Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Pathways to Peaceful Co-existence

Dear Friend,
The New Year beckons. May this truly be a happier year for our friends, the Israelis and Palestinians. The culture of fear and distrust gives way to those in the middle, who marginalize extremists and show ways of living side by side, with liberty and justice for all.
Yesterday, disguised, undercover Israeli security forces raided Tamoun (West Bank village) and arrested an extremist. This prompted Palestinian youths to hurl rocks and firebombs to protest the arrest. The NY Times reported "up to 30 Palestinians injured" (Jan 2, A7) when "live fire" (Ass. Press) was used as well as rubber bullets.
The fear of a "jihadist" takeover of the Palestinian authorities (especially Fatah in the West Bank) has kept the Likud administration from engaging Mahmud Abbas in genuine peace talks, while increased settlement activity shows Israel's intention of deepening the Occupation over all the land, at the expense of Palestinian rights.
Excerpts from a recent Christian Science Monitor article show a better way forward for 2013:

. . . As democracy advances in the region, however, it opens prospects for peace. Dictators who once could use conflict with Israel to hold onto power are disappearing. More Arabs have a voice in the affairs of state, bringing hope of a deeper discussion about the differences between nations. Democracies as a rule, after all, don’t go to war with each other.

As Hillary Rodham Clinton once said about achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace, the hard work doesn’t begin or end at the negotiating table, it “begins in our hearts, in our homes, and in our communities.”

Perhaps the best model for Arab-Jewish reconciliation is a town in Israel dedicated to showing that the two nationalities can live together in a democratic way. It’s called Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, or the Hebrew and Arabic words for “oasis of peace.” (One in 6 Israelis is Arab.)

Formed more than three decades ago, the town has thrived with dozens of Jewish and Arab/Palestinian families living side by side in coexistence. They share a bilingual school and an ecumenical place to worship, and most of all, they’ve learned how to handle their respective fears during the many eruptions of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

As one of its community newsletters stated, “The families who live here have one objective in common – to prove that Jews and Arabs who dare to challenge the status quo of mutual fear can live together in peace.” (The town has a long waiting list for new families.)

The town also hosts a popular School for Peace, which has trained tens of thousands of Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs to come to grips with each other’s “realities” through rigorous, guided dialogue. The school, like the town, is built on the premise that both Jews and Arabs have claims to land and neither side is going to win in a conflict. The only choice is to work out a peace.

Hamas and Israel will soon come to that same conclusion, at least in the form of another cease-fire. And Egypt, as a new democracy, will play a critical part. Permanent peace may be far off, but at least with the ongoing Arab Spring and in models of peace like one Israeli town, the roots of peace can grow.

So dear friends, keep the faith. Spread this faith. Don't give up the struggle. Be persistent. Be patient. Be active in urging the US government to insist that Israel abide by US laws when receiving our (mostly) military aid of over $3 B each and every year. (And don't purchase Ahava beauty products, or SodaStream products, as they were produced on land the international community views as Palestinian land. JRK for FPI