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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  
05 - 11 February 2010
Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, on a Friday afternoon
by Yaron Ezrahi
Standing with several hundred demonstrators protesting the eviction of Arab families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli political scientist Yaron Ezrahi makes a plea to save the rich human mosaic that characterises the city he loves.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CG News), 11 February 2010)
A Renewed Zionism - a new case for peace
by Alick Isaacs
Israeli scholar of Jewish education Alick Isaacs proposes to revive and revitalise the idea of peace within Israel by basing it on a new understanding of Jewish and Zionist values and purpose.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 11 February 2010)
Clearing the hurdles
by Bill Glucroft
Writer Bill Glucroft suggests that re-conceptualising the main problem areas in the Middle East conflict could clear some of the major stumbling blocks to peace.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 11 February 2010)
Build a partnership for peace, right here in America
by Ziad Asali
President of the American Task Force on Palestine Ziad Asali argues that it is time for American Jews and Arabs who seek a two state solution to join forces and support the efforts of the political leaders.

(Source: The Forward, 03 February 2010)
The campaign against the New Israel Fund
by Yariv Oppenheimer
Secretary General of the New Israel Fund, Yariv Oppenheimer argues that the right wing campaign against the New Israel Fund is an attack on Israeli defenders of human rights and civil society.
(Source: Jerusalem Post, 04 February 2010)
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The Merchavim Institute places Arabic teachers in Jewish schools in Israel in order to better integrate Jewish and Arab communities and create a greater sense of shared citizenship.
Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, on a Friday afternoon
Yaron Ezrahi
JERUSALEM - Sheikh Jarrah, an Arab neighbourhood, is gradually becoming a symbol of the struggle over the character and future of Jerusalem as a city of diverse neighbourhoods, religions and communities who strive to live side by side in dignity and peace.

Recently a group of right-wing nationalist Jews effectively exploited legal documents in a bid to start taking over this neighbourhood, evict its residents and raise the Israeli flag over its houses.

Their Israeli flag isn't our Israeli flag - the flag of the Declaration of Independence that extends an open hand to our Arab neighbours. Instead, it is a flag of domination, dispossession and humiliation; not a symbol of identification with the wonderful human mosaic of our unique city - but a symbol of regression and a destructive coercion.

I have been a citizen of this city for 50 years. During this time, Jerusalem has known good times and hard times. Today, the future of this city depends on whether or not we begin to understand that Sheikh Jarrah represents a problem which is, in the words of outgoing Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, "not a legal one". It is, rather, a moral and political problem and has therefore become our responsibility as citizens of the capital and the state. Yes, it is true that the settlers also have an ideal of Jerusalem. But it is not possible to realise their ideal without undermining all the precious assets that make up this city.

The solution depends on how determined we are to prevent the destruction of the unique experience that characterises Jerusalem - the daily human encounter between Jews, Muslims, Christians and others - an encounter that takes place under the auspices of this glowing city, in the rare beauty of its skies, its buildings and its houses of prayer.

There is nothing that threatens this city more than the weakness of the government and citizens vis-à-vis this group of settlers' determination to shrink the grand human dimensions of Jerusalem to the narrow confines of their reclusive world, a world which is blind to the Other. We must safeguard Jerusalem as the place where one day the angel of peace will be born and perhaps even the place from where the Messiah - patiently awaited by my grandfathers in their graves on the Mount of Olives - will one day emerge.

A zealous Jerusalem which lacks compassion, an occupied city which banishes everything that is sacred (as one of the slogans in the demonstration read), such a city in which the residents are becoming enemies to one another, will deteriorate before long to bloodshed. And if this is indeed what will happen, if Jerusalem is a lost city which this generation will not succeed to rescue, build and glorify - it will become a another sad layer of ruins for future archaeologists.

I am standing here amongst about 400 demonstrators. The police prevents us from walking to the houses that have been "conquered" by the settlers. Across the way, the police, the fist of the state, line up in perfect assembly. This is the fist which is meant to safeguard freedom of expression within the framework of law and order and not order and law at the expense of freedom of expression, something that the judges from the Jerusalem Magistrate's court no doubt understood when they ruled that the weekly demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah were not unconstitutional as the police has claimed.

