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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  
22 - 28 January 2010
Palestine must be a secular state
by Hussein Ibbish
In the fifth article in our series on religious freedom in the Israeli-Palestinian context, Hussein Ibbish from the American Task Force on Palestine contends that in a future Palestinian state, religious freedom will be possible only if the state structure is founded on secular values.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 28 January 2010)
One Intifada was enough
by Marzouq El-Halabi
Writer and columnist, Marzouq El-Halabi argues that the path of violent struggle has seriously undermined the Palestinian cause.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 28 January 2010)
Israeli and Palestinian mothers birth a new generation of peace with healing lullaby music
by Eliana Gilad
Healer Eliana Gilad describes a unique project that brings together Jewish and Arab mothers through the power of wordless singing.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 28 January 2010)
A Specter is haunting Israel, its name is Goldstone
by Leonard Fein
Writer and educator Leonard Fein untangles some of loaded concepts that emerge from the Goldstone report and argues that most of Israel's biggest critics censure the country precisely because they want Israel to survive as a Jewish state.

(Source: The Forward, 20 January 2010)
Sheikh Jarrah - a microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
by Lara Friedman
Lara Friedman, from Americans for Peace Now, reflects on the mounting protests against evictions of Palestinians from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah and explains why the issue gets to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

(Source: Americans For Peace Now, 22 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.
Palestine must be a secular state
Hussein Ibbish
WASHINGTON, DC - As Palestinians press the international community to live up to its commitment to ensuring the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel, conversation is intensifying about the character of this new state. In their own interest, Palestinians should buck the regional trend towards religious politics and ensure, from the outset, that it is firmly and irrevocably a secular state.

There is no question that the Palestinians are, in general, a relatively conservative and religious people, but this is all the more reason to embrace a secular form of government. Secular government does not mean official atheism, iconoclasm or hostility towards religious belief and practice. It means rather the strict neutrality of the state on religious matters and, therefore, the upholding of religious freedom for all citizens. It means the freedom of all religious communities from state interference, but also the freedom of the state from the dominance of any one religious authority.

Palestinian society is strikingly heterogeneous. A very significant percentage of Palestinians are Christians of numerous denominations, and they have played a major role in the national movement and in society generally. Any move to establish a government structure based on Muslim religious principles by definition would marginalise, if not discriminate against or exclude, Palestinian Christians.

Numerous Palestinian leaders have expressed the willingness to allow Jewish Israeli settlers who wish to remain in Palestine and abide by the laws of the new state to do so. This raises the prospect of a Jewish minority in Palestine as well. It is likely that Israel, rather than Palestine, would insist on a complete evacuation of settlements, because of the political difficulties arising for any Israeli government should Jews or Israelis remaining in the new Palestinian state encounter any significant difficulties. However, the willingness of Palestinian leaders to embrace a Jewish minority as equal citizens or residents under the law is an important principle that ought to be upheld.

Obviously, a secular government will be essential to affording Palestinian Christian and possibly also Jewish religious minorities equal treatment under the law and equal access to all the benefits of citizenship. Numerous Middle Eastern states, including Israel, serve as examples not to be emulated in the social treatment and political status of religious minorities, even when freedom of religion is officially afforded.

Even within the Palestinian Muslim community, there is significant heterogeneity. Palestinian Muslims range in orientation from the politically secular but religiously devout, to the Islamist (and even in some cases extreme Islamist), to the religiously disinclined. There are also significant constituencies of atheists and agnostics within both the Palestinian Muslim and Christian communities.

Historically, secular values have been a major feature of the Palestinian national movement, and the recent trend towards re-defining it in religious terms has been almost entirely counterproductive. Driven mainly by Islamists led by Hamas, but also engaged in by nationalists seeking not to be outbid on religious legitimacy, the intensification of religious rhetoric, accompanied by increasing levels of militarisation and violence during the second intifada, had disastrous results for the Palestinian national movement.

This sanctification of the struggle on the Palestinian side has been matched by a less well-recognised but equally fanatical and dangerous rise in religious zealotry in Israeli society. The shift away from a conflict characterised by the competition for land and power by two entho-national groups, as it has thus far largely been, and towards a holy war over the will of God and control of sacred spaces is profoundly threatening to both Israelis and Palestinians alike. Political conflicts are amenable to negotiated agreement. Holy wars are not.

My colleagues and I at the American Task Force on Palestine have long recommended that the Palestinian state be democratic, pluralistic, non-militarised and neutral in conflicts. Obviously, for a society to be genuinely pluralistic, it cannot be dominated by one religious opinion but must allow for the greatest possible expression of religious diversity.

All societies are heterogeneous on matters of faith, and Palestinian society is obviously so. This is one of the reasons why historically the Palestinian national movement has been politically secular in spite of the relatively devout nature of much of Palestinian society. This principle is being seriously threatened by the rise of religious politics, but it must be resolutely defended.

