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The Common Ground News Service (CGNews) aims to promote constructive perspectives and dialogue on a broad range of issues affecting Arab-Israeli & Muslim-Western relations. CGNews is available in Arabic, English, French, Hebrew, Indonesian and Urdu. To subscribe, click here. For an archive of past CGNews articles, please visit our website at www.commongroundnews.org.
 
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The Common Ground News Service (CGNews) will resume publication on the 14th of January after a two-week break. We wish you all a joyous close to 2009 and a peaceful 2010.
  
Inside this edition  
24 - 01 December 2009
 
Palestinian children suffer from a lack of appropriate TV programming
by Daoud Kuttab
In the first article in a CGNews series on informal education in the Israeli-Palestinian context, media professional Daoud Kuttab explains why it is especially important for Palestinian children to have access to appropriate TV programming.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 24 December 2009)
The best of both worlds
by Mike Prashker
Values educator Mike Prashker explains why both formal and informal education are important, in this second article in the CGNews special series on informal education in the Israeli-Palestinian context.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 24 December 2009)
Religious leaders in Israel unite for a better future
by David Rosen
Rabbi David Rosen describes an extraordinary meeting of Israel's religious leaders from six different faiths and more than a dozen denominations.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 24 December 2009)
How Israelis see Obama
by Amjad Atallah and Daniel Levy
Amjad Atallah and Daniel Levy explain why the common belief that US President Barack Obama is unpopular with Israelis is misleading and irrelevant.
(Source: Prospects for Peace blog, 14 December 2009)
Encountering peace: Change in Gaza is possible
by Gershon Baskin
Gershon Baskin laments the Israeli policy of isolating Gaza and promotes re-engaging with the Gazan people.
(Source: The Jerusalem Post, 22 December 2009)
 
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This short film by Erez Tadmor and Guy Nattiv shows life imitating art-or sport-but with more serious consequences.
 
  
 
Palestinian children suffer from a lack of appropriate TV programming
Daoud Kuttab
 
RAMALLAH - Television penetration in Palestine is nearly 100 percent. Almost every home-no matter how poor the family-has a tube in its sitting room. Television viewership is higher than average amongst Palestinians for two main reasons: Because of the continuing conflict, people feel the need to watch television to keep up with the events in the news that directly affect their lives. Also, with high levels of insecurity and troubles outside the home, the television is often the only source of entertainment.

But although Palestinian families spend many hours a day glued to their TV sets, original Palestinian children's programming is almost non-existent. Instead, hours of dubbed Japanese and other types of cartoons fill the airwaves, especially in key children's viewing hours. Such dubbed programming usually falls into one of three potentially disadvantageous categories; it is dubbed into classical Arabic (in order to ensure sales in all 23 Arab countries), it consists of imported programming with violent content, or it revolves around religious themes.

Programmes broadcast in classical Arabic are just as difficult for pre-school Palestinian children to understand as, for example, a children's programme spoken in Shakespearean English is to children in the United Kingdom.

Spacetoons and MBC 3, which are 24-hour children's stations, are broadcast throughout the Arab world and feature highly violent imported cartoons or entertainment programmes in classical Arabic. Al Jazeera Children, while much more cognisant of its programming content, is rather serious and it too uses classical Arabic in order to appeal to the entire Arab world.

The trouble is that the cost of producing children's programming for the local market tends to be high. And without a strong political will or an advertising base to support it, broadcasters prefer to stick to dubbed imports.

Palestinian children badly need programming that can address their own issues. This need is all the more pressing considering the fact that over 65 percent of all Palestinian children have no access to pre-school education. In this context, television producers have the power, if they so choose, to make a big difference. They can create educational programmes that speak to the specific lives of Palestinian children. They can also offer children a respite from the tensions that surround them and an alternative to the high level of violence found in imported programmes.
The closed nature of Palestinian society under occupation has its effect on an entire generation growing-up intolerant of the other, whether the other is from a different region, religion, political persuasion, or from different national or ethnic backgrounds.

In the Palestinian Territories the vast quantity of television programming that is neither geared to Palestinian children's dialect nor to their social, cultural and political environment, does little to help raise well-rounded and well-adjusted individuals.

But there are some signs that the lack of attention to the education of young children is being reversed. Recently the Ministry of Education has begun to pay greater attention to pre-school children and this group features highly in the current five-year plan. Non-governmental organisations have also shown interest in addressing children in these formative years.

