5 - 11 September 2002
Issue No. 602
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Recommend this page|
Restoring a vision of hopeThe voice of the peace camp has been silenced for too long. Gershon Baskin*, in a speech in Jerusalem last week, renews the appeal for Israeli-Palestinian co-existence. Below is the text of the speech
Something peculiar is happening to public opinion in Israel. Even since the beginning of the second Intifada two years ago, the Israeli public has continued to show willingness to arrive at an agreement with the Palestinians on the key issues of the conflict. Even today, the majority of Israelis support the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel. The majority of Israelis even support dividing Jerusalem and sharing it as the capital of the two states. A majority of Israelis are in favour of removing most of the settlements. Close to a majority of Israelis support the June 4 1967 borders as the basis for dividing Israel and Palestine. All of these opinions are based on the belief that there is someone on the Palestinian side to make peace with.
It seems that the Israeli public understands and supports what is and what will be the price of peace. Yet, at the same time, the Israeli public continues to support the devastating policies of the Israeli government as it continues to destroy the Palestinian Authority. This support is based on the belief that there is no one to make peace with on the Palestinian side. Most Israelis do not believe that there is anyone in Palestine to talk to. Most are convinced that there are no Palestinians who want peace and compromise with Israel. They believe that the Palestinians are committed to destroying Israel and to "driving the Jews into the sea".
Such past slogans have now returned in Israel, and they are voiced by politicians and public officials from all parts of Israeli political life. They are widely accepted by the Israeli public without any real scrutiny or questioning, this frightened and frustrated public living in the constant shadow of terrorism and rage on both sides. This is a spiral of violence that has no place to go but upwards, and if present trends continue it will cause more and more casualties on both sides. It seems that we still have not reached the peak of the violence. We have not yet reached the place when the public of both sides cries, "Enough! We've had enough."
Today both Israeli and Palestinian public opinion is calling for more killing, more revenge, more assassinations and more terror, and the leaders of both sides have given up their leadership role in the face of angry publics living in constant fear and frustration. The leaders are incapable of extracting their two peoples from the place that they have been brought to ---- a dark place where there is no hope, where dreams are destroyed, and where economies lie in ruin. This is the place that they complacently call "the present situation".
Every week I come to this demonstration. I come because I have to come. We must show that there are those who do not accept the present situation and do not take it for granted. We must demonstrate in order to show that there is another way, and we must present an alternative to the current madness. We must present hope; we must show reason and logic; we must prove that we truly want peace and reconciliation.
I admit that I come to these demonstrations despite my feelings of frustration, born of the fact that our demonstrations are almost invisible and that we have so little influence. Yet, we must continue to demonstrate, and we must continue to raise our voices -- different voices -- which need to be heard in Israel and in Palestine. It is important for the Palestinians to hear that there are voices of peace and reason in Israel.
Before the Oslo Agreements, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict was defined as a "zero-sum- game" -- an existential conflict in which there could be only one winner -- us or them. The Oslo Agreements changed the nature of the conflict to a "positive sum game", in which both sides could win. However, now the Palestinian Intifada and the behaviour of the Israeli government has changed the conflict again into a "lose- lose" arrangement. There is no victor in this, and there cannot be a victor. The experts call the present situation a "war of attrition," in which the first side to blink loses. The strategies they have built are based on attempts to bring about total victory and the total defeat of the enemy. However, this will not happen: it is impossible to defeat totally a people struggling for national liberation and freedom, whether that people be the Jewish or the Palestinian people.
Our main task, then, for those who want to recreate the positive sum game -- the win-win scenario -- is to rebuild trust and confidence in peace and to rebuild the belief that there are people to talk to on the other side. Just as our words and demonstrations must be directed at the people of Israel, they must also be directed at the people of Palestine. The voice of a whole camp -- the peace camp -- has been silenced for too long in the wave of terror that has swept through the country. And this silence has been interpreted in Palestine as blind agreement with the policies of the Sharon government.
Tomorrow, the new school year begins in Israel. This is an opportunity for us to raise our voices against the way in which an entire generation of young people on both sides is being raised and educated without hope. The school systems in Israel and Palestine have failed dramatically to provide the citizens of tomorrow with the possibility of seeing a future built on peace. They have embellished the myths and the lies meant to explain to us why our leaders have failed and are failing to protect their citizens. Such educational systems do not provide students with the tools for critical thinking and analysis, and they do not provide a value system based on the sanctity of life and the respect for all of humanity.
However, I would like briefly to share with you a different experience, a successful experience, that is nevertheless growing in the school systems of Israel and Palestine. This is an experience that gives hope because it reconstructs trust and confidence between Israelis and Palestinians.
IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, a joint Israeli-Palestinian research centre founded 14 years ago, six years ago established a new Department for Peace Education. This department has developed programmes that are now taught in secondary schools throughout Israel and Palestine. In this new school year these programmes will be taught in more than 60 schools on both sides, with more than 400 Israeli and Palestinian teachers participating and more than 4,500 students involved.
Only last month, some 80 Israelis and Palestinians participated in a five-day joint training workshop in Turkey. These training sessions and encounters took place prior to the Intifada, and they are still being conducted despite the very difficult conditions during the past two years of Intifada and violence. They will continue during this school year, and indeed they have grown: there has been a 50 per cent increase in the students, classes and teachers participating, and this despite the very difficult situation. This year, the programmes will also for the first time be taught in several National Religious Schools in Israel.
Participants in the programmes have stated that their main motivation was the hope that they would gain from the knowledge that there are people on the other side to talk to and that there is something to talk to them about. Perhaps educators from both peoples will be able to show us the way to a more rational course on the road to peace. It is possible to educate for peace; it is possible to demand that our schools educate for peace. The role of the educator is to provide the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians with the possibility of succeeding where their parents failed. The biggest crime that an educational system can commit is to freeze the brain cells of the younger generations, supplying them with a manufactured and fabricated consensus that fears reconciliation and peacemaking between the two peoples of this land.
Today, from out of the nightmare of the past two years, a new plan has been born that promises peace. This magic solution is called "unilateral separation". Erecting a wall complete with various electronic devices will ensure that peace and quiet returns, or at least that is what we are being told. Beyond the clear lie, since there can be no peace on our side without peace on the other, this plan sends out the message that the suffering that has already happened, and that will continue to happen, is none of our concern. The supporters of unilateral separation tell us that the Palestinians have brought this suffering upon themselves and that we have had no hand in it.
If Palestinian schools are not able to open this school year, and if more than 50 per cent of the Palestinian population is unemployed, or suffers from malnutrition and poverty, what concern is it of ours? Why concern ourselves if more than one million Palestinians are living under curfew in what are effectively large prisons? This is their problem, one that they have brought upon themselves. The supporters of the wall tell us that it will prevent the Palestinian enemy from getting to us and that it will prevent the suicide bombers from blowing up our cities. But does anyone really believe that this wall, which will only increase the Palestinians' suffering, poverty and despair, will put an end to their struggle against the occupation and against the policies of the government of Israel?
The Oslo Agreements were built on a vision of cooperation. That vision was and remains correct and just. Let us not forget that most of the cooperation plans were actually never implemented. Let us not forget either that long before Arafat rejected Barak's proposals at Camp David, all too many elements of the Oslo Agreements had not been implemented. Let us recall that it was not only Arafat who did not implement his part of the agreements: remember the further redeployments? Remember the promises about the "fruits of peace".
After Oslo, the Palestinian economy shrunk by more than 25 per cent. Most of the Palestinian people have suffered under Oslo, their lives becoming more difficult as they enjoyed fewer freedoms. Prior to Oslo, the Palestinians enjoyed relatively free rights of movement; after Oslo the present regime of closures, permits and check points was introduced, and this has acted to strangle Palestinian rights and Palestinian lives. Nevertheless, the idea and vision of cooperation implicit at Oslo was right, and it remains right and we should not abandon it. There is no peace, and there will not be peace, without Israeli- Palestinian cooperation.
I wish to exploit this platform to call on all of us to enlist ourselves in the cause for peace beyond demonstrations like this one tonight. We must also extend our hands to the Palestinian people; we must send a message that what happens there also concerns us here. Their suffering matters to us. When they are impoverished by our actions, it pains us. We care about them, not because we are "Arab lovers", but because all of us are human beings, and because what affects them impacts upon us. The State of Israel and the people of Israel have a direct interest in ensuring that the Palestinians also enjoy hope and a vision of peace. Policies that support walls and fences are policies that have given up on peace.
We must raise our voices in support of a political separation that will put an end to the Israeli occupation and will bring about a withdrawal of the settlements. Let us not confuse this political separation with the false remedy of walls and fences. We, those who are leading the peace camp, must return to a humanistic vision, a vision of cooperation and a vision of hope. This is not the naïve plan of fools: the naïveté is that of the government of Israel.
The message of peace and cooperation broadcast at Oslo was the correct one, and it is even more correct today. It is not the architects of the Oslo Agreements that should be put on trial; rather, it is those who failed to implement the agreements. History will judge those who failed to implement the agreements as criminal, not those who designed them.
Let us rebuild confidence in peace. Let us build a new peace camp -- a joint peace camp, including both Israelis and Palestinians. Through our mutual empathy towards the suffering of all, ours and theirs, from a joint vision of real coexistence and real peace, and from our shared desire for a better present and future for us all, we can rebuild and make our vision real.
* The writer is co-director of the Jerusalem-based Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information (IPCRI).
Letter from the Editor
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