Any Palestinian state worth struggling for and establishing must represent all of its citizens equally. This requires the establishment of a Palestinian system in which the state is neutral on religious matters - in other words a secular government.


* Hussein Ibish is a Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 28 January 2010
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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One Intifada was enough
Marzouq El-Halabi
DALIT AL-CARMEL, Israel - Recently I have been hearing again the all-too-familiar Palestinian threat that the lack of progress in the negotiations with Israel will eventually lead to a third Intifada. Some Palestinians even speak about the option of a third Intifada as if they are going to a wedding celebration or a night of pleasure in Vienna!

Although it is true that Israeli politics have shifted away from the path of negotiation and reconciliation, and are veering towards renewed violence against Palestinians, this does not justify a third Intifada.

In fact, it is now clear that the second Intifada has undermined more than benefited Palestinian national aspirations. While the first Palestinian Intifada at the end of the 1980s was a legitimate popular struggle that led to the Oslo Accords, the second Intifada was unnecessarily violent and brought two Israeli military campaigns against the West Bank and Gaza, inflicting heavy damage to the Palestinian cause - politically, economically and morally. For this, we cannot blame the Israelis alone. The fact that the Palestinian factions chose the path of violence makes them also culpable.

Moreover, the fact that the Palestinians at the time did not disassociate their struggle from international fundamentalist terrorism and did not counter the link that Al-Qaeda, for example, made between its actions and the Palestinian cause, gave Israel an excuse to make an analogy between Hamas violence and international Jihadist terrorism.

Actually, the main reasons for the outbreak of the second Intifada were internal Palestinian factors, such as attempts by Hamas to compete with Fateh and other factions over who has a 'monopoly' over the Palestinian cause, supported by a growing focus on sacrifice and martyrdom.

The result of this Intifada was a political split between the Hamas 'state' in Gaza and the national authority in Ramallah, morphing into internal violence, which produced scenes that are no less horrific than those produced by the occupation and which brought the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish to wonder which martyr will enter heaven first, the one killed by his own brethren or the one killed by enemy fire!

The Palestinian struggle has been plagued by a propensity to expend lives without consideration, as if those leaders of the struggle consider people, especially the Palestinian youth, as cannon fodder or fuel for a revolution, to be disposed of at will. Preoccupation with the victims did not include attempts to reduce their numbers. Scores of Palestinian youth have been victims to the idea of sacrifice and martyrdom, many more than the resistance actually required. As a result, martyrdom has become more significant than liberation, and sacrifice more important than ending the occupation.

The just Palestinian cause of demanding an end to the occupation and establishing Palestinian sovereignty became immoral ever since it stopped dedicating its resources to life and freedom and began to use human beings as pawns to internal fighting.

It is now becoming more apparent that we have other non-violent options which are ultimately superior both politically and morally. In the last few years we have seen a proliferation in non-violent activities. Villages like Naalin and Bilin have been engaging in weekly protests against the separation wall for several years. An official Palestinian decision at this stage, to adopt the non-violence option in the framework of continuing the struggle with Israel would mean a historic adjustment of the Palestinian struggle, opening up new horizons, internally and externally. It would mean that the time of expending human lives without restraint and making political and material sacrifices without due accountability would be over. It would mean that the Palestinian would have his dignity restored and the right to life would triumph over the idea of martyrdom.

Nobody can doubt Ghandi's nationalistic feelings, or Martin Luther King's resoluteness. Palestinians can be similarly resolute without stepping over into armed action or endless violence. Non-violence does not undermine the credibility of Palestinian demands or the just cause of this people. One Intifada was enough.


* Marzouq El-Halabi is a writer, columnist and political advisor. He writes a regular column for Al-Hayat newspaper. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 28 January 2010
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Israeli and Palestinian mothers birth a new generation of peace with healing lullaby music
Eliana Gilad
TIVON, Israel - What does an Israeli neonatal intensive care unit and the biblical prophetess Miriam, sister of Moses - a figure equally respected by both Jews and Muslims - have in common?

They both employed the conscious use of voice, rhythm and music as a means of natural healing in the face of calamity during times of change.

What began as an informal healing music project in an Israeli neonatal intensive care unit during the beginning of the second Intifada in 2000, evolved into a healing music research project, named the "Voices of Eden". It has provided a unique opportunity to discover alternative means of communication that effectively bring together a culturally diverse population and enable cross-cultural encounters in an intensive care setting.

Meir Hospital in the Israeli city of Kfar Saba, where the research took place, serves a multicultural population of parents to premature babies belonging to Jewish and Arab families from different cultural, musical and political backgrounds. In addition, the population speaks two different languages. Sometimes the most difficult situations are the greatest mothers of invention.

