Rebuilding Hope and Confidence in Peace

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The following translated speech was made by the author, last evening (August 30, 2002) at the weekly demonstration of the Israeli Peace Coalition in front of the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem – Something peculiar is happening to public opinion in Israel. Even since the beginning of the second Intifada two years ago, the Israeli public is continuing 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 a capital of two states. A majority of Israelis are in favor of removing most of the settlements. Almost a majority of Israelis support the June 4, 1967 as the basis for the borders dividing Israel and Palestine. All of these opinions are based on the predication 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”. 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 in Israel that there is no one to make peace with on the Palestinian side. Most Israelis don’t believe that there is someone in Palestine to talk to. Most Israelis 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 throwing the Jews into the sea. These slogans of the past have returned and are voiced by politicians and public officials from all streams of political life in Israel. They are widely accepted by the Israeli public without any real scrutiny or questioning by a frightening and frustrated public living in the constant shadow of terrorism and rage gone out of control on both sides. This is a spiral of violence which has no place to go but upwards and will continue to take more and more casualties from both sides. It seems that we still have not reached the peak in violence. We have not yet reached a place and a time when the publics on both sides will scream out loud – ENOUGH! I’M FED UP! WE’VE HAD ENOUGH!

Today both publics continue to call for more killing, more revenge, more assassinations, more terror, and leaders on both sides have voluntarily given up their role of leading in the face of angry publics that are living in constant fears and frustrations. These leaders are incapable of extracting the two peoples from the very place that they have brought us to. That very dark place where there is no hope, where dreams are destroyed, this place of destruction, the place of economic ruin. This is the place that they complacently call “the situation”.

Every week I come to this demonstration. I come because we have to come. We must show that there are those who don’t accept the “situation” and don’t take it for granted. We must demonstrate in order to show that there is another way. We must present an alternative to this madness. We must present hope, we must show reason and logic, we must prove that we truly want peace and reconciliation. I admit, I come to these demonstrations despite my feelings of frustration. This sense of frustration comes because our demonstrations are almost invisible and we have so little influence. But we must continue to demonstrate, we must continue to raise our voices -a different voice – to be heard in Israel, but also for the Palestinian to hear that there are voices of peace and reason in Israel.

Before the Oslo agreement, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was defined as a “zero-sum-game” – an existential conflict in which there can be only one winner – us or them. The Oslo agreement changed the nature of the conflict into a “positive sum game” where both sides could win. The violent Intifada of the Palestinians and the violent behavior of the Israeli government has changed the nature of the conflict into a “lose-lose” arrangement. There is no victor and there can be no victor. The so-called experts call the present situation a “war of attrition” whereby the first side to “blink” loses. The strategies they have built are based on attempts to bring about a total victory and a total defeat of the enemy. But this will not happen. It is impossible to totally defeat a people struggling for national liberation and freedom – not the Jewish people and not the Palestinian people.

Our main task, those who want to recreate the positive sum game – the win-win scenario, is to rebuild the trust and confidence in peace and the belief that there are people to talk with on the other side. Just as our words and demonstrations must be directed at the people of Israel, they must equally be directed at the people of Palestine. The voice of a whole camp – the peace camp – was silenced for too long in the wave of terror that has swept through the country. The silence of the peace camp is interpreted in Palestine as blind agreement with the policies of the Sharon Government.

Tomorrow, the new school year opens in Israel. This is an opportunity for us to raise our voice against the way that an entire new generation of both sides is being raised and educated without any hope. The school systems in Israel and in Palestine have failed dramatically in not providing the citizens of tomorrow with the possibility to see a future of peace. The school systems embellish the myths and the lies that are meant to explain to us why the leaders failed and are failing to protect their citizens. The school systems do not provide the students with tools for critical thinking and analysis. They do not educate towards a value system based on the sanctity of life and respect for humanity – for all humanity.

I would like to briefly share with you a different experience, a successful experience, one that is growing and widening in the school systems of Israel and Palestine. This is an experience that gives hope, it provides and builds hope because it reconstructs the trust and confidence in peace through the rebuilding of trust and confidence between Israelis and Palestinians.

IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information – a joint Israeli-Palestinian research center founded 14 years ago, established six years ago a new department for Peace Education. This department has developed programs that are now taught in secondary schools throughout Israel and Palestine. In this new school year these programs will be taught in more than 60 schools on both sides. There will be more than 400 Israeli and Palestinian teachers participating in the programs with more than 4,500 students involved. Only last month, some 80 Israeli and Palestinians participated in a five-day joint training workshop and encounter that took place in Turkey. These training and encounters took place prior to the Intifada and continue to be conducted under the very difficult conditions during the past dark two years of Intifada and violence. These trainings and encounters will also continue during this school year. During this year, the programs have grown. There is an increase in more than 50% students, classes, and teachers who will participate – despite the very difficult situation. This year, the program will also enter, for the first time, several National Religious schools in Israel.

Participants in the program have stated that their main motivation for their participation is the hope that they gain from the knowledge that there are people on the other side to talk to and there is something to talk about with them. Perhaps educators from both peoples will 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 possibilities of succeeding where their parents failed. The biggest crime that an educational system can commit to the young generation is to freeze their brain cells with a manufactured and fabricated consensus of fear of reconciliation and peacemaking between the two peoples of this land.

From out of the nightmare of the past two years a new magic plan has been born that is promising us peace and quiet. The solution is called unilateral separation. Let’s put up fences and walls supported by electronic devises and the quiet and the calm will return to our land – that’s what they tell us. Beyond the clear lie, because there can be no quiet on our side when there is no quiet on the other side, this plan broadcasts the message that the suffering that has already happened and will continue to happen is none of our concern. They, the supporters of this unilateral separation tell us, that they – the Palestinians, have brought all of this suffering upon themselves – we’ve had no hand in it at all.

If Palestinian schools will not be able to open tomorrow, and if more than 50% of the public is living in unemployment, malnutrition and poverty and if more than one million Palestinians are living under curfew in large prisons, – what is it of our concern? This is their problem that they have brought unto themselves – we are told. The supporters of the fences and walls tell us that these means will prevent them – the Palestinian enemy, from getting to us. These will prevent the suicide bombers from blowing up in our cities. Does anyone really believe that walls and fences that will increase the Palestinians’ suffering, their poverty and their despair, will really 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 plans of cooperation were actually never implemented. Let us not forget that long before Arafat rejected Barak’s proposals at Camp David, all too many elements of the Oslo Agreements were not implemented. Let us recall that it wasn’t only Arafat who didn’t implement his part of the agreements. Remember the further redeployments? Remember the promises of the “fruits of peace”. After Oslo, the Palestinian economy shrunk by more than 25% – even before September 2000. Most of the Palestinian people have suffered under Oslo, their lives became more difficult and they have enjoyed less freedoms. Prior to Oslo, Palestinian enjoyed relative free rights of movement. After Oslo the regime of closures, permits and check points were established that strangle Palestinians rights and Palestinian lives. The idea and vision of cooperation was right and 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 to us, to all of us to enlist ourselves, not only for demonstrations, like this one tonight. We must also extend our hands to the Palestinian people. From here we must send a message that what happens there concerns us. 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”, (God forbid), but because all of us are human beings and because what effects them impacts upon us. The State of Israel and the People of Israel have a direct interest that the Palestinians should also enjoy hope and a vision of peace. Policies that support walls and fences are policies that give up on peace.

We must raise our voices in support of political separation that will put an end to the Israeli occupation and will bring about a withdrawal of the settlements. But let’s not confuse between the political separation and the false remedy of walls and fences. We, those who are leading the camp, must return to and adopt a humanistic vision, a vision of cooperation, a vision of hope. No, this is not the naïve plan of fools. The only naïveté in Israel is that of the Government of Israel – not of ours.

The message of peace and cooperation was correct in the past and even more so today. No, it is not the architects of Oslo that should stand on trial, it is those who failed to implement the Oslo agreements. History will judge those who failed to implement the agreements as criminal, not those who designed them.

Let us together rebuild confidence in peace. Let us together build a new peace camp – a joint peace camp, of Israelis and Palestinians. Through our mutual empathy towards the suffering of all – of ours and of theirs, from a joint vision of real coexistence and real peace and from our shared desire to have a better present and future for us all – we will rebuild ourselves and make the vision real.

Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel, now we must, together, reconstruct the tunnel in order to reach the light – together through justice and through the knowledge that we are right and our path is right.

Gershon Baskin, Ph.D., is Co-Director of Israel / Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), a joint Palestinian-Israeli public policy think-tank, founded in Jerusalem in 1988.

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