While this attention focuses primarily on the deficiencies within the formal pre-school education system, more attention should be paid to the media. To this end, the government, private sector media companies, as well as local and international NGOs, must come together and create strategic partnerships that would produce politically and culturally relevant programming tailored especially for Palestinian children.

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* Daoud Kuttab is the founder and director of PenMedia, a Palestinian media NGO that is producing Shara'a Simsim, the Palestinian version of Sesame Street. He can be reached at: info@daoudkuttab.com. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and is part of a special series on informal education in the Israeli-Palestinian context.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 24 December 2009, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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The best of both worlds
Mike Prashker
 
RAMLA, Israel - For at least two millennia, political and educational philosophers have remained adamant about the pre-eminent place formal schooling holds in shaping the "good" citizen.

However, while the place of schools as the single-most important institutional agent for shaping the good citizen remains unrivalled, many other less structured but important educational opportunities exist. As values educators we are obliged to explore and utilise all of these with equal seriousness. Attitudes of disdain that some "serious" educators show for everything that happens outside school, especially in regards to possible use of popular media, are unfortunate-an indulgence we cannot afford.

The fact is that, like most of their contemporaries around the globe, young Israelis spend less than 25 percent of their waking hours in compulsory schooling. Of this, only a small fraction is devoted to what we can seriously claim to be values education that instils, for example, respect for the rich human diversity that characterises our world and, more specifically, Israeli society.

While we are right to develop strategies to integrate values content across the curriculum, in response to the severe time restrictions of the school-day, we must acknowledge the limitations. In Israel, time pressures that restrict values education are compounded by the structural realities of four separate school streams (Jewish-secular, religious, ultra-orthodox and Arab) whereby young Israeli citizens, separated by nationality and religiosity, rarely, if ever, meet in school.

Debate about the potential impact of employing various media platforms, of which television and the internet are prominent, to shape attitudes, is redundant. Like it or not, commerce driven by advertising has proven beyond all reasonable doubt the power of such platforms to shape-for better and frequently for worse-the preferences and priorities of the young. The fierce pressure placed on our daughters, through media-transmitted popular-culture, to become preoccupied with their weight, is evidence enough.

In short, dismissing the potential power of media platforms to help us do good as democratic and citizenship educators, just because these vehicles are so often used for bad, is as sensible as condemning the institution of schooling because certain regimes have and still use schools to instil and sustain grave injustices.

In Israel, a number of obvious opportunities exist and are now being explored as part of a major new public education effort to promote understanding and empathy towards citizenship and diversity. Two examples will suffice:

Firstly, it is essential to ensure the introduction of more positive representation of our diversity into mainstream children's television. This is an area in which we lag far behind many of the comparatively progressive democracies with which we wish to be compared.

Rather than continuing to bombard our children with images of wafer-thin, white, exclusively-Jewish, secular and upper-middle class kids from North Tel Aviv, they should be exposed to their real contemporaries: Jewish and Arab-Palestinian, black and white, gay and straight, physically-challenged and sometimes obese. Provided this representation avoids tokenism and stereotyping, the educational potential to help young Israelis encounter their fellow citizens and imagine a better shared future is enormous.

In this regard, the monitoring and critiquing of existing programming, encouraging pro-diversity criteria in the allocation of broadcast rights, providing evidence of the significant commercial benefits over time of promoting diversity, and initiating positive new programming-are all useful approaches.

Secondly, positive use of the internet, including social networking, to engage and activate the young across national, religious, ethnic and socio-economic divides is becoming increasingly important-perhaps no less so than television-in shaping attitudes.

Properly guided, "You Tube", for example, allows us to encourage diverse groups of young citizens, equipped with relatively cheap equipment, to vividly portray their own often marginalised communities, experiences and aspirations. The internet also provides unprecedented opportunities for the young to organise, and, hopefully, to translate their initial digital actions, into positive cooperation for change in the real world.

As values educators we have a unique opportunity and moral responsibility to grasp such exciting opportunities without condescension, trepidation or apology.

Expanding our horizons beyond the school day is in no way dismissive of the continuing centrality and distinct advantages of school-based education and there is no need for insecurity in this regard.

Indeed, we could do even better by exploring the exciting new opportunities for building symbiotic and mutually beneficial relations between school-based and popular media-based platforms, thereby enjoying the best of both worlds.

