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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.
Inside this edition  
08 - 14 January 2010
YouTube and changing reality-The ripples of technology
by Gomer Ben Moshe
In the third article in our series on informal education and its role in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, Israeli midwife Gomer Ben Moshe describes how video sharing websites like YouTube are teaching people about the "other" realities that never appear in the mainstream media. Be sure to watch this week's CGNews featured video to see the author in action.(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 14 January 2010)
Let us first debate amongst ourselves
by Rami Mehdawi
In the fourth article in the series on informal education in the Palestinian-Israeli context, Palestinian social entrepreneur Rami Mehdawi considers the potential of new media to consolidate the Palestinian quest for an independent state.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews) 14 January 2010)
Conflict resolution, one book at a time
by Roi Ben Yehuda
Israeli writer Roi Ben Yehuda explains how literature can help prepare the ground for conflict resolution.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 14 January 2009)
No justice and no wisdom: Despite legal authorisation, Israel's actions in Sheikh Jarrah are immoral
by Arie Arnon
Economics professor Arie Arnon argues that even if Jewish claims in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah are considered legal, they are not moral.
(Source: Ynetnews, 01 January 2010)
Assessing Egypt's position
by Hassan Khader
Columnist Hassan Khader looks at Egypt's actions in Gaza and analyses its complex policies.
(Source: Al-Ayyam (English translation by ATFP), 08 January 2010)
Featured Video
The Midwives Coexistence Project works to ensure that pregnant mothers in Israel and the Palestinian Territories have safe and natural births.
YouTube and changing reality-The ripples of technology
Gomer Ben Moshe
KIBBUTZ HANITA, Israel - "My name is Harvey, I am a journalist". The guy on the phone sounded cheerful. He had heard of our project, the Israeli-Palestinian Midwives Co-existence Group, through a mutual friend. He said that he would like to make a film about the project and asked how I felt about it. It has been a couple of years since we started this special project in which midwives from Israel and Palestine meet and share their knowledge and experiences. All we ladies involved in the project feel strongly about it, but we remained small and virtually anonymous so we figured that some promotion might do us some good. We wanted people to know about it and we needed the funding that could come with the awareness that a film might raise.

A few weeks later, Harvey accompanied us on a visit to a birthing centre in the West Bank that we had links to, where he spent a few hours filming and interviewing us. After editing the material, Harvey sent us the link to YouTube where a three-minute film all about the co-existence midwifery project was presented.

My Palestinian partner and I were very excited. We emailed the link to different people, starting with our closer circle of friends and family and slowly the ripples grew wider. We received enthusiastic emails from all around the world, telling us how beautiful, interesting and exciting the project is.

To me, the way the film spread was a wish come true. A month earlier, during a joint meeting of the Israeli and Palestinian midwives, I had asked all the participants to tell two people who would then tell two other people about the project. I had felt that could be the quick and cheap way to spread the word about our work. However, we discovered that the film was a much more efficient, quick and easy way of achieving this. It was also done in an interesting and concise way that communicated exactly what we wanted. It showed the viewers "other realities" in the region, and this we hope will, in turn, make this reality more widespread-a reality in which people are honoured for who they are and not for their beliefs or for their costumes; a reality where women talk, laugh, create and share despite the fact that they come from "enemy" peoples. This reality has more to it than the hate and oppression which is presented in the official media (e.g. national TV, radio and most newspapers).

One might argue that a film like this one is not "objective", and that it only shows the "good aspects" of the project. But there is no such thing as "objectivity". Once people, feelings, needs, expressions and history are involved, reality is subjective. Each one of us holds a deeply personal point of view.

Another argument against putting a film on an internet site like YouTube has to do with the fact that some of the people appearing in the film might experience the visual exposure negatively. In our case, we tried to handle this by getting everyone's approval prior to uploading the film. Yet, people might change their minds later on, due to comments and pressures that might arise. There is not much that can be done about this in advance, but open communication within the organisation can help calm emotions. I see the benefits of this kind of exposure and I feel that it is "worth the risk" once it is done with everyone's consent.

In our complex reality, the walls erected between us are a result of years of learning the official version of history and repeated exposure to a media that presents reality in stark black and white terms. Therefore, the use of accessible high-tech tools to present a different reality is legitimate and very sensible. The telling of the story helps create it.


* Gomer Ben Moshe is a midwife and is the Israeli co-ordinator for the Middle East COHI project (Community Organizational Health Inc.). 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), 14 January 2009, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Let us first debate amongst ourselves
Rami Mehdawi
RAMALLAH - Ever since the Palestinian Nakba, through decades of affliction to the present day Israeli occupation, Palestinian society more often than not didn't know what it wanted, and when it did, it didn't know how to achieve it.

