Published in The Jerusalem Post, Sunday, February 2, 1997
The other peace process
Seconds after Noam Friedman opened fire in the Hebron marketplace, images of the shooting, and its aftermath, were already being flashed on TV screens around the world.
The international news media are always poised and ready to record and broadcast violent clashes between Jews and Arabs in the territories. But are they as ready to report on peaceful relations that will be equally inevitable someday?
Just two weeks ago, I spent a day in Ramallah with a group of Palestinian apd Israeli educators. Our purpose, in a seminar cosponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Palestinian Peace Information Center and the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel was to examine the way Israelis and Palestinians view one another in preparation for the era of peace.
Even in the face of tragic murders I am convinced we must persevere, involving more and more Israelis and Palestinians in paving that twisting and bumpy road. One of these days -- or months, or years -- we'll get there.
The job of educators, religious leaders and community organizers is not to bring peace: that is the realm of politicians and diplomats. Our mission should be to get ready for the day their efforts finally meet success by working to establish peaceful relations among neighbors.
The social framework needed for that won't build itself. There is too much fear, too much hatred, too much suspicion on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the checkpoint.
At the high school I visited in Ramallah, students and teachers still reeling from last September's violent clashes with the IDF told me that as long as they lived under "occupation" they were not willing to consider the feelings of their Israeli counterparts.
I thought about my daughter who, throughout her army service near Bet El, travelled in cold fear of terrorist attack every time she left or returned to her base.
And I put a challenge to my Ramallah audience: Can you understand that there are two sides to every checkpoint? Are you willing to join with people willing to see beyond the physical barrier of the army roadblocks?
SOCIOLOGIST Bernard Sabella is one of those people. In a recent seminar with Palestinian and Israel educators held in Jerusalem, he reported on a survey he conducted among his students at Bethlehem University in which he found that their dominant image of a typical Israeli was either a soldier or settler.
Parallel to the politicians' intricate dance,
others are quietly helping the two sides
to view each other as people
On the other hand, he also found some students who were open to having meetings with "otherl Israelis." Dialogues with groups of these "other Israelis" have actually been going on for years usually quietly and without publicity. Indeed, they are probably what enabled the Oslo peace process to start rolling in the first place.
Still, despite the dialogues and the meetings, stereotypes and misperceptions persist.
I've heard it said many times that "Palestinians want justice, and Israelis want security." What a ridiculous, false comparison! Both populations' dream of peace includes justice and security and, no doubt, a wide range of other shared visions and aspirations.
Those of us willing to work together now, in a peace process parallel to the one being conducted by the politicians and diplomats, can find common ground as we begin the delicate process of viewing one another as neighbors instead of enemies.
We can begin with something as simple as the teaching of Arabic.
Majd-el-Haj, professor of sociology at the University of Haifa, explained to a conference I sponsored two years ago that the main purpose of teaching Arabic in Israeli high schools is to prepare students to serve in IDF intelligence units.
Now is the time to think about how to change that concept and push for curricula that will help our young people understand and relate to their Arab peers and neighbors in a new era of peace.
A greater challenge will lie in figuring out how to accept each other's view of contemporary history.
Israelis and Palestinians currently have their own vastly differing interpretations of events; the dates are the same, but the significance is totally different.
Preparing for peace means realizing that we do not have to accept each other's rendition, but we do have to understand that it exists, and learn to "rewrite history" by synthesizing the two viewpoints.
One need look no further than the model of Eastern Europe, when the walls of Communism came tumbling down, to see how propaganda and misinformation can be discarded once it is no longer needed.
Those of us working here in the field of interreligious and intercultural relations see that there are actually two peace processes.
One, featuring the intricate choreography of politicians, diplomats and analysts, captures the headlines. The other, often unnoticed, demands the cooperation of educators and religious leaders, kibbutzniks as well as urban intellectuals, opinion-molders as well as ordinary citizens.
Their combined efforts to build peaceful relations among neighbors will ultimately prove to be every bit as important as the political and economic frameworks already being devised for the betterment of all people in this part of the world.
The seminars in Ramallah and Jerusalem are a start; similar programs are beginning across Israel, and in the Palestinian Authority.
In this "other" process no one will get killed, and so you won't see us up there in the headlines. But quietly, steadily we are working to ensure a better future for all God's children in this region.
The writer, a rabbi and educator, directs the Jerusalem-based Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel.
Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel
Box771, Jerusalem, 91086, Israel
Phone: 972-2-561-1899 -- Fax: 972-2-563-4148 -- http://www.icci.org.il/
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