###

* Mike Prashker is the founder and director of MERCHAVIM-The Institute for the Advancement of Shared Citizenship in Israel. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and is part of a special series on informal education in the Israeli-Palestinian context.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 24 December 2009, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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Religious leaders in Israel unite for a better future
David Rosen
 
JERUSALEM - The scene was stunning. At the Druze shrine of Nebi Shueib, against the backdrop of a gleaming snow-capped Mount Hermon, the green mountains and blue sea of the Galilee, kaffiyed Muslim imams and ulema, moustachioed Druze sheikhs, black-hatted rabbis and Christian clergy in various colourful garb, mingled together in animated discussion.

This meeting, which took place earlier this week, was the third for the Council of Religious Leaders in Israel, an organisation established two years ago at a founding gathering hosted by the Chief of Rabbis of Israel at the headquarters of the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem. At that meeting, more than a hundred participants-including leaders from six different faiths and more than a dozen different denominations-signed a pledge for interfaith cooperation and mutual respect based upon a recognition of a common humanity flowing from the Faith in One Creator of All. The second meeting had been hosted in Kafr Kara by the Muslim community and focused on the role of religious leadership in combating violence in society. It was similarly attended by the highest official religious leadership and local political authorities.

However this third gathering hosted by Sheikh Muaffaq Tarif and the Druze community differed from the previous two. There were still the necessary formal speeches by the heads of the major faiths, but these were preceded by vibrant interactive workshops. The theme of "the role of religious leaders in times of crisis" was particularly relevant as there have been a number of violent incidents in towns and mixed villages in the Galilee in recent years-arguably the most notable of these having taken place in Acre last year.

An imaginary scenario was presented by the facilitators (convened by the Center for Conflict Resolution at Bar Ilan University) to the participants who were divided into three groups. The scenario concerned a town that was beset by inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions. One group was asked to propose recommendations for religious leadership in order to prevent strife. The second group was asked to address the role of religious leadership in a situation when conflict had already broken out. The third group was called to make concrete proposals in the wake of a conflict that had been quashed by law enforcement.

The relevance of such a scenario for inter-communal harmony in the country and beyond was apparent for all the participants and the sense of common purpose and shared values was intense. Most of the religious leaders had never met one another and the discussions facilitated warm and vibrant interaction.

Aside from recommendations regarding education and inter-communal cooperation, a general lament was voiced regarding how negative attitudes and incidents seem to enjoy widespread coverage and exposure as opposed to positive efforts to combat enmity and conflict. Indeed, this remarkable event itself received little or no coverage in the Israeli dailies. But for those of us who were present, it was an unforgettable scene.

The Druze community hosted the whole gathering to a festive lunch which was strictly kosher to accommodate the rabbis. The image of the highest Muslim and Druze leaders of the country, Chief Rabbis of Israel, Patriarchs and Bishops of Jerusalem, together with their co-religionists, sitting in an outdoor courtyard on the benches at Nebi Shueib, sharing food and fellowship, had an almost Messianic character to it.

Naturally the theme of the meeting had not been chosen arbitrarily. The Council wishes to be a force for nurturing good relations between the different communities and to be able to step in where there are tensions and help quell these. However for the some two hundred participants from the different faith communities gathered together in the rain-washed crystal clear sunlight at Nebi Shueib, this meeting was an opportunity to establish initial bonds of friendship and cooperation so important to overcoming the prejudices and stereotypes that generate suspicion and even hostility.

The Council is at the beginning of its journey to foster mutual respect and cooperation between the various religious communities in Israel; and if the warm and animated interactions from the meeting at Nebi Shueib are anything to go by, there is good reason to be hopeful.

###

* Rabbi David Rosen is international director of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee and interfaith advisor to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 24 December 2009, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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How Israelis see Obama
Amjad Atallah and Daniel Levy
 
WASHINGTON, DC - Perhaps a US president's approval rating among Israeli citizens is somewhat trivial. After all, Barack Obama's re-election will be decided in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, not in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Netanya. Nevertheless, the notion persists that a US president's approval rating in Israel can significantly affect his ability to conclude a comprehensive peace agreement. That is why Obama's alleged rock-bottom four percent approval rating among Israelis-a result within the margin of error-has become cause for concern.

In fact, however, the number is a red herring. Our own survey results suggest that the stalemate in the peace agreement has little to do with Israeli perceptions of Obama-which are far more favourable than one might think-but is actually more deeply linked to Israeli complacency and comfort with the status quo.

The four percent figure, now a ubiquitous marker of Obama's failure in the Middle East, originally came from a Jerusalem Post survey this summer. But it wasn't an approval rating. The survey question asked whether Israelis believed Obama was "more pro-Israel", rather than "more pro-Palestinian" or neutral. The Western media have adopted this statistic often to argue that the president doesn't have the Israeli support necessary to bolster his efforts in the peace process.

