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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  
15 - 21 January 2010
The role of informal education in shaping the image of the Other
by Nilly Venezia
In our fifth article on informal education in the Israeli-Palestinian context, multicultural dialogue facilitator Nilly Venezia discusses the pivotal role that books, films and television programmes play in shaping our feelings and attitudes towards the Other.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 21 January 2010)
With new media we are the media
by Eyal Raviv
Eyal Raviv, founder of an online network for peace, praises the capacity of online forums to change the way Israelis and Palestinians perceive each other and to facilitate conflict resolution.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 21 January 2010)
Jerusalem: the city of two peaces
by Lewis Gropp
Freelance journalist and Qantara.de editor Lewis Gropp reviews a new musical album which explores the musical traditions of Jerusalem throughout its long and diverse history.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 12 January 2009)
There is no place for "no-solutionists"
by Ori Nir
Peace Now spokesperson Ori Nir argues that those who care about Israel as a Jewish state cannot afford to give up on the peace process.
(Source: Washington Jewish Week, 06 January 2010)
With Palestinians painted into a corner, peace talks hinge on US guidance
by Omar Karmi
Reporter for the National, Omar Karmi contends that the United States must exert pressure on Israel if the negotiations on a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are to be successful.
(Source: The National, 12 January 2010)
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The Midwives Coexistence Project works to ensure that pregnant mothers in Israel and the Palestinian Territories have safe and natural births.
The role of informal education in shaping the image of the Other
Nilly Venezia
GIVATAYIM, Israel - Recently I took part as a moderator in an international conference that examined dialogue between people from different backgrounds in a multicultural society. The conference was also attended by the American writer Rebecca Walker who was born in the United States in the mid 1960s to a white Jewish father and a black Christian mother, when such marriages were still considered illegal. She was, therefore, categorised as an "illegal" baby. Walker talked about her long-term experiences of rejection; to the Jews she was not "white enough" and to the black children at the school she attended she wasn't "black enough". At the end of her talk I asked Walker if she could describe a moment in her life when she didn't feel "illegal" or outside the consensus. After a moment of silence she answered: "No I cannot remember such a moment".

Feeling like one is "outside the consensus" is not unique to people living the black-white divide. It is a universal social phenomenon which exists in societies where the social and political systems cultivate prejudice towards the Other.

The experience of living "outside the consensus" also describes the mutual feelings that exist between the Jews in Israel and the Palestinians on either side of the green line. . Each side perceives the other as a "stranger" who threatens his/her security on an existential level as well as in the day-to-day. Hence, we tend to cast the Other in the role of an enemy who exists "outside the consensus". By "enemy" I do not mean an external enemy, one that threatens our existence in the political sense, but, rather, an internal and subjective enemy-i.e. the way in which each one of us-whichever of the above categories we fit into-perceive the Other.

In Israel, informal education as a social mechanism plays a major role in shaping deeply rooted perceptions of the Other. Children's books and stories contain stereotypical messages regarding the Other. In Israeli youth culture, for example, the figure of the Arab as a legitimate character in children's literature, films or computer games is almost non-existent. And when the image of the Arab is presented, it is almost always depicted as the enemy.

Television may be the most important medium in shaping the image of the Other. An example is the popular programme "Big Brother" which the station directors define as a documentary that presents a mirror image of Israeli society and is considered an "opinion shaping programme". Once the participants' awareness of the cameras subsides and they begin to let their guard down, one can hear aggressive and racist statements about the Other. Even the adverts broadcast during the programme reinforce those stereotypes, except for the occasional case when the image of the Arab Other is shown in a "positive light" linked, of course, to Hummus and coffee.

Over time the immersion in a social environment saturated in stereotypes and prejudices about other identities and cultures, teaches the individual within that society which are the identities and cultures that are highly valued and which are less so.

Thus, the Israeli-Jew, or the Palestinian Other becomes part of our emotional makeup. This emotional aspect attributes inaccurate and distorted characteristics to the Other but the power of this image is so great that it impacts the way we think, feel and act towards the Other. The implication is that even if we believe in liberal values of respect for and acceptance of the Other on a cognitive level, the force of these negative feelings towards the Other make it much harder to practice them.

In order to bring about change we must start our search from within. Therefore, encounters between Israeli-Jews and Palestinians (from both sides of the green line), intended to create personal relationships and lessen prejudice, are important but they are not enough. Our first step is to ask ourselves, what is the place of the Other within us? How was this image created? From where do we derive the knowledge which is present in our rigid thought templates that feed the emotional experience of the Other?

To achieve change, we must begin the process with the agents of change in society. These are, first and foremost, the educators and media professionals who are, in essence, social leaders. During their training in colleges or academic institutions it is necessary to work on cultivating personal awareness of prejudice, stereotypes and social mechanisms. Indeed, this awareness building will necessitate courage and a supportive environment, but it is one of the most important ways to initiate social change.


