The last years' turmoil in the Middle-East arouse incredible depth of hostility to the surface, between Jews and Arabs who live in this area. Hopes of the "Oslo Process" has been replaced since 2000 by violent conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian population, living in the West Bank and Gaza strip. Following renewal of the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli dominancy, followed by direct military occupation, the Palestinian Authority all but collapsed, as well as collapsed the economy, the security, all forms of human rights and civil rights in the Occupied Territories. The same time Israeli civilian settlements took hold on ever growing spaces of Palestinian land, while settlers terrorise – behind the shield of the Israeli Army – the helpless local population.
Violence, used by Palestinian armed organizations – that very often executed bloody terror attacks against civilian population inside Israel, added to make the situation unbearable for both side.
Following 4 years of horrible bloodshed and destruction, when both side seem exhausted – in addition of pressure by International forces, first sign of possibility to settle the conflict appeared on the horizon. However, if we wish to weigh the chances for development of any political settlement of this conflict, we have to realize some elementary facts about it:
1)Israel, the Jewish State oppresses the Arab, mostly Moslem, Palestinian people. 2)Inside Israel, the great Arab – Palestinian minority (almost 20%) is treated by all the governments, as second grade citizens: always discriminated, always suspected, always mistreated by the authorities, by the police, suffer from racist tendency of the majority. 3)The Jewish population makes just a tiny minority among the mostly Arab – Moslem population of the Middle – East. 4)Israel has been boycotted since its establishing, by the establishment of the intellectual elites in all the Arab countries, including Jordan and Egypt, countries that are in formal state of peace with the Jewish State. 5)In the “Holy Land” fanatic Jewish and Moslem fundamentalists claim exclusivity and ownership over sites that are holy for both.
What is the common basis of these facts? How can we understand behaviors that sometimes seem totally insane? And above all, what can be done to change all this?
To make peace?
When looking from outside at the peace making process in the Middle-East, just a short time ago things might look quite simple; First of all a formal treaty needs to be signed between Israel on the one side and the Arab countries and the Palestinian people on the other. Then Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians etc. should be brought together to do business and to begin dialogues on as many levels as possible. This would create economic interests, personal relationships will deepen, mutual trust would build and in the end a real peace would be established in this troubled area...
Unfortunately things never were as simple as that.
The political conflict between the state of Israel and the surrounding Arab countries and nations is only what appears on the surface. When digging down to the poisoned roots of this 100 year long conflict, we shall find a deep cultural alienation between the Jewish and the Arab peoples, who are living so close to each other. The majority of Jews in Israel see the "Arabs" - all Arabs - as inferior to them and they contempt to them. The mass majority of the Arab people, regardless to their nationality, see the Jews, especially those of western origin, as strangers and intruders, who will sooner or later disappear from this area. The outcome of this situation is, that the Jewish people in Israel live in a constant state of fear and the Arab people of the Middle – East live in a constant feeling of humiliation by the very existence of the Jewish State.
These general views of the other that the two peoples hold, carry alienation, suspicion, fear and hatred on both sides. Even among devoted supporters of the peace process deep alienation toward the other side exist and only a small minority has any kind of connection with individuals from the other side. Needless to say that most of them belong to the elite of their society. Among the mass majority of the population alienation between the two peoples is almost complete.
So - what to do?
Since precondition for lasting peace is mutual reconciliation, we have to realise that this is the real issue at hand and deal with it. This means preparing Arabs and Jews, in addition to political negotiation and economic cooperation, to learn about each other. Without trust no economic or political connections can be built. The basis for trust building is knowledge of the other. Such a knowledge can be achieved through acquaintance, dialogue and learning. This process should involve the creation of a supportive environment for dialogue, including as large a part of each population as possible, the establishment of popular frameworks and preparation of local leaderships who will make such a dialogue possible. In other words, a vital precondition for the establishment of a real peace is mass education toward a "Culture of Peace". This education should start with the youth. The young generation has to carry the values that can build a stable basis for a better future.
People to People Programs
Along the last two decades, many Foundations, Organizations with a lot of goodwill, Governments (especially from Europe), invested a lot of resources to projects run by NGOs, on the field of Israeli -Palestinian, as well as inter-Israeli Arab Jewish projects of dialogue, trust building, creation of extended connections between Organizations from both side. Following the outbreak of violence in October 2000, almost all of them withdrew from the region, expressing a deep disappointment, even despair, from the – almost total – collapse of projects, supported by them. To my opinion their disappointment has been rooted in excess of expectation, as for regarding their power to influence the so complicated Jewish-Arab conflict. One has to realize, that NGO projects have above all educational characteristic. They can't replace economic or political interests of the involved partners. Even Development Projects supported by International institutions are marginal, comparing with the weigh of Governmental investments.
The role of NGO-s.
1 - On the inter-Israeli level: In the present situation, even if the Israeli government would like to cope with intolerant, anti- democratic and racist trends among its population, it would face great difficulties. The situation becomes more dangerous, when the government does not just neglect these trends, but its policy sometimes even nourishes them. Under such circumstances the work of local NGO-s become invaluable. Under normal conditions NGO-s have auxiliary role to governmental activities. So it is especially, when direct social activity is needed: NGO-s have access to public which is almost inaccessible to governmental agencies. When the public, the establishment, even the government itself are divided by bitter, fatal argument about the way to peace, the price of peace, about the character of the society and about possibility of reconciliation with the present enemy, the importance of NGO-s that expertise in education to peace, inter-ethnic dialogue, human rights, peaceful conflict resolution and so on, is enormous. Through direct contact with varied parts of the public, they have the best qualification to counter-balance the aggressive, anti - democratic, racist and radical nationalist influences, spread by fanatics among the public.
2 - A way to advance positive attitudes in Israel and Palestine:
On the way to positive changes in public opinion, there is no substitute to regular, continuous work by relevant NGO-s. In the present situation such NGO-s may have an important role by advancing necessary changes in the public opinion, toward peace and reconciliation. This hard and responsible work needs persistence and experience that not many NGO-s possess. The impact of occasional projects and events, even the most attractive of them, on the public is much more limited than continuous, deep-going activity on social, economic or educational level. Supporting such projects is the best way to foster from outside attitudes of peace, tolerance and democracy in the Middle - East.
3 – Continuity of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue
When the P2P programmes collapsed under the blows of bloody events since October 2000, only few noticed what still was left: an extensive network of personal connections, based on mutual trust, built along years of cooperation between Palestinian and Israel NGO activists. The revival of many joint projects during the last couple of years is the best proof for the real efficiency of investments in P2P Projects. Material achievements that were built before 2000 were destroyed, smashed, collapsed – but personal connections survived the crisis. For this reason, while 10 or 5 years ago starting a P2P project took years, now it takes days or the most a few weeks: the human foundation that was built before the Intifada still exist, and with change of atmosphere, under positive environment, it comes again to life.
1 – NGO activities are not a real substitute for institutional, established work of Governments. In emergency situation they can use as temporary replacement, but on long run economic and social responsibility are put on the shoulders of Governments.
2 – In situation of active inter-ethnic violence, P2P projects are almost impossible to realize, however if a group of devoted NGO activists already exist on the scene, activation, or revival of such projects can go much more easy and smooth.
3 –Development of peace NGO activists' groups on both side of the barricade can promote to change in public atmosphere, toward readiness to listen to the other side, his problems and needs. Building the background for reconciliation is an invaluably important factor, when the political and public environment is ready for changes. NGO activists who experienced positive cooperation with people like them on the other side, can use as the best infrastructure for building peaceful relations and fruitful connections between the two rival communities - if and when they realise, that such a change is indeed necessary for their very existence.