But the number is misleading. To clarify Israeli public opinion, we commissioned a poll of 1,000 Israelis, undertaken by Gerstein Agne Strategic Communications and recently released by the New America Foundation, shedding new light on Obama's actual standing in Israel. And the bottom line is that, particularly given how little Obama has invested in speaking directly to the Israeli public, he is viewed in a relatively positive light. The favourability rating our results show, 41 percent (with 37 percent unfavourable) is 10 times that claimed by the Jerusalem Post. While this is not astronomically high for a US president, it is notably stronger than the favourability ratings for Israel's foreign and defence ministers, and a mere seven points below that of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

This is not to say that Israelis don't have concerns about Obama: For instance, 50 percent believe he is weak on terrorism, and only 42 percent agree that he supports Israel.

In a panel this week at the New America Foundation, Gil Tamary of Israel's Channel 10 News explained that much of Obama's relative unpopularity in Israel is a direct consequence of the Israeli press's daily attacks on him. But based on our survey results, should Obama decide to make a direct pitch to the Israeli public, his starting position would be one of relative strength. Obama has not yet reached out to Israelis in the way he has to the Muslim world, with his historic trips to Egypt and Turkey. A similarly momentous state visit to Israel could build a tremendous amount of goodwill with an already receptive Israeli public.

However, when it comes to building peace in the long term, the poll's other findings on Israeli public opinion may prove even more consequential for an administration that finds itself at an impasse. According to the poll, Israelis would support any peace agreement reached under Netanyahu by a margin of 59 to 34 percent. They even favour a US-defined peace deal, like the one attempted by President Bill Clinton at Taba in 2001, by 53 to 45 percent. The only problem is that Israelis do not seem to think that peace with the Palestinians and neighbouring states is an urgent priority or that its absence carries any sufficiently immediate and negative consequences.

So in effect, Obama's popularity or lack thereof has little to do with the prospects for peace. The real problem is, simply, Israelis are happy with the situation as it stands and have little motivation to change it. Only by a small majority of four percentage points do Israelis believe that they cannot shoulder the economic and security burdens of the status quo, and even fewer think that US support for Israel will decline if there is no peace (by 49 to 47 percent, within the margin of error).

Given the daunting challenge of moving a number of the 500,000 Israeli settlers living beyond the green line, the country's original 1949 borders, (or leaving some under a future Palestinian sovereignty), one begins to understand why the current cost-benefit calculation weighs in favour of maintaining the status quo.

If there's any encouraging news for the Israeli government in our results, it's the pronounced Israeli capacity for pragmatism. This is evidenced in Israeli popular support for Netanyahu's negotiations with Hamas over a prisoner exchange, border-crossing issues, and informal understandings on a cease-fire. Although only 36 percent of Israelis consider their own prime minister "honest and trustworthy", according to our results (this compares with 55 percent who attribute these qualities to Obama), a commanding 69 percent approve of Netanyahu's handling of security. Indeed, the poll suggests that Netanyahu has far more wiggle room on the Palestinian issue than is generally assumed.

In the end, the poll shows that Israelis care most about regular bread-and-butter issues. When asked what would be their top reasons to support a peace, a "more normal life for our children" and "economic growth" come in first and second (polling 50 and 37 percent, respectively). Even recognition by 22 Arab states-so ardently pursued by the administration and promoted by Congress-motivates only 15 percent of Israelis.

In other words, Israelis see few reasons not to continue the occupation and are perhaps being offered the wrong kinds of incentives for choosing a different path. The behaviour of Israel's leadership is consistent with a short-term political calculation that Israelis aren't willing to disrupt the present scenario. Continuing and even entrenching the occupation, for example, avoids hard and coalition-threatening political choices at home, incurs the most minimal international and domestic costs, and is not seen to defer new and meaningful benefits that Israelis would enjoy conditional on a peace deal. For any new peace effort to have a chance at breaking the logjam, then, its starting point will need to be the creation of a new architecture of incentives and disincentives-and Obama's popularity, or lack thereof, will be left up to the people of Virginia.

###

* Amjad Atallah is the Co-Director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation and a Senior Affiliated Expert with the Public International Law and Policy Group. Daniel Levy is a Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation and a Senior Fellow and Director of the Prospects for Peace Initiative at The Century Foundation. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the authors.

