Monday, December 13, 2010

A better way than BDS

I have proudly voted Green in the past three elections because of the party’s courage in standing up for refugees, the environment and more marginalised people in Australian Society. I have also promoted the values of the Greens to many of my friends in the Jewish Community through articles such as this, and by assisting candidates in the seats of Melbourne Ports and Caulfield at recent Federal and Victorian elections.

The recent endorsement of the BDS by NSW Greens is making me reconsider my support for the Greens. While I commend the concern that you and all the members of our party have for the people of Palestine, I am convinced that BDS is not the way to improve the lives of the people who live there.

My conviction comes from the fact that I have spent a number of years living in and writing about Israel, and have volunteered with several NGOs that promote a two-state solution. In my assessment, one of the major obstacles to a two state solution is the lack of trust and sometimes hatred that exists between Israelis and Palestinians. Politicians feed off this hatred to promote policies such as loyalty oaths and exclusively Jewish neighbourhoods on the Israeli side, and terrorism or Judeophobia on the Palestinian side

There are more constructive and less divisive approaches that encourage Israelis and Palestinians to put their weapons down and start listening to each other's narratives. These may include support for one of the following organisations, with whom I have volunteered or supported in the past:

Combatants for Peace

The “Combatants for Peace” movement was started jointly by Palestinians and Israelis, who had previously taken an active part in the cycle of violence; Israelis as soldiers in the Israeli army (IDF) and Palestinians as part of the violent struggle for Palestinian freedom. The group is committed to acting only by non-violent means so that each side will come to understand the national aspirations of the other side. It sees dialogue and reconciliation as the only ways to terminate the Israeli occupation, to halt the settlement project and to establish a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, alongside the State of Israel.

The Parents Circle

Parents Circle - Families Forum (PCFF) is a grassroots organisation of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis. The PCFF promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.

Hand in Hand Schools

The vast majority of families in Israel - Jewish and Arab - send their children to segregated schools. This segregation tends to promote rival viewpoints and attitudes that become ripe for exploitation by proponents of violence. Hand in Hand runs Israel's first and only network of integrated, bilingual schools where Jews and Arabs study together in both Hebrew and Arabic and learn each other’s historical narratives.

Sulhita Training Peace Leadership

The Sulha Peace Project, a grassroots organisation, inspired by the indigenous process of mediation (“Sulha”), aims to rebuild trust, restore dignity and move beyond the political agenda. The Sulhita program includes monthly gatherings for 24 Israeli Arab and Jewish adolescents (15-17 years old), chosen from a partnership of several Jewish and Arab schools around the country, to introduce the concept of reconciliation and train participants for future peace leadership.

These four organisations are only a few of many hundreds of others, actively working towards an end to the conflict through constructive and non-violent means. Participants in these organisations are often branded as naïve, utopian or even traitorous by the majority of their respective societies. I believe that if they had the financial and political support of the international community to promote their agenda that would be far better for the people who live there than the current situation where the bulk of funding goes towards partisan Israeli and Palestinian groups whose sole aim is to delegitimise the other.

What these grass root organisations now need is not disinvestment and discouragement but active support from the international community. People genuinely interested in peace and justice for all the people who live in Israel and Palestine need to stop being pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian and start being pro-Peace. This means openly criticising acts of violence whether committed by the Israeli military or the Palestinian organisations as the Greens have done in the past. It also means providing positive and constructive support for the people working against violence, segregation and occupation.

Finally the specific resolution makes a number of comparisons between Israel and the former Apartheid regime in South Africa. Uri Avnery, a leader of Israel’s peace movement for the past 20 years has noted that while there were many similarities there were many differences between the two countries. Avnery argues that it is important to understand the differences, not as a matter of propaganda but to understand that unlike the situation in SA, a BDS strategy will not encourage Israelis to vote for and otherwise support future leaders who would seek a just solution. If anything, it is likely to embolden the Right to act as it wishes, building more settlements, walls and confiscating more land using the argument that “if the whole world is against us anyway, we may as well do whatever we want.”
What is really bizarre in this NSW resolution is that it would boycott people of the stature of Uri Avnery or Daniel Barenboim – in fact taken to its logical conclusion it would boycott the Palestinian Authority and al Fatah because they only call for limited boycotts in West Bank settlements.

May also the people who genuinely care about the welfare of Israelis and Palestinians find a better way to bring the long awaited peace, security and justice for which these two peoples have so long hoped and prayed.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Rosh Hashana and Eid al Fitr

To all my Muslim and Jewish friends,

Over the past month, both our peoples have been marking Elul and Ramadan with increased acts of kindness, prayer and introspection. The purpose of these months in both traditions is to assess the things we need to give up or change in order to be better servants of God and each other.

Netanyahu and Abbas embodied the spirit of Elul/Ramadan last week when they met for the first time in almost two years. Netanyahu said to Abbas, "The Jewish people are not strangers in our homeland, the land of our forefathers. But we recognize that another people share this land with us. And I came here to find an historic compromise that will enable both peoples to live in peace, security and dignity. President Abbas, you are my partner in peace. It is up to us to live next to one another and with one another.”

Abbas said to Netanyahu, “We consider security as essential and vital both for us and for you and we will not accept that anyone commits any act that would harm your security or ours."

Netanyahu and Abbas said these words in spite of the considerable advocacy efforts of both sides in delegitimizing the other and convincing their populations that there is no partner for dialogue.

If a year from now, Abbas and Netanyahu were to announce that they have come to an agreement that will share Jerusalem along the Clinton parameters and divide the land more or less as prescribed by UN Resolution 242, I suspect that the inboxes of supporters of Israel and Palestine will be deluged with facts, stats and videos about why such a deal is going to lead to the destruction of the other or is against God’s will.

With this in mind, I appeal to Jews and Muslims to use the festival we both celebrate this week, Rosh Hashana and Eid el Fitr to pray for the coming year to become a time where our encounters with each other highlight the best in the others tradition, rather than the worst.

I sincerely hope that the Rabbis and Imams around the world will use their drashot and khutbah to encourage all their followers to end any past animosities they may have.

After the prayers, as both peoples gather with their families to eat festive meals filled with apple and honey, sweet dates and copious amounts of food, we will greet our fellows with the words ‘Shana Tova’ and ‘Salaam Aleikum.’ Should these manifest as more than meaningless slogans and become statements of our intention, then our coming year will truly be peaceful, sweet and good.

With this in mind, I encourage you all to watch this Rosh Hashana greeting from the Palestinian leadership to the people of Israel. I will know that people have heeded the message of using words and emails to promote optimism and peace rather than intolerance and fear when this video has 1,000,000 hits rather than the 663 it currently does.

To my Jewish friends I wish a Shana Tova Umetukah (May you have a Happy and Sweet New Year)

To my Muslims friends I wish Kul 'am wa enta bi-khair! (May every year find you in good health!)

To both I wish you a future where your peaceful actions speak louder than your peaceful words.

Chag Sameach and Eid Mubarak!

Love Ittay