Achieving what we want will come first and foremost with self-knowledge. The problem is that who we are and what we want is not one thing, but many. Our approaches to our struggle are numerous, depending, amongst other things, on geographic location or generational perspective.

This diversity needs opportunities for dialogue. The question is how can we get the Palestinian in the refugee camps of Beirut to communicate with the Palestinian in Chile? Or the Palestinian in Gaza with the Palestinian refugee in Jordan?

One humble, albeit simple, solution for creating dialogue amongst disparate Palestinian communities is the formation of an electronic Palestinian society. The project I have founded is such an attempt. Called the "Electronic Palestinian Civil Society Institutions Forum", it is a virtual space for dialogue, open to Palestinians wherever they may be. It is not for profit and is not affiliated with any political, intellectual or ideological party.

The forum is a space to highlight and discuss immediate urgent and strategic matters that face Palestinian society in its march towards liberty and an independent state. It is also a rich place for informal learning and education about alternative approaches to our common issues.

The forum facilitates coordination and networking and encourages a high level of cooperation by extending bridges between civil society institutions, the private sector, the Palestinian National Authority and individual Palestinians. The idea is to enhance freedom of opinion and expression and to create the appropriate environment for societal partnerships and exchanges. In this way we hope to contribute to a culture of democracy and active citizenship.

In this precarious phase of our history with our liberation and state-building project in such a fragile condition, we must carry out a critical review of the history of the Palestinian struggle and popular methods so far. Internet-based forums can become indispensable platforms for consolidating social groups in support of our national liberation project by linking Palestinians around the world, rejuvenating potential capacities, mobilising previously wasted energies, allowing for the free flow of ideas and knowledge and facilitating learning about the various approaches to the struggle.

The new electronic methods of human communication are key to helping us tackle the overwhelming task of knowing what we want as a society and consolidating our approaches to achieving it. Palestinian NGOs and international organisations operating in the West Bank and Gaza should be considering the use of new technology as a strategic priority.

Consolidating the Palestinian objective is a necessary first step in our quest for independence and peace. Only once we have achieved this, will we be fully ready to engage with those Israeli organisations which believe in the fairness of our struggle. Only then can we contribute to enhancing the Israeli peace camp for the joint purpose of overcoming extremist elements within Israeli society.

No doubt, a healthy Palestinian dialogue and the creation of a unified strategy will also bolster the Israeli peace camp's chances of attaining political power within Israeli society. If and when such a scenario becomes realistic, we can then start to work towards a common understanding over divisive issues and restore international confidence that both our peoples can achieve peace.


* Rami Mehdawi is the Director General of the Palestinian Labour Minister's Office and founder of the electronic Palestinian Non Governmental Organizations Forum (PNGOF). He holds a Masters degree in Democracy and Human Rights.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), 14 January 2009, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Conflict resolution, one book at a time
Roi Ben Yehuda
NEW YORK - A basic fact of conflict is that people's perceptions of each other matter. Viewing someone as subhuman or demonic, for example, reduces people's inhibitions towards using violence against them. Likewise, negative images of the other escalate conflict through engendering fear, misunderstandings, blame and zero-sum thinking.

Research conducted by psychologist Albert Bandura has demonstrated that individuals inflict much harsher punishments on people whom they view negatively, as opposed to people whom they perceive in neutral or sympathetic terms. Importantly, his experiment also showed that subjects invested with positive qualities were least likely to be harmed.

Because how we imagine others is consequential, it is essential for conflict resolution practitioners to find creative ways to mitigate the destructive influence of negative stereotypes. One approach to tackling this problem was developed by American psychologist Gordon Allport who argued that qualitative contact between conflicting groups is a meaningful way to reduce hostility and prejudice as well as cultivate more positive attitudes between group members. By qualitative contact, Allport meant direct interpersonal relations between participants of equal status who pursue common goals with the help of institutional support. Some great examples of contact theory put into practice are organisations like Seeds of Peace and bilingual Jewish-Arab schools in Israel such as Hand in Hand.

While personal contact is key to transforming threatening images of the enemy, unfortunately, it is not always a possibility. This is because people, particularly during times of conflict, may not be able to meet face-to-face. Obstacles to contact can include restrictions on travelling, legal concerns or physical danger. Moreover, even if people are able to meet, the contact itself may feel too threatening or emotionally taxing.

In such circumstances, the problem of perception needs to be addressed through other means. One such approach is engagement with literature-a type of vicarious contact theory.