Source: Prospects for Peace blog, 14 December 2009, www.prospectsforpeace.com
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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Encountering peace: Change in Gaza is possible
Gershon Baskin
 
JERUSALEM - Thirty-nine young people from Gaza applied to attend a peace education workshop sponsored by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) that was held this past weekend in a school in Beit Jala. Thirty-five of them were denied entry by the IDF and did not have the opportunity to join the 70 other Israelis and Palestinians who spent the weekend in dialogue, debate, disagreement and agreement, rejoicing in the mutual recognition that we all want peace and that peace is possible.

Actually all 39 Gazans were denied entry, but we managed to get agreement to allow four people to come. The refusal of the army to allow their entry had nothing to do with security; the army officer in charge even told me so. This is the policy and the army is implementing that policy.

What exactly is the policy and why was it designed, you ask? The policy is to completely isolate Gaza from the rest of the world and the reason is to convince the people of Gaza that they should take action against the ruling Hamas government. The policy is that no one leaves Gaza. Period.
Of course there are the exceptions-those with immediate humanitarian needs. There are also some other exceptions-judgement calls made by the commander of the Erez crossing-that is how we managed to get four young people from Gaza to attend our peace education workshop and that is how about five businessmen get out of Gaza every day as well. But with all of the exceptions, more than 1.5 million Gazans are trapped inside this tiny and crowded piece of land, with no right of movement into and through Israel or into and through Egypt.

This policy is actually supposed to convince the people of Gaza that Hamas is their enemy and that they should rise up against them. Analysts in the army and in the security forces claim that the policy is working because public opinion research shows that there is a decline of public support for Hamas in Gaza. This might be true-there is no way we can really know what has brought about a decline in public support for Hamas-but it is very unlikely that the economic siege is the reason.

Gazans are really suffering. This is what we heard from the four who joined us for the workshop. This is what I continue to hear from dozens of other friends that I speak with regularly all over the Gaza Strip. They all report the same thing. While most of the average Gazans-the secular and non-fundamentalist people-are paying the price of the siege, Hamas activists and Hamas-connected entrepreneurs have become the nouveau riche.

The underground economy has created the need to establish a Ministry of Tunnels with a full policy of tax collection for goods coming into Gaza, as well as for the time used for their transport. At the same time, the factory owners and the farmers and shopkeepers who were dependent on trade with Israel have gone bankrupt. What was once the mainstream of Gazan society, a kind of middle class, has been decimated by the policies aimed at making them turn on Hamas. This will not happen.

The majority of Gazans are broken. They have lost hope. They have no strength for a long, drawn-out struggle. They feel detached from the world, an abandoned people-"even God has forgotten us"-one of them said. The four people who left to meet Israelis took a big personal risk. They were stopped by Hamas on the way out and they were stopped and questioned upon their return. The other 35 who couldn't get out were willing to demonstrate the same courage.

We told the army: Check all of them; if there are any who are a security risk, don't let them out. But the policy is not about security, so they were not even checked by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). I cannot find the logic in prohibiting young people from Gaza from meeting with Israelis. Is the government implementing an anti-normalisation campaign?

Ironically I find myself often encountering Palestinians in the West Bank who refuse to meet Israelis because they see it as "normalisation" with the enemy while the occupation continues. To them I always say, "Please explain to me how you not meeting with Israelis is advancing your struggle. How will you liberate Palestine and end the occupation by not talking to Israelis?"

I don't get it. I say to them, if you want to end the occupation and liberate your land and create your state next to Israel, go and meet with Israelis from the Likud and from Yisrael Beiteinu, don't boycott them-that has no logic to it at all. So I say to the government, if we want to change the regime in Gaza without reoccupying it, we must change the hearts and the minds of the Gazan people.

One of the young participants from Gaza said, "My father, who used to work in Israel, told me that he knew many Israelis who wanted peace with us, but I never believed him. After being here this weekend I now know that there are Israelis who want peace as much as we do, and some even more than us!"

Israel's current policy is not only not working, it is counterproductive and it is morally wrong. Collective punishment against a civilian population will never create future partners for peace. If we want to weaken Hamas, end the economic siege. If we want to bankrupt Hamas economically, open the passages for trade-it will put the tunnels out of business. If we want to build partners for peace, enable thousands of Gazans to come out to meet with Israelis. If we want change in Gaza, we have to change the way we treat Gaza. Hamas is the enemy, the people of Gaza are not.

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* Gershon Baskin is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political party. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from The Jerusalem Post.

Source: The Jerusalem Post, 22 December 2009, www.jpost.com
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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