* Nilly Venezia is the founder and director of the Venezia Institute for diversity and multiculturalism. She holds an MA in multicultural education and is a facilitator of dialogue in multi-identity groups. 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), 21 January 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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With new media we are the media
Eyal Raviv
TEL AVIV-JAFFA - "Be the change you want to see in the world" said one great informal educator. Modern technology empowers us to be that change-for peace.

By enabling self-expression and interaction, new media tools are helping our efforts for conflict resolution in the Middle East. Horizontal transfers of knowledge on social networks like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter empower us to build understanding through lateral learning. While teaching tends to be top-down, lateral learning lets us learn from one another. We decide what we learn, as well as where, when and how.

Traditional media no longer dictates our news, we do! Take Facebook for example. Status updates keep us up-to-date with our friends; news feeds tell us what is new and comment walls let us post and receive feedback. Like my status? Give me a thumbs-up or just leave a comment. Through video-sharing on YouTube, we produce and distribute video content. On Twitter, we tweet our news in 140 characters or less. With new media, we are the media.

Social networks are empowering us as peacemakers. By making it possible for Israelis and Palestinians to interact, they let us see and humanise the "other". In a conflict where Israelis and Palestinians are physically separate, new media allows us to see and hear each other beyond the stereotypes and the physical barriers.

In 2007, I created mepeace.org-a social network and platform for peacemakers. The name communicates the goal: "Middle East peace", and the method: combining "me" and "peace"-it begins with each of us. Ha'aretz nicknamed it the "Facebook of peace" because it works like Facebook and is based on a shared commitment to Middle East peace. All are welcome to join.

The web platform has become home to thousands of "peacemakers" in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and more than 100 other countries. These peacemakers are communicating through text, photo and video and supporting one another with personal profiles, blogs, real-time chats and more than a thousand active discussions.

Some claim such a peace is virtual. But through mepeace.org, peacemakers meet online and on the ground-overcoming many barriers to meet at the organisation's Peace Cafes, "Peace Talks" and other events. The organisation is now offering joint leadership training for young Israelis and Palestinians. Young people are most in touch with networking tools which enable youth (often stereotyped as potential radicalisers) to actively contribute. A new generation of activists is in creation.

Next for mepeace.org is building an online resource centre for conflict resolution. Knowledge for communication and conflict resolution exists to support people's hopes, but information must be organised and shared. Community and knowledge-sharing can nurture peacemakers from the bottom up.

True, the Middle East consists of different viewpoints from moderate to extreme. At the core, each of us wants peace. We may seek peace differently, but let us not be indifferent.

We can use technology to reach out and overcome our differences. We can connect, convince and create coalitions. Today with WIFI and smart phones, the internet is portable and so are our networks. We carry with us the power to effect mass change. Can we utilise this power for peace?

Yes, we can. Social networks are empowering individuals and organisations in significant ways. With this power comes responsibility. While our political leaders fail to forge peace, let us network for peace. Let us not wait for our leaders-we are the leaders we have been waiting for. Networked and empowered, we have the tools we need to learn, to teach and to inspire one another. Together, we are the change we want to see in the world.


* Eyal Raviv is the founder of mepeace.org-a network for peace. He is studying conflict resolution at Ben Gurion University and can be reached at eyalpeace@gmail.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), 21 January 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Jerusalem: the city of two peaces
Lewis Gropp
COLOGNE - Jerusalem is a central point of reference for the three great monotheist faiths. King David made the city the political and religious capital of Israel, creating a centre for Judaism within and beyond the region. Jerusalem is a holy city for Christians as the place of Jesus of Nazareth's teaching, crucifixion and resurrection. It was here too that the first community of early Christians proclaimed their religion. And for Muslims, the city is traditionally the third most holy in Islam after Mecca and Medina. Before they prayed facing the Kaaba in Mecca, the most sacred site for Muslims, they directed their prayers towards Jerusalem.

In the course of its 4,000-year history, the city has been destroyed, looted and pillaged some 40 times. Today's Jerusalem, which was supposed to be a common bond with shared history and sacredness for the three religions, unfortunately presents a picture of discord and serves as a point of contention for people with contradictory claims to religious influence.

This city, nonetheless, bears the seed of peace in its name. The Hebrew word "Jerusalem" can be interpreted to mean city of two peaces, referring to both the earthly and heavenly peace heralded by the Old Testament prophets. The etymologically observant will recognise the Hebrew shalom in the name-and the related Arabic salaam, both of which mean peace.