Informal maternal vocal training offered during live healing music sessions in the unit allowed the mothers, the nurses and the physicians to experience each other as a source of support and nurturing - despite their different backgrounds. So much of what divides us occurs in verbal communication. Wordless singing, on the other hand, bypasses the need for speaking and opens the way for a more primal form of communication.
The universal desire to care for one's child is a powerful common ground. Perhaps if mothers - no matter what their origin - who experience the stress of caring for their premature infants in an intensive care unit could experience healing music together, they could create personal bonds that transcend political, cultural and religious divides.

Wordless singing has no boundaries. It takes us back to our maternal roots in the womb. Breath, heartbeat - these are universal elements. The mothers who share this experience with each other are likely to reach a greater degree of mutual acceptance. It also gives their small babies a deep sense of safety.

In ancient times, prior to Abraham, women were the healers. They used their voices and rhythm as natural healers, with common archaeological evidence of these practices found in ancient Egypt, Persia, Iran, Syria, Palestine, Israel, and Lebanon. In Jewish tradition, Moses' sister, the biblical prophetess Miriam, was also a midwife. It is written in the biblical commentary that Miriam taught women (Targum Michah) and in the book of Exodus she leads them in rhythm and song praising the Divine for leading the Hebrews to safe passage from slavery through the treacherous parted seas.

Over time, a wordless music modality was developed combining both an Eastern and Western approach to music. Ancient healing and transformational music is based upon the premise that wordless singing embodies inherent healing qualities. It also bypasses the intellect, allowing the listener to connect to the essence of the sound, as opposed to the cognitive idea of the words themselves. This can have a calming effect upon the listener. Today this music model is being taught to health care professionals, pregnant women and new mothers throughout the world.

Social media and the internet has allowed the Voices of Eden project to disseminate information especially during the 2006 war with Lebanon, when mothers from around the world, including Saudi Arabia and Dubai, wrote to support the efforts of the Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli mothers making peace with their voices. A healing lullaby music blog was launched to empower mothers to connect and express their authentic and natural voices.

The "peace education" through healing music has allowed what began as a Jewish-Arab project to inspire other healing projects such an in-service training for Israeli Jewish and Arab health care workers, a Greek-Turkish-Cypriot healing music encounter in Nicosia, Cyprus, as well as a healing music symposium at the United Nations in New York.

The healing music project has brought together Jews, Christians and Muslims in a rebirth of the ancient healing arts common to both cultures. Professionals, who have been through training in healing music, are now incorporating wordless healing melodies into their own practice. One director of a natural birth centre who works with Israeli and Palestinian birth professionals uses wordless melodies recorded with mothers and fathers from Jewish, Christian and Muslim backgrounds. Another student who is a Druze is taking the healing music to a Jewish-Arab nursery in the Galilee where she works.

The intention of the project is to inspire and empower others to connect and express their own primal, boundary-less voices. This is one way in which harmony can grow.


* Eliana Gilad is founder of the Voices of Eden project (www.voicesofeden) and works with pregnant women, new mothers, healthcare professionals and peace leaders from all over the world to help them express their authentic voice and remain calm in the midst of change. She is the author of "Rhythms of the Natural Voice" and "Quiet in the Eye of the Storm". This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 28 January 2010
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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A Specter is haunting Israel, its name is Goldstone
Leonard Fein
NEW YORK - Goldstone yes, Goldstone no, Goldstone yes and no, Goldstone here, Goldstone there, Goldstone everywhere.

An exchange in Jerusalem the other week with a close observer of the Goldstone report:

"I am so tired of talking about Goldstone."

"Me too."

And then, for the better part of an hour, we talk about Goldstone.

The day before, at a dinner party, one retired senior diplomat says, bluntly, "I've not read the report, but we deserve it all."

"Even 'crimes against humanity'?"

"Yes, all of it. The occupation, nearly 43 years now, what did we expect?"

And the next day, over coffee, a leading journalist argues, vehemently, that Goldstone has greatly and unfairly damaged Israel, provided aid and comfort to Israel's enemies, to those who are bent upon delegitimising Israel.

Gently, now, gently. I have no desire to revisit the Goldstone controversy. I want instead to examine two words that are much used and abused these days. The first arises directly from within the Goldstone report, the second from the controversy regarding the report.

Intentionality: I fully accept the insistent assertion by a number of Israelis with whom I have spoken directly on the matter of whether Israel specifically and intentionally targeted innocent civilians during its war in Gaza, as Goldstone suggests. To a person, they have direct access to information regarding Israel's conduct during the war; to a person, they deny that innocents were targeted. I believe them.

