Friday, February 20, 2009

A Changing Attitude? A NEW Way?

Dear Friends of Palestinians and Israelis,
Rami Koury is a veteran participant and analyst whose words are well worth taking to heart. Thanks to the ATFP for bringing this op-ed to our attention, JRK

Rami Khouri
The Daily Star
February 19, 2009 [1]

Is a new page being turned in relations between the Arab and Islamic world and the United States? It would seem so, to judge by many of the interactions at the three-day annual US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, hosted by the Brookings Institution's Saban Center and the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The latest gathering last weekend of over 160 engaged scholars, activists, journalists, scientists, officials, religious figures, artists and ex-officials from across the Islamic world and the US seemed to reflect important new attitudes and subtle changes in perceptions between the two groups.

One reason for this is the change in policy and style of the new Obama administration, whose symbolic and substantive gestures in its first weeks in office send signals of its desire to improve relations with Islamic societies. Another is the realization within many Islamic societies that they are heading for catastrophe if they remain on their current trajectories, including perpetual warfare, deep internal divisions, and mass emigration of their most talented young men and women. Yet another is that windows of opportunity may be opening - perhaps only for a brief period - to reverse the deterioration in relations between the Arab and Islamic world and the US.

A powerful signal of the new start that may be occurring in US-Muslim ties is the strong anticipation among many in our societies that the Obama team will usher in a more reasonable set of foreign policies that could stem rising anti-Americanism. That many Arabs and Muslims look to Obama with some expectation of change and anticipation of better days ahead indicates better than anything else - as a former Pakistani ambassador noted - the deep reservoir of goodwill towards the US in the Muslim world.

Several former senior American officials for their part reflected the softer tone that seems to be emerging in Washington vis-a-vis Arab and Muslim issues. For the first time in the eight years that I have participated in these annual meetings, American participants seemed less defensive - perhaps mainly because George W. Bush was no longer their president. They seemed more inclined to explore avenues towards solutions, and to examine how both sides might work together in this direction, rather than merely repeating their exasperation with the deficiencies of Arab-Islamic societies, including terrorism.

Citizens of mostly Arab and Asian Islamic societies for their part seemed this year to be more humble in acknowledging their own need to take the initiative to reform themselves, and not only to wait for others - especially the US and fellow Western powers - to treat Arabs-Muslims more equitably, and less colonially.

The breakthrough for both sides probably reflects the fact that they simultaneously realize that the antagonistic, violent, selfish paths they have both followed in recent years - and certainly since September 11, 2001 - have failed, only aggravating matters. This is combined with the growing recognition all around that mutual "respect" is the key that will unlock the door to better days ahead, with security, stability and perhaps even some prosperity for all.

Obama's election and the quick moves he made in his first three days in office-deciding on the closing of the Guantanamo prison, banning torture, naming respected special envoys to the two burning fires of Israel-Palestine and Afghanistan-Pakistan, playing diplomatic footsies with Iran, and speaking directly to Muslims on an agenda of mutual respect and shared interests - sent an emphatic message that many Arabs and Muslims have heard loud and clear.

These policy changes and rhetorical flourishes need to be reciprocated now from our side, by both governments and those more nimble elements in civil society who have the courage and the capacity to engage the US on an equal footing - leaving behind the bad old ways of American-Western colonialism, neo-conservatism, and "orientalism."

The Americans, as one former senior White House security official said, cannot understand or absorb the message they seem to hear from the Arab-Islamic world - that we want Washington to be more engaged, but also to leave us alone.

There remains one major, glaring weakness in the American approach to these issues, which is a persistent refusal to accept blame for those aspects of US foreign policy that tend to aggravate violence, extremism and instability in the Arab-Asian world. Near blind US support for Israel - or near total Israeli veto power over decision-making in Washington - remains an issue that American officials, and even ex-officials, cannot discuss comfortably. It is the black hole in their moral-political universe with which they must grapple more honestly if they expect the world to take them more seriously.

This is a rare moment of change and opportunity, as the mainstreams of American and Arab-Islamic societies seem today to focus on how to work together for real change based on policy adjustments by both sides. Expressions of mutual respect have unlocked a once closed door; we need to burst through it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A West Bank Cry of Despair

Dear Friends of Palestinians and Israelis,

I've reconnected with a 20-something Palestinian, a graduate of Birzeit, whom Sharon and I met in June, 2000, on a visit to Isr/Pal (with Craig Barnes and the folks from National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C.).

