Vancouver / Burlington, Vermont – This week presents a unique opportunity to advance Arab-Israeli and US-Middle East relations as President Barack Obama makes his first official visit to Israel and Palestine.
The two of us writing this article, Mahmoud (21) from Hebron, and Gadi (52) from Tel Aviv, met this year at a conference in early March titled “Struggling with Peace”. It was organised by Peace It Together, a Canadian NGO that provides Israelis and Palestinians the opportunity to get to know and work with each other. We had both gone through a several-year-long process of getting to know the other and working towards peace in various ways on the ground. And at the conference, we quickly became friends.
We, Palestinians and Israelis, need a sea-change now at the grassroots level. And we need change at the top political levels that control law enforcement on the ground. The status quo feeds extremism on both sides.
In the speech Obama delivered in Cairo in 2009, he simultaneously reaffirmed his commitment to Israel’s security while acknowledging that “[Palestinians] endured the daily humiliations, large and small, that come with occupation”. Indeed, this was a strong statement that showed an understanding of what is in people’s hearts. Together, an Israeli and a Palestinian who care about both Israelis and Palestinians and know something about our peoples, ask the president to remember these words during his visit.
The current Palestinian leadership is keen on delivering progress on a two-state solution, but they cannot stay in power for long without delivering this vision.
Political initiatives already exist. They include the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative – endorsed by 57 Muslim-majority countries – and the UN resolutions that recognised the states of Palestine and Israel in 1947 and 2012 respectively. It will take courage to move forward, but we urge our leaders to examine these seriously.
Peace between Israel and Palestine cannot be like peace between Israel and Egypt or Jordan. It must be a warm peace, from the grassroots, from the people, because we share such a small piece of land that is dear to us all. We are neighbours and we want to understand each other, accept each other and learn to live – not to fight or to die – together.
We know from our personal experiences that face-to-face meetings and tours on the ground, when done with courage and in a supportive environment, often yield more trust and understanding than imagined. We witnessed this change in ourselves and in others around us during the various facilitated meetings that we attended over the years.
We ask our leaders to meet and visit real people on the ground, and we ask them to help the rest of us meet beyond army lines. After all, we are all here to stay.
To this end, we hope that our leaders consider more investment in peacebuilding to empower peacebuilders. Less than $50 million a year is invested in such projects by various funders, compared to billions invested each year in projects that create more fear, ignorance and hatred between our peoples. We suggest promoting a peace agenda that will enable more Israelis and Palestinians to meet and get to know one another.
While President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are meeting to discuss the security situation regarding Syria and Iran, we would like to remind President Obama and our leaders that the best security is peaceful relations. To be sure, with a dignified peace agreement tensions in the region will be greatly reduced. It’s not only about peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It’s about peace with the Arab world, and Muslim-majority countries at large.
The continuation of the status quo means more bloodshed and more hatred. Both of us feel sad for human suffering, in Gaza or in Sderot, in Tel Aviv or in Ramallah, and elsewhere. We need to recognise each other’s emotions and go beyond them as governments and as people.
President Obama has a historical chance to put both sides on a serious and fast track towards a two state solution. With his arrival in Palestine and Israel, we expect courage, sensitivity and wisdom from all our leaders to get us there.
* Mahmoud Jabari, founder and former manager of a media and leadership initiative called Lens For Change, in Hebron, Palestine is a Goodwill Ambassador for the UK based organisation of Children of Peace. Gadi Kenny is the co-founder of the People's Peace Fund and Wounded Xrossing Borders, and Director of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI). This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 19 March 2013, www.commongroundnews.org
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