The novelist Iris Murdoch once said that the purpose of literature is to "prove that other people really exist", meaning that literature calls on people to generously insert themselves into the lives of others. In so doing, books (especially those that deal with the problem of dehumanisation) can help children and adults to (re)-develop their capacity for broad empathy and sympathy.

Echoing and amplifying this idea, the philosopher Martha Nussbaum has written: "Narrative art has the power to make us see the lives of the different with more than the casual tourist's interest-with involvement and sympathetic understanding, with anger at our society's refusal at visibility."

Highbrow as it may seem, there is empirical evidence to back up the pro-social value of literature. In the United States, for example, studies done with white elementary school students have shown that reading stories with multi-ethnic and multi-racial characters significantly reduces negative perceptions and attitudes. Other studies found that reading fiction (as opposed to non-fiction) correlates with a high level of empathy, and that putting yourself in other people's shoes is one of the most effective ways of reducing stereotyping and in-group favouritism.

Reading novels and storytelling may seem like a poor substitute for person-to-person contact, and to some degree this is true. But, there are also advantages. Chief among them is that literature provides a uniquely safe space for identification. Moreover, contact on the pages of books also has the advantage of allowing the reader to withdraw-emotionally and cognitively-when identification becomes too strenuous.

This is not to suggest that reading ought to replace direct contact, but rather that because an engagement with literature can prepare people psychologically for the difficult work of reconciliation, it should serve as a handmaiden to the practice of conflict resolution.

Some recommendations for incorporating literature into conflict resolution practices include selecting a canon of relevant literature. Books such as Elie Wiesel's Night, George Orwell's Animal Farm, the autobiography of Malcolm X, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Fawaz Turki's The Disinherited and S. Yizhar's Khirbet Khizeh, are some examples.

In addition, it is important to create guidelines-a springboard for discussion-so that the messages in the great books may be properly internalised. And where possible, it would be best to work with education ministries to develop a curriculum for widespread use in classrooms.

Alternatively, book clubs and workshops can be formed, both within communities and among conflicting parties-thus combining both direct and indirect contact.

To be sure, negative attitudes and perceptions of the other are not going to be altered overnight. However, if we are to prevent, manage or transform conflicts it is essential we find creative ways to do so. Reading literature is not a bad place to start.

Conflict resolution, one book at a time.

* Roi Ben-Yehuda is an Israeli writer based in the United States. He is a regular contributor to Ha'aretz and a doctoral student at the Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. Roi's personal blog is called RoiWord: http://roiword.wordpress.com. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 14 January 2009, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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No justice and no wisdom: Despite legal authorisation, Israel's actions in Sheikh Jarrah are immoral
Arie Arnon
BEER-SHEVA - In recent weeks, Israel's citizens have been hearing about a new bone of contention in Jerusalem. Almost every Sunday, we receive reports about protests, violent clashes and even arrests in Sheikh Jarrah or in what is referred to in some of the reports as the "Simeon the Just" compound. What is the capital raging about?

The issue, according to the mayor and those responsible for the entry to the homes which led to the protest, appears to be a simple one: The disputed property is owned by Jews and the time has come to return it to its owners. The matter even reached the court and this was the ruling.

I suggest that we stop for a minute and think about the far-reaching implications of this claim. Before 1948, according to the mayor and his supporters, the ownership of the disputed property belonged to Jews. It's true that Arab families have lived in the buildings since then, but now they must leave the houses and return the ownership rights to the Sephardic Community Committee which held the ownership rights the year the State was established. In customary legal language this is called "restitution". In other words the property will be returned to its owner.

But will the mayor, in the name of justice and consistency, call for restitution of Palestinian property found in west Jerusalem? Or does Israel, by force of power or by force of Israeli legislation, aspire to work to return the property to Jews but not to Arabs? True, the Israeli legislation which designed the land laws, including laws of absentee landlords' assets and other pranks, makes it possible to turn Arab property into Jewish property but not vice versa. But is there anyone who believes that by doing this, an illegitimate act is turned into a legitimate one?

Not a foundation for co-existence
The solution for the issue of lands lost by their owners in 1948 is not an easy one. One day both sides may be wise enough to renegotiate living together in this country, dividing it into two states, or living together in one country, and they will also discuss difficult questions like this one. They may choose to return all the property to its owners before 1948, they may choose to return some of it to the owners and compensate them for the rest of it.

But until all these open questions are discussed, the favourable use of force Israel has in Jerusalem in order to determine what is allegedly right in terms of ownership rights, must not blind us from seeing the injustice in this matter. "Restitution" of ownership rights to one side only by force of favourable power is not a foundation for co-existence. Even if this has been done in the past in different places, for example in Gush Etzion where Israel implemented the "restitution" principle, there is no moral justice for this.