I am in email conversation with him and care about him, his mother and brother, his friends, and his journey. His words speak for themselves, are anguished, filled with frustration and despair driving him to hopelessness. I could say more. He was raised in Ohio, but his mother moved back to her home in the West Bank, after her husband, Hanna's father died at a young age in the US.

He is from a Christian (Roman Catholic) background but has disavowed any connection with that church.

He has given me permission to share his following thoughts.

Hanna, we love you, and have hundreds, even thousands alongside of you, seeking justice, change for the better and reconciliation.

Dear John,

Ever since the brutal war on Gaza I have lost hope in hope. While observing the massacres and destruction in Gaza, the P.A. tyranny in the West Bank, and the silence of almost every government of this world, I became numb. I became numb due to the combination of sadness, rage, and helplessness.
Other than the massacres in Gaza, what shred my soul was how the Palestinian Authority treated the Palestinians in the West Bank when we would protest against the war on Gaza. The authority sent its spies from its various 'security forces' to infiltrate the demonstrations and make arrests. The authority sent riot police to suppress and successfully stop demonstrations headed for Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank (all of which are illegal by international law). The authority beat, and in some cases, even electrocuted the 'political prisoners' that were arrested from these demonstrations, whether the demonstration was headed towards a checkpoint or not.

While almost all of the Palestinian population had rightfully assumed that the Oslo-birthed Palestinian Authority (brought by and headed by Fatah) was merely a puppet government that had traded freedom for stability (and got neither), the people came to realize that it was not only that. During and after the war on Gaza, it became crystal clear that the main and only purpose for the existence of the Palestinian Authority was and is to relieve the Tel Aviv government of the burden of its occupation and act as a police state to erase any sort of ideological, popular, or military forms of Palestinian resistance towards the Israeli occupation. Mahmoud Abbass and his thugs have not yet disappointed their Israeli counterparts and have oppressed their own countrymen even worse than the occupation has and seem to be just as content as their counterparts in regard to what has happened in Gaza.

The Palestinian people are stuck between a corrupt collaborative government in Ramallah and a socially regressive and almost equally corrupt government in Gaza, with almost no other choices other than the almost impotent Palestinian left (which played a huge part in the resistance before establishment of the P.A. but a much smaller one after). They are small in numbers, suppressed by both Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, and not accepted socially by the majority of the Palestinian people (mostly conservative Muslims) due to their Marxist Leninist ideologies.

Like the content of an email that you sent me earlier, a 2 state solution seems impossible now, mostly due to the illegal settlements, bypass roads, and the apartheid wall constructed by the occupation… so there isn't much left of the West bank for a viable Palestinians state, and a one state solution will never be accepted by Tel Aviv. No partially fair solution will ever be accepted by Tel Aviv.

From what I have seen recently only one thing pleased me, and that one phenomenon was that the resistance fighters in Gaza all united to confront the blood thirsty occupation forces. The military wings of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the P.F.L.P, the D.F.L.P, Fatah and other factions all worked together to fight back and confront the Israeli ground attacks.

I apologize if I am giving the impression that my heart is full of hatred. It was full of hatred towards the Israeli government, towards the Palestinian Authority, towards what is wrongfully called the P.L.O and hatred towards Hamas. Hatred towards the U.S and EU foreign policies, and hatred for all of those who fearfully would not acknowledge the truth and condemn Israel for the Gaza massacres, which included the weak and fearful Vatican as well as the UN, who were not strong enough to state the truth. Full of hate towards the oppressive Arab regimes who did not even cut diplomatic ties with the occupation. My heart was full of hatred because of my love for my dead, injured, homeless, and terrified defenseless people, hatred because I have seen the looks of confusion, shock and fear on the bloody faces of children who witnessed the deaths of their parents and siblings.

My heart was full of hatred because I wrongfully believed in justice, in right, in truth and in humanity. My heart did not have any more room for hatred because I am not accustomed to hate, so the hatred turned into nothingness. That is why I am numb.

I do not know what to believe in, if anything. And that is why I have not written to you recently, because I wanted to give you good news about Palestine, about the Palestinian people, and about myself instead of a pessimistic point of view of a Palestinian youth.
I apologize for the negativity.