Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Right Way (to go)

Israeli and Palestinian Teens Mix at MEET
Felice Friedson, Arieh O'Sullivan
The Media Line
August 4, 2010 - 12:00am

Most people don’t believe Israeli and Palestinian high school students can get together and get along. But a summer program in Jerusalem proves they can.

For four weeks this summer, 100 Palestinian and Israeli students cross paths as they learn not only basic science and business skills, but also how to communicate with the other in a unique program aptly called MEET – Middle East Education through Technology.

“It was a great opportunity in MEET to meet Israelis and see their point of view,” said
Rawan Abu Lafi, a 16-year-old Palestinian junior from Shuafat, a neighborhood bordering Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

“It was a great opportunity to meet Palestinians,” chimed in Adam Ochayon, 17, from the Israeli town of Mevaseret and a fellow participant in the program.

MEET is a private initiative set up in 2004 by Israelis and Palestinians who met as students abroad and dreamed of creating a “social start-up” that would engage youths from both sides.

“I had to fly over oceans to meet people who lived 10 minutes away from me [in Israel].
We created relationships and a feeling that changed the way I looked at the world and my ability to solve problems. It made it very clear to me that we had to create a generation for whom the reality was very different,” said Anat Binur, founder and member of the executive board, who grew up in the Israeli town of Herzliya.

Fellow board member Abeer Hazboun, a native of Bethlehem in the West Bank, said the aim was not necessarily to make the students best friends, but to teach them to work as partners.

“We wanted to create an alternative model for classical conflict resolution and try to bring students who we believe have the potential to be leaders in the future and invest in them, empower them, educate them, provide them with skills of 21st century,” Hazboun said.

Meeting at the computer labs donated by Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Givat Ram campus, 100 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors spend four weeks in intensive computer and business studies.

The first year of the three-year program focuses on computer systems, using JAVA software. The second and third year also include business development. It costs about $5,000 per student, who all receive a full scholarship.

The rigorous selection process involves testing, group dynamics and personal interviews where students must show their commitment to the three-year program. Only 44 are accepted out of 530 applicants. Including returning second and third year students, there are 100 participants. The budget is $800,000 a year provided by MIT, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Al-Quds University, various foundations and Israeli and Palestinian donors.

[For more details, go "google" MEET, Middle East Education through Technology]

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Non-sensical Settler Logic

This just in from "Friend" Marlin/Sally Vis, on the ground in Isr/Pal. JRK

Settler Logic.

Let’s think a bit about how settlers think.

Let’s begin with settlers themselves. Jewish West Bank settlers are not pioneers, at least not in the way you and I think about pioneers, the romantic version of dime store novels and spaghetti westerns. They do not live in log or sod houses amidst a swarm of savage hostiles. Having the gift of a Native American on this study tour gave us a unique perspective on our own history as well as on the history-in-the-making in the West Bank. Nick, a member of the Pamunkey Tribe constantly reminded us of the Native American narrative concerning the making of America. It is a bit different than the Disney version many of us grew up with – ala “Davey, Davey Crockett, king of the wild frontier.” The same is true of the Palestinian story, and the story of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There are at least two narratives in play, but only one that the media consistently plays.

Jewish settlers live in modern, gated communities with all the conveniences of any suburb in the States. They have shopping malls, swimming pools, coffee shops, lighted streets, and their own security force supplied by the State of Israel. Along with this, they have the IDF (Israel Defense Force) to keep watch over them, keep them safe. Many settlers are armed, and most of these have been trained by the IDF, or are veterans of service in the IDF. Settlers have their own roads to travel back and forth between settlements, as well as, to and from the main cities and highways in the State of Israel. As an incentive for Jewish people to live in a settlement, as if the high standard of living is not incentive enough, settlers receive tax and rent breaks. By and large they are a law unto themselves and are seldom held accountable for abuses carried out against their Palestinian neighbors – neighbors who have none of the above!

Jewish settlers are privileged and protected, and yet see themselves as doing all of this as a sacrifice, in service to their country and in keeping with their faith tradition. Hard as this will be to believe, there are many Jewish settlers who have no idea as to the truth of their living situation. They honestly believe that Israel has purchased the land on which they make their good life. They believe, as I’ve been told by several settlers, that most of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem came to the country after 1948. One told me, and I quote, “They came here because we are making the desert bloom.” And she honestly seems to believe this even though it is 100% NOT true. It may be that she needs to believe this given the fact that she was born and raised in the United States, and is a convert to Judaism. The irony here is that she is blinded to the fact that she emigrated here and that her family roots have absolutely no connection to the so called, “Promised Land.”

“David,” married to our convert, and himself an emigrant from the States, “what are the boundaries of the State of Israel?” We are in the couple’s apartment located in a settlement outside of Bethlehem. They are gracious hosts. Their three children are playing quietly in the next room. On the wall above our hostess’ head is a picture of her 14-year-old son, killed, while reading in a library in a West Jerusalem Yeshiva (Jewish religious school), by a Palestinian gunman. I tell you this because context matters. I tell you this because the stories of suffering on both sides are part and parcel of the presentation of the problem. I tell you this in order to illustrate that security conscious Israel has reason to be security conscious. And, I tell you this as well: I like this couple. They are good people – decent and dependable. And yet, at the same time, they are blinded to the injustices of which they have a part.

David’s answer was an obvious attempt to avoid an answer.
“David, you didn’t answer my question. If you want your neighbors to recognize your right to exist, then don’t you have an obligation to tell them where it is you intend to live? What are the boundaries of the State of Israel?”
“From river to sea and from the cedars of Lebanon to the sands of the Sinai.” Matter-of-factly. No doubt. No guilt. This is his land, given to him by the God of his ancestors.
“Really?” I ask.
“Then, what about the Palestinians?”
“There needs to be places for them to live as well, but not among Jewish people – not in the same towns and cities. They may have land, and they may have autonomy on that land, but they can’t have a State of their own, and they cannot be allowed to have weapons.”

“No Palestinian State?”

“How can there be a Palestinian State within the boundaries of the Land of Israel? It cannot be.”

Because I am with a group, and aware that any further push on my part would be too much for some, I let it go. As we walk from the settler home to the bus, our Native American friend begins to quietly weep. He has heard this logic before. He knows where this is going to end. He cannot keep from weeping, and neither can I.
Settler logic is unsettling!

“Reservation life, this is what he is describing, this is what he wants for the Palestinian people. It’s happening again, and again, we are silent!” (Quote from Nick Miles, RCA Pastor, and member of the Pamunkey Tribe, whose reservation is on the Pamuney River, a tributary of the York, near West Point, Virginia, about 40 miles south-east from Richmond and north of Williamsburg.