Israelis should remember the claims filed by Jews against the expropriators of their property in Europe. Israelis will also claim their property in the Arab countries from which they came. But as long as we have not reached a settlement, Israel's aggressive moves do not show wisdom, nor are they based on justice and morals, even if the Israeli legal system authorises them.


* Arie Arnon is a professor of economics at Ben-Gurion University. A major focus of his has been the political economy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from Ynetnews.

Source: Ynetnews, 01January 2010, www.ynetnews.com
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Assessing Egypt's position
Hassan Khader
RAMALLAH - Egypt's actions in Gaza have been a source of confusion for some time. Four factors govern Egypt's policy towards the Gaza Strip:

1. The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the upholding of which is a key
priority for Egyptian national security.

2. Concerns triggered by Israel's desire to transfer responsibility for the Gaza Strip onto the Egyptian state, especially in light of Israel's redeployment from the strip, and its attempts to rid itself of the obligations imposed by international law on the occupying power.

3. Concerns arising from the de facto rule in the Gaza Strip by the Muslim Brotherhood, which poses an additional threat to Egyptian national security. This threat results from the well-established ties between the Gaza Muslim Brotherhood and its banned mother organisation in Egypt, and the special relationship linking the Brotherhood generally with Iran, Syria, and other radical Islamist organisations in different parts of the Arab world.

4. Its ongoing efforts to end the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict through negotiations that would lead to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while simultaneously avoiding Egyptian adoption of any positions that contradict its peace treaty with Israel or that would jeopardise its relations with the United States.

These factors are all interrelated, and under certain circumstances some issues become paramount, while at other times different concerns become priorities. Three overarching facts are most significant to this process: first, that the Gaza Strip shares a border with Egypt; second, Egypt is a major player in the Arab moderate camp; and third, the historical relationship between Egypt and Palestine.

The border connecting Egypt and the Gaza Strip makes it possible for
militants to infiltrate into the Sinai and launch attacks against Israel from Egyptian territory. Just as the Syrians prevent any attacks on Israel from their territory in the Golan, notwithstanding the historic relationships between Syria and countless Palestinian and other radical organisations, Egypt must prevent attacks on Israel from its territory.

The border also raises the possibility of Egypt losing control over security in the Sinai in the event of cooperation between the Muslim Brotherhood on both sides of the Gaza border. These concerns are exacerbated by the fact that the special relationship between Hamas and Iran has now created a de facto Iranian presence on Egypt's borders.

Egypt considers the Palestinian issue to be central not only to its national security, but also to its regional responsibilities. Accordingly, based on long historical experience, Egypt has formulated a complex policy on this issue.

What matters is not whether the Egyptian perceptions are right or wrong, but rather that the Palestinian issue is the prime source that influences Egypt's national security policymaking. In view of this, and because the policies and stances of the Palestine Liberation Organiz ation and the Palestinian Authority coincide with Egypt's positions, any recognition of the legitimacy of Hamas rule contradicts Egyptian interests. But because it is the only way to achieve their national goals, the Egyptians have tried in various ways to unite the Palestinian polity, which would ultimately have to entail the integration of Hamas into the Palestinian political structure
and enable the Palestinians to adhere to a unified stance that is consistent with regional and global realities.

Hamas' conduct on the border with Egypt constitutes an open challenge to core Egyptian policies. One example of this confrontation has been the shooting at Egyptian soldiers from Gaza, recently resulting in the death of one of them. This suggests that Hamas leaders fail to comprehend the reality of their situation and the realities of Egyptian politics.

In any scenario, the results will not favour Hamas, even though the Egyptians too have found themselves forced into making difficult decisions such as building a wall along their side of the border with the Gaza Strip.

As for the humanitarian catastrophe befalling the people of Gaza, the responsibility does not rest on the shoulders of the regime in Cairo (which would show no mercy to anyone if threatened), but on the shoulders of those who assess the political situation with anything less than the kind of calibrated scale used for measuring gold.


* Hassan Khader writes a weekly column for the Ramallah-based Al-Ayyam daily newspaper. This article originally appeared in Al-Ayyam in Arabic and was translated to English by the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP). It is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from ATFP and the author.

Source: Al-Ayyam (English translation by ATFP), 08 January 2010,
www.al-ayyam.ps and www.americantaskforce.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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The Common Ground News Service provides news, op-eds, features and analysis on a broad range of issues affecting Arab-Israeli & Muslim-Western relations. CGNews syndicates articles that are constructive, offer hope and promote dialogue and mutual understanding, to news outlets worldwide.
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