Are the soldiers of the police's special reconnaissance unit aware that we the citizens are the ones who have given them the powers that they now hold? Are they aware that we are not the enemy and that as an arm of the government they are our emissaries? Does the tough looking officer with the stern face who leads them recognise that it is our duty and obligation as citizens to protect the moral and social fabric of our city? That we are the ultimate source of legitimacy for the power that he wields? And beyond this, will the Israeli public begin to understand who is really dividing Jerusalem and tearing it apart?

The demonstrators are lit by the dappled sunlight of a wintery Friday afternoon. Amidst the crowd, Palestinian children walk around carrying trays of coffee cups and biscuits. Perhaps they understand that those congregated here are demanding the chance to make a choice about the kind of city we will live in - all of us, with our children and grandchildren. Next to me are a group of student drummers creating a circle of rising percussion beats in a rhythm which focuses but also purifies the anger.

Jewish and Arab drivers slow down as they pass us so that they can read our signs and listen to the sounds. Are these the first signs of an awakening of the dormant civic conscience or an illusion and another disappointment? Is this a bitter cry or a ray of hope that the few who have congregated here will become many?


* Professor Yaron Ezrahi is a political philosopher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 11 February 2010,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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A Renewed Zionism - a new case for peace
Alick Isaacs
JERUSALEM - "Peace" and "Zionism" are two powerful concepts with histories that are inextricably tied up in the Arab-Israel conflict. In trying to resolve the conflict, we tend to avoid talking about both peace and Zionism...and for understandable reasons. However, I want to suggest that their unification in the form of a new peace ideology, committed to fulfilling the historical and indeed prophetic vocation of the Jewish people as a voice for peace in the world, might create the positive motivation for peace inside Israeli society for which the Middle East has been waiting.

Peace is a value espoused by Jewish prophets and philosophers from Isaiah and Ezekiel, to Rabbi Nachman of Breslav, Rav Kook and Martin Buber who writes, "Our purpose (i.e. of the Jewish People returning to Zion) is the great upbuilding of Peace." According to Kant, perpetual world peace is the very purpose of the modern state. Everyone seems to want peace. And yet, people go to war over peace all the time and Israeli society seems unable to garner a consensus that peace is in its best interest. Since the heyday of the peace movements in the 90's, so much blood has been spilt and so many homes have been destroyed that it should come as no surprise that people in the Middle East have lost their faith in peace. The word "Shalom" has become a turn-off; when I tell people I have written a book about it they ask, "Is it a horror story or science fiction?"

Zionism has a shorter but similar track record. It is responsible, perhaps more than any other modern Jewish idea, for reinvigorating Jewish life. And yet, only a few decades after the State of Israel's establishment, being a Zionist has become problematic. Zionism today has proven itself unequal to the challenge of generating passion and commitment among many of the world's Jews. But, more poignantly perhaps, it seems that the inspirational plan of the Jewish people to return to the land of its ancestry has lost its luster in the eyes of many Jews inside Israel itself. More poignantly still, for many people around the world (and to the chagrin of many Jews) Zionism is unquestioningly associated with such horrors as racism, colonialism and apartheid.

And yet, what I wish to propose is that Peace and Zionism are two Jewish values of lasting and crucial importance to Israeli society and the world that are waiting for renewal. Combined they provide each other with a new lease of life. First, the debate about Zionism today has stalled because the purpose of the Jewish State is no longer clear to many. I suggest that we broadly redefine Zionism as the ideological framework or context for a renewed discussion of Israel's purpose. Second, let's consider peace, not as a strategic concern of the state of Israel, but as a rich and deep Jewish idea that might play a central role in defining the ideological purpose of the Jewish State.

My experiences inside Israel have taught me that this reframing of the idea of peace is very constructive. By opening a discussion that explores the actual meaning of peace within an ideological and religious framework, my colleagues and I have been able to engage and bring together both religious leaders from the settlements and secular liberals who are constructively debating their respective commitments and concerns for Israel, peace and the Middle East.

I believe the successes of these discussions underline just how crucial it is that we move the discussion of peace away from the language of interest-based compromise and into the realm of Jewish Zionist ideological purpose. If we do this, we can include in our discussions about peace those visions of peace that flourish in the teachings of rabbis in the settlements whose convictions about it are rooted in a deep Jewish tradition and whose voices have yet to be heard on this issue. We can bring them into the discussion that, at the same time, engages and acknowledges the visions of peace articulated by liberals, secular humanists, labour Zionists, post-Zionists, Haredim, Ashkenazim, Mizrachim, Palestinians and everyone else with a stake in shaping Israel's future.

