Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | June 5, 2009

Of Pakistan And Palestine

I read a very good opinion piece in the Washington Post this morning called “Negotiating For The Other Side“. It is partly about Dennis Ross’ work toward Israeli-Palestinian peace, under former President Clinton. The paragraph that particularly struck me was:

The PLO took tentative, initial steps toward recognizing Israel — but followed those steps with terrorist recidivism. Yasser Arafat and Co. simply could not do one without the other. Why? Arafat’s rule was legitimated among Palestinians and in the region only when the PLO was seen as being at war with Israel.

Israel is still in a situation where those who Palestinians recognize as their leaders, who are therefore the ones Israel must negotiate with, cannot both remain the leaders and allow the negotiations to be successful. These are mutually exclusive states of being.  This means that the only way out of violence is to bypass the Palestinian government and appeal directly to the population, so that there will be support for a leader who works meaningfully toward peace.

The following article, from today’s New York Times, is a perfect example of how critical grassroots support is to building a peaceful society (to save you some time, I’ve copied out the key passages for you, and emphasized passages that seem especially relevant to Palestine.)  The obvious difficulties with this comparison are (1) that Hamas is smarter than the Taliban and won’t be so extreme in their cruelty toward their own people that they turn the people against themselves, as the Taliban appears to have now done in Pakistan, and (2) even though things weren’t exactly great before the Taliban, the Pakistanis do have a former point of reference to want to go back to. Palestinians do not, since they’ve never had a state of their own. Their only point of reference for “when-things-were-better” is “when we lived in what is now Israel”.  I’ve written here before about humans’ great need to assign cause to things, and “I live here instead of there” is the easiest, most obvious explanation available as to why their lives are so miserable, even if it isn’t exactly a correct explanation. But, this article still makes a very good case for the need to create peace from the grassroots level up, through helping ordinary civilians, rather than trying to create it from the top down:

Taliban Stir Rising Anger of Pakistanis

[… H]istory moves quickly in Pakistan, and after months of televised Taliban cruelties, broken promises and suicide attacks, there is a spreading sense — apparent in the news media, among politicians and the public — that many Pakistanis are finally turning against the Taliban.

But it is an opportunity that could just as quickly vanish, analysts and politicians warn, if Pakistan’s political leaders fail to kill or capture senior Taliban leaders, to help an estimated three million who have been displaced, or to create a functioning government in areas long ignored by the state.

Pakistanis have long supported the Taliban as allies to exert influence in neighboring Afghanistan. Unlike Afghans, they have never lived under Taliban rule, and have been slow to absorb its dangers.
But that is changing, as the experience of those Pakistanis who have now lived under the Taliban has left many disillusioned.

Over more than a year of fighting, the militants moved into Swat, by killing or driving out the wealthy and promising to improve the lives of the poor. Finally, the military agreed to a truce in February that all but ceded Swat to the Taliban and allowed the insurgents to impose Islamic law, or Shariah.

The prospect of Shariah was alluring, said Iftikhar Ehmad, who owns a cellphone shop in Mingora, the most populous city in Swat, because the court system in Swat was so corrupt and ineffective.  But the Taliban’s Shariah was not the benign change people had hoped for. Once the Taliban took power, the insurgents seemed interested only in amassing more, and in April they pushed into Buner, a neighboring district 60 miles from Islamabad.

“It was not Shariah, it was something else,” Mr. Ehmad said, jabbing angrily at the air with his finger in the scorching tent camp in the town of Swabi. “It was scoundrel behavior.

Daily life became degrading. A woman was lashed in public, and a video of her writhing in pain and begging for mercy stirred wide outrage. Taliban bosses ordered people to donate money. Cosmetics shops and girls’ schools were burned.

By the time the military entered Swat last month, local people began leading soldiers to tunnels with weapons and Taliban hiding places in hotels, the military said. “These people, six months back, weren’t willing to share anything,” said a military official who was involved in planning the campaign. “Gradually they’ve been coming out more and more into the open.”

But the underlying causes that have allowed the Taliban to spread — poverty, barely functioning government, lack of upward mobility in society — remain. Mr. Iqbal is now working frantically to fill those gaps. New judges have recently been identified for Swat, he said, and about 3,000 new police officers will be selected this week.

One organization I know of that is surely making a huge difference is the Yad BeYad (Hand In Hand) School.  Their entire website is worth reading, especially the “Personal Stories” page, but following is just an excerpt from their educational model.  I think this is so inspiring:

While most Israeli school children study democracy as an academic subject, Hand in Hand’s students learn democracy through experience. In daily interactions, students learn to live with difference, complexity and even contradiction.  They develop the ability to be flexible, solve problems, make themselves heard, and listen respectfully to others. Pluralism, equality and democratic process are more than subjects – they are a way of life. The microcosm of society at the classroom level is a constant reference point for theoretical studies in the foundations of civil society including democracy, pluralism and human rights. 
Multi-cultural programming familiarizes students with the cultural treasures abundant in the traditions of Jews, Christians and Muslims, in a manner that arouses curiosity and encourages tolerance. This programming incorporates the diverse holidays, culture and historical perspectives represented in the student body and beyond. Hand in Hand schools also present a unique opportunity for learrning together the shared values and teachings of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian  traditions through ancient stories, sayings and teachings: responsibility for the needy, helping others, welcoming guests, abolishing oppression, caring for the earth, and much more.

Educate the Whole Community
The education at a Hand in Hand school extends well beyond the walls of the classroom – it is a family and community venture. School steering committees include representatives from local volunteer organizations and municipal governments, assuring a constant flow of ideas and activity from the school to the wider community, and vice versa. The schools host programs open to parents and the public-at-large that promote coexistence including lectures, film series, Arabic language classes, dialogue groups, seasonal and holiday events.

I look forward, with great anticipation and hope, to the time when the children educated in these schools are old enough to become leaders of their peoples.


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