Archive | August 2009

Peace in the Middle East?

Peace in the Middle East has been talked about for as long as most of those alive can remember. This summer, I came to Israel & Palestine to learn about the realities of the situation that we do not see in mainstream media, experience what life is like here and start to develop an ideal of what kind of an effect I can have on the situation. Before coming, I had some interesting reactions from friends, family, even strangers — some thought I was wasting my time, others thought I was endangering my life and some thought this was the most important and exciting summer I would ever have. Having been here almost three months now, I can concretely say that only this last group was right.

I have been working with Windows – Channels for Communication, a joint Palestinian-Israeli effort that works with the youth of three sub-groups: Jewish Israelis, Palestinian citizens of Israel & Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. Using single identity meetings and joint meetings where all of the groups gather with professional facilitators (from each sub-group), they explore their own identities, misconceptions about those identities that they want to change and examine their own beliefs about the ‘other.’ Over year long programs they gradually build trust and learn from each other. They challenge stereotypes, explore where they came from, why they exist and brainstorm ways to to make their societies change. Using their correspondence and ideas, they create a magazine written in both Hebrew & Arabic that is distributed all over, through community groups as well as schools. Many here accuse us and peer organizations of "normalization" — making life continue and improve conditions so everyone can adjust to the occupation and gradually accept it. We wholeheartedly reject this claim — the occupation is not okay, it is illegal, immoral and inhumane. I have seen firsthand the destruction it causes, both in terms of physical property and in the mentality of those directly affected by it.

We teach our youth (and remind ourselves) to doubt "common knowledge" — there is a reason that is has become "common" — someone or some group wanted it to be that way. Who are they? What do they really want? What do they have to gain from this common knowledge? These critical thinking skills help our youth question what they hear (including what they hear from friends, family, even what they hear at Windows) — our director, Rutie Atsmon, encourages everyone to look for the facts in the story. As a Jew, I have been told many times that "the Palestinians don’t want peace" and "they don’t want to talk to us." Well, let’s examine that — what was really presented at Camp David (since that is the current catalyst for these statements)? Were there meaningful negotiations possible or were lines in the sand already drawn? Look deeper than the news reports from that time and you may be surprised.

Misinformation occurs daily, for so many reasons, but as a result of mis-information (and more intentional dis-information) from both sides as well as the growing fatigue and sense of hopelessness, both societies have moved to the right (politically speaking) and are moving further away from each other. The political left is disappearing and those left are facing increasing pressure from their own people to abandon their beliefs in universal human rights and the universal right to self-determination. In some cases, the lives of these people are endangered, but they still press on, holding out hope for the future and standing firm for what they know is right. A youth-focused Palestinian activist from Husan, near Bethlehem, pointed out in a recent conversation is that clearly violence and working against each other hasn’t worked — so isn’t it time that we try the opposite, working together for common goals. We are all human and at the very basic level, the vast majority of people in Israel and Palestine just want a "normal" life, with food, water, safety and to see their children grow. When we fail to see the other as a human, we fail to make progress. My activist friend and my organization see the work that they are doing as having the potential to become a snowball rolling down a hill — it starts very small and slowly, but as it grows and more snow is included, it picks us speed and continues to grow and build. For the sake of us all, I hope they are right.

Ashleigh Whelan, ’10
Windows – Channels for Communication
www.win-peace.org

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Early (possibly knee jerk) reflections of the occupation of Palestine

I have been giving the great opportunity to tour Israel and Palestine through the Inter-Faith Peace Bulders Deligation. This program routinely brings a diverse intergerational group of people to the region to learn about the conflict and visit many different organizations and individuals who are rarely seen in the normal media. This campaign is being sponsored by US Campaign to End the Occupation.

After being here for a few days and touring a few settlements, I already have too much to say that can condense in a digestible form. What comes immediately to mind is the degree to which the Israeli government is explicitly dealing with the Palestinian question. Settlements are a hot topic now, but when you see the tunnels and roads that bypass Palestinian communities and see the maps of how they engulf all of the contiguous ethnically homogeneous communities, you begin to see a through plan.

Nof Zion is a settlement that strategically sits looking out at prime real estate as it encroaches on East Jerusalem, an important portion of the city that the Palestinian effort deeply wishes to claim as their future capital. A woman named Sarah from the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions showed us in clear terms the extent this portion of the city is being challenged by Israeli law. From the random demolitions, to the insurmountable fees for construction, you begin to forget what side of the green line this area is in. The legal structures permits relative dissolution of Palestinian neighborhoods and land. The narrative in the West about this region is that there are two different lands in conflict but the reality is that one is in the belly of the other. Only after visiting the separation wall in Abu Dis –a recent 30 foot concrete barrier that penetrates straight through a community thought as a possible secondary capital–does it begin to set in that the settlement locations and the wall are short term plans that are successful in hindering the development of a cohesive Palestinian community near and within Jerusalem. Silwan, a small Palestinian community located near the Western wall and faces constant problems with ideological settlers (a small minority to the large number of heavily subsidized settlers from all over the world claiming Israeli citizenship) is only another example of real estate interests of several different powers that jeopardize any hope of a Palestinian state.

It is very common to hear in the media about the two-state solution as a possible answer but as I see it, there is no "Palestine" outside of this growing Israel. This places a hard question to consider when the expanding Palestinian and non-Jewish population within the Israeli border outnumbers the Jewish inhabitants. This could happen within two decades. Will Israel be prepared to become less and less democratic for the sake of a Jewish Identity? I do not see a long term plan coming from the Israelis. I only see a short term remedy that involves the dehumanization of one people, and borderline racism within the nation of Israel.

Brandon West
Dheisheh Refugee Camp Al-Phoenix Community Center

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