Ultimately, my case for peace is that - if we frame it correctly - peace can become the new horizon, the new platform for ideological debate and the new Zionism. There is indeed hope that an Israeli society engaged constructively in building an ideology of peace is an Israeli society that - united - will find the way to actually make peace.


* Dr. Alick Isaacs is a scholar at the Shalom Hartman Institute and teaches at the Hebrew University's Melton Centre for Jewish Education in Jerusalem. His forthcoming book "A Prophetic Peace" deals with the meaning of peace in Jewish thought. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 11 February 2010,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Clearing the hurdles
Bill Glucroft
BERLIN - The last few years of the Israeli-Palestinian saga have seen a shift from talking about peace to talking about talking about peace. The means have become the end, and wanting (or claiming to want) has replaced doing. The status quo has been so ongoing that it may have entrenched itself in the very narratives Israelis and Palestinians use to define themselves. Without the conflict, who are they? What's left of their societies?

These are questions best taken up by philosophers. But achieving peace may not be as difficult as we have been told, if the key issues are seen as a matter of perception rather than fact.

Word choice is the cause of one of the major stumbling blocks. Most of the Arab leaders who signed the Arab Peace Initiative, and some voices within Hamas are ready to accept Israel's existence, and say so publicly and in writing. But they are wary about taking the extra step of recognising Israel's existence as a Jewish state. The Israeli government wants an unequivocal endorsement of its Jewishness before it commits to further talks.

A feasible Arab solution, however, could be a readiness to call Israel "a state for Jews", rather than "a Jewish state". The difference may appear superficial, but within the sliver of difference lies an important distinction. A "Jewish state" connotes one designed exclusively for Jews and no one else, owing more to an idea than reality. A "state for Jews", however, is more tangible and less ideological in nature. It defines a place with a Jewish majority, founded on Jewish values and shaped by Jewish thought and customs.

The latter phrasing may be not only more palatable for Arabs, but also more accurate. With more than one in five Israelis being non-Jewish (mostly Muslim and almost entirely Palestinian-Israeli), defining Israel as a "Jewish state" is an objectively troubling thing to do. Better to call it a "state for Jews", a description closer to Israel's actual political, cultural and ideological composition, and a definition that both Israel and its neighbours could more easily agree on.

Another major hurdle, Jerusalem, appears insurmountable. Israel wants it unified; Palestinians want a part for their capital. But really we may be talking about a completely different Jerusalem and just do not know it.

Jerusalem is not a "one size fits all". Depending on whom you talk to and when, the boundaries of this holy city change. There are Ottoman maps of Jerusalem, British maps of Jerusalem, UN maps, Israeli maps, Arab maps, pre- and post-1967 maps and modern-day municipal maps. Chances are, if looked at carefully enough, both Israel and the Palestinians could claim they got what they wanted without either side having to relinquish anything.

How can Jerusalem, so often the death of past peace processes, possibly be win-win? Today, Israel maintains a broad definition of Jerusalem in an effort to bolster its position in future negotiations which includes dozens of outlying villages that have very little to do with what makes Jerusalem the hotly contested place that it is. Pointing to different maps, then, both the Israeli and the Palestinian leaderships can establish the perception of victory for their people. Israel can say it kept Jerusalem unified, cutting off from its jurisdiction only those areas that threaten its Jewishness. Palestinians can say it gained a tract of land, called East Jerusalem, for its capital. Neither would be wrong. Both could be satisfied.

The maps become complicated, however, in light of Israeli construction in East Jerusalem. As Jewish homes push further and further into once-exclusively Arab areas, the two become harder to delineate. But this is a challenge Israelis must grapple with internally, just as Palestinians must debate the vision and values of their state if one is to ever materialise.

The holy sites, comprising a minuscule fraction of a tiny part of all the land in and around Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967, would be an essential sticking point in the win-win map proposal but when seen within the broader context, this too can be resolved. Regardless of the arrangement made to ensure equal access and safeguards, the point here is simply to underline that "East Jerusalem" is not necessarily synonymous with "Old City", and when Palestinians talk of a capital in East Jerusalem, they are not necessarily looking to take the Western Wall away from Jews.