Starting from this idea, Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras-specialists in music of old centuries and UNESCO Artists for Peace in 2008-have produced an unusual musical project, Jerusalem: La Ville des deux Paix (the city of two peaces). On this musical album, accompanied by a 400-page book detailing the historical and musical background of the city, the two artists explore musical traditions from Jerusalem's various epochs: the Jewish, the Christian, the Arab and the Ottoman eras.

For the dialogue-centred Jerusalem project, Savall and Figueras brought together Jewish, Muslim and Christian musicians from many countries that have left traces on Jerusalem's musical traditions over the centuries: Israel, Palestine, Greece, Syria, Armenia, Turkey, England, France, Spain and Italy.

The section on the "Jewish city" begins with its foundation and ends with the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. It is presented musically through a selection of the most beautiful psalms of King David as preserved in the ancient musical tradition of the Jews of southern Morocco, along with a piece on the 1st century Rabbi Akiva, one of the most important fathers of rabbinical Judaism.

The Christian section embarks with the arrival of Queen Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine I, in 326 CE and ends in 1244 CE. It opens with a dark, meditative hymn to the Virgin Mary, attributed to Emperor Leo VI (886-912), and closes with a quiet, humble improvisation on the hymn, "Pax in Nomine Domini!" ("Peace in the name of the Lord!").

Among other pieces in the Arab section of the album, a version of the 17th chapter in the Qur'an-entitled "the Israelites"-describes the Prophet Mohammed's ascent to heaven from the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif through song.

The album's most dramatic piece is a historic recording by Shlomo Katz, a Jew of Romanian origin. Before Katz was to be executed in Auschwitz in 1941 during the Holocaust, he asked for permission to sing the hymn, "El Male Rahamim" ("God full of compassion"). Deeply moved by the magnificence, emotional depth and intensity of the music, the Nazi officer on duty allowed Katz to escape. In 1950, he recorded the song as a lasting testament and hymn to the victims of Auschwitz. Exuding a moving sense of tragedy and grace in itself, the piece becomes a devastating musical document in the knowledge of its history.

"Music", according to Savall, "becomes the indispensable means of achieving a genuine intercultural dialogue between human beings from very different nations and religions, but who nevertheless share a common language of music, spirituality and beauty."

Savall and Figueras' Jerusalem album is an astutely compiled mosaic of religions and cultures. Every song, every set of lyrics forms a possible starting point for exploring the dramatic and chequered history of the medieval East and West, and the points they have in common.


* Lewis Gropp is a freelance journalist based in Cologne, Germany. Specialising in faith issues and world literature, he is also an editor at Qantara.de, an online magazine that covers issues relating to the West and the Muslim world. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 12 January 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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There is no place for "no-solutionists"
Ori Nir
WASHINGTON, DC - Increasingly, you hear them at public events and symposia. You read their analyses in the press and on blogs. They are the "no-solutionists".

Ultra-sceptical, hyper-cynical, often giddy about their political nihilism, they typically argue something along these lines: "As a realist, I realise that there are problems in this world that simply can't be resolved. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of them."

Such scepticism can no longer be dismissed as spiteful vexation, now that Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman often make these arguments, and as many in Israel and in the United States buy into this pseudo-realism.

Ironically, this argument brings together the extreme left and the extreme right. Both are harnessing it to their agendas, agendas that-deliberately or not-will turn the festering status quo of a diplomatic impasse and Israeli West Bank settlement activity into an endless quagmire.

This approach is both wrong and wrongheaded.

It is wrong because a reasonable solution to the conflict is, in fact, feasible. Majorities on both sides strongly support a two-state solution. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have in the past made significant progress toward mutually acceptable compromise formulas. Even on issues that involve heavy emotional baggage for both sides, such as Jerusalem and refugees, leaders on both sides have devised reasonable formulas that large majorities of Israelis and Palestinians supported.

Both parties have made giant steps toward a historic compromise by agreeing to recognise each other, to talk to each other and to negotiate over all the outstanding issues. The gaps between the parties, as broad as they may seem, are not unbridgeable. Israelis and Palestinians, as well as international brokers, can freshen up creative proposals such as the Geneva Initiative or the Clinton parameters. If leaders endorse reasonable, workable proposals, majorities on both sides will follow, as recent polls have shown.

The "no-solutionists" approach is wrongheaded because the repercussions of abandoning the active pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace are disastrous for Israel and for the United States. Israel will not be able to exist as a democratic Jewish state without a two-state solution. Over time, the lingering occupation of the West Bank is eroding Israel's democracy, making Israeli society increasingly violent and isolating Israel in the international arena.

Peace between Israel and its neighbours is key for American interests, too, as often pointed out by President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Therefore, even if political leaders assess that the prospects of a peace agreement in the immediate future are low, they owe it to their people and to their international allies to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of peace. Pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace is a national security obligation and a moral imperative-both for Israel and the United States.