That said, how shall we understand the hundreds of deaths of innocents, be they the 762 noncombatants including 318 minors under the age of 18 that B'Tselem reports, or the 295 uninvolved Palestinians, including 89 under the age of 16, that the Israeli army acknowledges? In my view, given the specific circumstances of the war - the asymmetry of a proficient war machine confronting an elusive and inherently camouflaged enemy, Gaza's congestion, Israel's determination to restore the fearsome reputation of the Israel Defense Forces in the wake of the Lebanon debacle of 2006 and to keep its own casualties to a minimum - the number of bystander dead is distressing but not especially surprising. Whether Israel was required by international humanitarian law, which was Goldstone's analytic framework, to behave differently - say, by putting its own troops at greater risk - is an important question I leave to the experts.

There is a difference between intent and responsibility. In my view, the killings were not intentional as we laypeople use that word. That does not, however, mean that Israel is not responsible. One among the many reasons an independent investigation is so important, even urgent, is to sort these things out, to achieve clarity on the degree and nature of that responsibility.

The other word, given new momentum by the Goldstone debate, is legitimacy - or, more cumbersomely but more precisely, delegitimisation. Defenders of Israel have for some time been accusing those who recklessly attack Israel, wildly exaggerating and even concocting its flaws and failures, of being guilty of an effort to "delegitimise" the Jewish state. Lately, the accusation has been directed even at mainstream critics of Israeli policy.

I am not quite certain what delegitimising Israel means. Does it mean that Israel's critics seek to eliminate the Jewish state? Plainly, there are those who do. But the vast majority of those who are growingly critical of Israel - I think here in particular of the European Union - do not even hint at putting an end to the Jewish state. Quite the contrary in fact. They call, ever more urgently, for the implementation of a two-state solution. And in fact a two-state solution is the only way to assure the survival of the Jewish state - a point widely recognised in Israel.

Now, whether Israel deserves the criticism to which it is daily subjected for its alleged reluctance to move more energetically toward a two-state solution is a matter of legitimate debate. But surely it is not the idea of a two-state solution that calls into question Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state. Quite the contrary: Anyone who calls for a two-state solution implicitly recognises and accepts the validity, the legitimacy, of the Jewish state.

It is those who prattle on about a one-state solution who reject Israel's legitimacy. These days, the one-staters are in the ascendance. There are those who say that the point of no return has already been reached, that a two-state solution is no longer possible. Others say that midnight, though imminent, is still avoidable. In the Arab world, there is a growing feeling that time is now on its side, that the Jewish state will soon implode as the world gives up on two states living side-by-side in security and peace.

That does not mean that a two-state solution offers a problem-free resolution to the conflict. All we know for sure is that absent a two-state solution, the Jewish state is doomed, while with two states there will be new and perplexing problems and possibly new and dangerous threats as well. Choosing a possible downside over a certain doomside is a no-brainer. We dare not conflate criticism, even impatience, with delegitimisation. Who goes there, friend or foe? If for a two-state solution, hence accepting of a Jewish state, then friend.


* Leonard Fein is a writer, teacher, and founder of Moment magazine. He is author of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy. His more than 900 articles and essays have appeared in dozens of newspapers, magazines, and journals. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the Forward.

Source: The Forward, 20 January 2010
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Sheikh Jarrah - a microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Lara Friedman
WASHINGTON, DC - Another Friday where Israeli police react with fury and force, trying to bar and then break up the event, and arresting peaceful protesters.

Another Friday and more evidence that democracy - and key pillars of democracy like freedom of speech and freedom of association, let alone the freedom to protest peacefully - are under threat in Israel.

When the Sheikh Jarrah protests first started, an Israeli friend told me that they would never have any impact - that Jerusalem is something that Israelis just can't think rationally about. He said that even though we are talking about settler activities in neighbourhoods that few Israelis can find on a map, let alone ever visit, the average Israeli hears "Jerusalem" and stops listening.

I hope he is wrong. Because this is about more than settlers targeting houses in this one Palestinian neighbourhood. Sheikh Jarrah is a microcosm of the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict - as pointed out by Didi Remez in a podcast he did with APN earlier this week, following his arrest in last week's protest. It is about Israeli actions and policies that are wholly inimical to peace. It is emblematic of the battle between those who believe in a negotiated peace - for Israel's own sake - and those who prefer the zero-sum logic of occupation, domination, and perpetual conflict.

In one neat little package the Sheikh Jarrah protests encompass the core issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the peace process: territory, settlements and borders, displacement of Palestinians, and of course, Jerusalem.

I have watched (from afar) these protests grow, week after week. I have watched them gather more and more "mainstream" support, especially in the face of the extraordinary actions of Israeli police. I hope my friend turns out to be wrong - that Sheikh Jarrah will be the issue that focuses Israelis minds on what is really at stake and motivates them to action


* Lara Friedman is Director of Policy and Government Relations for Americans for Peace Now. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from Americans for Peace Now.

Source: American for Peace Now, 22 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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