It is often said that if peace were easy, it would have happened by now. However, it may just be that a small change in definition and perception, on all sides, is all that's needed to make a big change in how we talk about, and ultimately achieve, peace in the Middle East.


* Bill Glucroft writes extensively on Middle East issues and has worked for both Arab and Zionist causes. He teaches English in Berlin and blogs at mediabard.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 11 February 2010,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Build a partnership for peace, right here in America
Ziad Asali
WASHINGTON, DC - With the turbulence surrounding diplomacy and the Middle East peace process, it is more urgent than ever for civil society to unite around the obvious reality that a conflict-ending solution can only be attained through the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security.

The two-state solution became official US policy under President George W. Bush, and it is today seen as a national security priority under President Barack Obama. It has been adopted internationally by the United Nations, the Middle East Quartet, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the Arab League and by successive Israeli governments. It has also now come to define all mainstream American thinking about this issue, including the positions of the majority of both Arab and Jewish American organisations.

In the region, this policy is only opposed by radicals, such as the Iranian government, Hamas and Hizbullah, and by ideological extremists on the Israeli far right. In the West, opposition is restricted to activists on the extreme left and right political fringes.
However, too much of our politics has not yet come into harmony with this policy consensus.

On the positive side, recent months have witnessed an unprecedented consensus between the Obama administration and Congress. Longstanding supporters of Israel in Congress have clearly stated that the two-state solution serves American and Israeli strategic interests, and have accordingly supported the administration's early efforts to lay the foundations for renewed peace talks and to build the institutions of a Palestinian state.
On the other hand, the old zero-sum attitudes - in which a gain for one side is seen as an inevitable loss for the other, and more energy is spent on scoring debating points than on reaching solutions - continue to dominate the relationship between the Palestinian and Israeli governments, and also between Arab and Jewish communities and organisations in America.

This dissonance between stated goals and actual behaviour is at the heart of the difficulties facing the administration's effort to resolve this conflict, and it must be overcome.

While professing a common objective, America's Arab and Jewish communities have thus far avoided creating a cooperative dynamic. Cross-community cooperation has only been established among a fraction of organisations, while the centre of gravity remains largely adversarial. The language of delegitimisation and the constant search for "proof" of the other's bad faith still define most rhetoric about the Arab-Israeli conflict, to the detriment of accomplishing what both communities say they want.

This might be an understandable (albeit profoundly destructive) dynamic between two foreign parties that are struggling to find a way out of a painful, active conflict. But it has no place in the American domestic political scene, in which the national interest in resolving this conflict must be paramount.

As the Obama administration forges ahead with building an international coalition for peace, a domestic coalition for a two-state solution needs to be created in this country. Its core purpose must be to communicate to political leaders, especially in Congress, the breadth of the coalition in favour of peace based on two states and the depth of commitment that it embodies. Members of Congress and other public figures need to be provided with sufficient support to truly embrace this approach, and to be confident that it comes at a political benefit and not a cost.

Such a coalition needs to crystallise around a nucleus of Arab and Jewish organisations. These two communities have the highest emotional and political stakes in the resolution of this conflict and the most detailed knowledge of the Middle East. Other Americans naturally look to them for leadership.

In addition, because of their deep personal and political relationships with Palestinians and Israelis respectively, these two communities are best positioned to support the administration's efforts to bring the parties together for peace talks to ultimately end both the conflict and the occupation. A Jewish- and Arab-led coalition for peace can also demonstrate the commitment of the closest friends of the parties in the region to achieving a two-state agreement and show that these two communities - both here and in the Middle East - can work together to further their mutual interests. Differences in nuance and emphasis - both within and between these two communities - are natural and healthy, as they foster debate and encourage new, creative ideas. The aim should not be to stifle such diversity, but rather to create the largest possible constituency for a peace agreement.

Such a coalition needs to be wide enough to encompass all organisations advocating a two-state solution, even if they have differences over why they support it, how to best reach this goal or even how to define it with precision. What is needed is a vehicle through which Arabs, Jews and other interested Americans can ensure that the sum-total of their efforts supports the overriding national security issue at stake.