Dismissing peace efforts as futile, or even putting the peace process on temporary hold, pending better circumstances, is potentially disastrous. Such an approach might turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It might discourage Israelis and Palestinians, as well as their friends internationally, from striving to create conditions conducive to peace.

While some Israelis and Palestinians may think that the price of a two-state solution is unbearable for their nations, the price of not reaching peace will be heavier for both peoples.

Most Israelis recognise that the alternative to a two-state solution is not the status quo, but rather a disastrous scenario: An apartheid-like relationship will develop between what will soon become an Israeli-Jewish minority and a Palestinian majority in historic Palestine. This is a recipe for the devolution of the conflict from one that can be solved into the type of ethnic strife that the former Yugoslavia witnessed a decade ago.

Those who walk away from the pursuit of a two-state solution are inducing the birth of a bi-national state. By doing so, they not only condemn Israelis and Palestinians to endless bloodletting, they also induce the beginning of the end of the Jewish state.


* Ori Nir, the spokesman of Americans for Peace Now, was the Palestinian affairs correspondent for the Israeli daily Ha'aretz. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the author.

Source: Washington Jewish Week, 06 January 2010
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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With Palestinians painted into a corner, peace talks hinge on US guidance
Omar Karmi
RAMALLAH - With pressure mounting on the Palestinians to return to negotiations with Israel even without a full settlement construction freeze in occupied territory, the onus has very much shifted onto US diplomatic efforts to ensure that talks are renewed.

Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, continues to resist the pressure, which is now coming from Arab countries as well as Washington, insisting that Israel must completely end construction work in settlements before he will return to talks.

The longer the PLO holds out against the pressure, the harder it will be for Mr. Abbas to back down from that pledge, and the greater must be the incentive offered from Washington. Palestinians consider settlement construction a way for Israel to create facts on the ground that pre-empt the outcome of negotiations. What is the point of negotiating while the land in question is disappearing even as talks are held? Saeb Erekat, the PLO's chief negotiator, asked this week.

In response, the United States has urged the sides to consider the bigger picture, or "look at the forest", in the words of Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, on Friday. Washington wants the sides first to discuss borders as a way to resolve other issues. Borders, after all, cannot be agreed upon without also implicitly agreeing on settlements and Jerusalem.

However, in and of itself, asking the sides to discuss borders first will not mitigate for the lack of a full settlement freeze. In parallel, the United States is understood to be drafting letters of guarantees to both sides. It has been reported the White House plans to offer the Palestinians assurance that any state will be based on the 1967 borders with only minor adjustments and the Israelis a promise that some settlements will remain and be annexed to Israel.

To avoid any danger of contradiction in these guarantees, the United States should sketch out a final position in terms of percentages, said Gershon Baskin, head of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information in Jerusalem.

"The problem with dealing with borders is you can't detach borders from the size of the territories. If the Palestinians are given a guarantee that a Palestinian state will be 22 percent of the land between the river and the sea, then you can ask them to come to the table to negotiate borders first," Mr. Baskin said, referring to the size of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 in relation to historic Palestine.

That way, Mr. Baskin suggested, Palestinian concerns that Israel would take more territory during negotiations through settlement construction should be allayed, and the sides could focus on where exactly borders should run, knowing the amount of territory each state would be.

It is doubtful that Washington intends to be very explicit in its assurances, however. Washington burnt its fingers when it endorsed the Palestinian call for a full settlement construction freeze only to back down and embrace the settlement "freeze" that Israel eventually came up with-one that excludes settlement construction in East Jerusalem, construction for buildings deemed essential for the public good in settlements generally, as well as 3,000 housing units already approved elsewhere in the West Bank.

Indeed, perhaps the most crucial question Palestinians seek answered is to what extent Washington is willing to exert any serious pressure on Israel. George Mitchell, the US envoy to the region, recently hinted in an interview with the US PBS network that Washington did not have to extend loan guarantees to Israel as one means of pressure.

But Mr. Mitchell appeared to be speaking for himself and immediately qualified his statement by saying that he still thought the best way forwards was for Washington to convince the parties of what was in their self-interest. That is a formula that has been tried for 18 years, ever since the first peace conference in Madrid, and with no result. Without serious US pressure on Israel, Palestinians say, negotiations are unlikely to succeed. And should another peace process fail, it could spell the end not only of the PLO leadership, but for the Palestinian Authority, which was only meant as a transition authority for seven years until full statehood was achieved under the Oslo process.

"Without US pressure on Israel, talks will fail," said George Giacaman, a Ramallah-based analyst. "Failure will mean the end of the road as far as negotiations are concerned. It will result in a political vacuum on the Palestinian side and, further down the road, more violent confrontations."


* Omar Karmi is a foreign correspondent for The National and can be reached at okarmi@thenational.ae. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the author and The National.

Source: The National, 12 January 2010
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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