became involved in the establishment of the first legal aid clinic in Montreal. It was then that he initially got involved with Professor Jim Torczyner at Project Genesis.

In 1990 Jim started the McGill Consortium of Human Rights Advocacy Training, as well as Genesis Israel. That inevitably evolved into a new project, the MMEP.

According to Judge Marx, it was Jim Torczyner who conceived of the MMEP project and who really made it happen. The support of Principal Bernard Shapiro and Chancellor Gretta Chambers determined that the MMEP would find a home at McGill University.

The MMEP is all about empowering the powerless in order that they can improve their lives.

Judge Marx suggests two examples that illustrate the impact that the MMEP has had on people's lives. First, in Israel, by contesting government regulations, low income families living in public housing succeeded in winning their case that enabled them to purchase their homes, based on the cumulative rent that they had paid over the years. Second, in Nablus architecture and social work students developed a cost-effective method of renovating very old, run-down homes for as little as $750 per dwelling. Community participation and volunteerism is the backbone for the success of these projects.

The MMEP fellowship program that brings together fellows from Israel, Jordan and Palestine reminds Judge Marx of the vow taken by the three musketeers - «one for all and all for one.»

He recalls that a few years ago when Mohammed Maani, a Jordanian fellow, needed dialysis, everyone - Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians - pitched in to offer comfort and material support to him and his family. Professor Maani now teaches in the Department of Social Work at the University of Jordan.

Moreover, Judge Marx underscores the unflinching support offered by the presidents of the partner universities in the region - Al Quds, An Najah, the University of Jordan and Ben Gurion University of the Negev. We have a constituency, he believes, that we can help to help itself.