All of us who want to end this conflict must now band together in common cause, shed outmoded and counterproductive attitudes, and give the necessary political support to leaders on all sides who are serious about achieving a solution. The time has come for our politics to finally be aligned with our shared policy goals.


* Ziad Asali is president of the American Task Force on Palestine, and serves on Search for Common Ground's Middle East Advisory Board. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from The Forward.

Source: The Forward, 03 February 2010
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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The campaign against the New Israel Fund
Yariv Oppenheimer
JERUSALEM - Last Saturday night, tens of impassioned right-wing activists dressed as Hamas members gathered outside the home of former MK and New Israel Fund (NIF) Chairwoman Naomi Chazan and shouted that Chazan and the NIF were behind the Goldstone Report. These activists are part of the Im Tirtzu movement, a small group active mainly on university campuses, which claims to represent the Israeli centre. Recently founded, Im Tirtzu claims that the NIF, an organisation which has for years assisted hundreds of non-governmental organisations to improve Israeli society and fight for human rights, women's rights and social justice, is anti-Semitic and aids Hamas and other terrorist groups.

Im Tirtzu's campaign of persecution is part of a systematic and dangerous move aimed at silencing the voices and positions of Israeli people and organisations which oppose policies of the IDF and the Israeli government regarding the conflict with the Palestinians.

The national consensus, and fears of international criticism, are creating in Israel a dangerous atmosphere of shutting out voices, making it impossible to air questions and raise doubts about Israel's activities in the territories.

In outright military confrontations, such as Israel's Operation Cast Lead, the phenomenon becomes even more acute; the media and political establishment take over the public discourse in an even more blatant fashion, and any oppositional thought is immediately construed as attempted treason.

The consensus in Israel during the war in Gaza and in its aftermath, eagerly and without dispute, accepted the IDF Spokesman's statements regarding everything that happened during Operation Cast Lead. No mainstream media outlet really tried to investigate whether the IDF's rules of engagement had changed, or whether non-conventional weapons were in fact used against civilians during the conflict. There was no in-depth media report on who gave the order to use phosphorus munitions, nor the circumstances that lead to the deaths of many innocent people (according to the IDF Spokesman's Unit data).

Indeed, there is nothing easier than to stand beside the IDF and its officers and hide behind the slogan "The most moral army in the world", with no real desire to investigate, examine and understand how Israel actually conducted its war against Hamas.

The difficult questions about policy, the limits in the use of force, battlefield ethics and the validity of our ways are replaced with unrestrained accusations against the groups and individuals who bravely oppose the establishment, posing fundamental question marks with regard to the government and the military.

Despite the impossible difficulty of taking on the entire establishment, there exists in Israel a small number of organisations that seek an investigation into the truth, and call for a probe into whether the government of Israel and the military brass continue to preserve the IDF as a humane and ethical army not only in times of peace, but also in times of war. These organisations are motivated first and foremost by concern for human life and the desire to maintain Israel as a humane, human, law-abiding nation, which knows how to deal with moral and ethical battlefield dilemmas.

Contrary to the campaign of lies and incitement being waged by Im Tirtzu and other right-wing elements, human rights organisations have never justified the actions of Hamas, have never agreed with the firing of missiles at Israel and have condemned all violent struggle against Israel. At the same time, the Israeli organisations have called on the government to investigate, in an independent and impartial manner, the fighting policy of the IDF, to determine whether actions were taken which have no place in a democratic nation which considers itself a member of the family of nations, taking into consideration the circumstances of fighting against a terrorist organisation.

The brutal attempt to silence, combined with the campaign of incitement with hints of anti-Semitism against the New Israel Fund, is merely a part of the phenomenon of silencing and delegitimising the Left in general in Israel. The public and media are focusing not on the validity of the path, laws of war and the morality of the occupation and settlements, but rather on the rights of people and groups within Israeli society to level criticism and ask questions without being perceived as the enemy.

Despite the campaign of incitement and hatred, Israeli democracy can take pride in the dozens of brave and uncompromising organisations which continue to raise question marks about the validity of the way, about the state's modus operandi, and which are ready to pay a high price to turn Israeli society into a more moral one.


* Yariv Oppenheimer is Peace Now's Secretary General. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the Jerusalem Post.

Source: Jerusalem Post, 04 February 2010
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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