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PeaceTimes Edition 63. Hope: Tempered out of the Crucible

15 November 2006 No Comment

Patricia Smith Melton

The following is the first of a series of essays written by Patricia Smith Melton, founder of Peace X Peace, after her third stay in Israel and Palestine to strengthen our Global Network. The series is distilled from meetings in the West Bank, Bethlehem, and throughout Israel with directors of women in refugee camps, Israeli women living a half mile from Gaza who see themselves as “shields for Israel,” women high in the Palestinian Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Fatah party, Jewish Ethiopian basket weavers, the founder of a new Palestinian political party, an “off the record” UN official in Gaza, the parents of a Palestinian girl killed only days before, and other people of deep courage. The first essay, Hope: Tempered out of the Crucible, focuses on the Palestinian perspective.

Smith Melton expresses her gratitude to each person for trusting her with their words, visions, and pains. Special thanks go to Elana Rozenman and Rula Salameh for arranging each moment with care, and to Ruth Gardner for her constant support in processing the depths of each day.

Hope: Tempered out of the Crucible

By Patricia Smith Melton

Visitors to the region are considered by Israelis and Palestinians alike to have begun to understand their political and social situation at the moment their minds begin to melt and they stammer, “It’s so complex!”

Both sides in this conflict refer to their lives and the societies in which they live as “insane.” The Holy Land, locus of the three Abrahamic religions, is running on disconnect: of people from their governments, with on-again off-again fighting between Fatah and Hamas, by an 8-meter high concrete wall and checkpoints, by language and religion, by tension between conservative and secular Jews and between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews—and by cellular investment in historical narratives that do not include each other. All in an area the size of New Jersey.

The pain of a fragmented mind can be unbearable; for fragmented cultures it is the same. Options seem limited, denial is the modus operandi, and projection of your worst fears onto the “other” is dangerously commonplace. The horror is that many of the actions attempting to reconcile the disparate pieces, in fact, limit options and confirm worst fears. This pattern radiates from the micro to the macro, creating immense social problems such as drugs, violence in the homes, and sexual abuse, not to mention poverty and despair.

Yet, on my third stay in the region in three years, I saw something emerging that could break the cycle and influence attitudes and actions of key leaders on the ground.

A tempered gem of hope is emerging out of this crucible. Born of individuals, it is based in individual conscious choices to believe against all odds, against deep historical wounds and current devastations, that peaceful co-existence is possible. This is not hope based on old dreams. It is holding dearly to the hard won belief that your “enemy” can care about you and that you can find ways to trust each other long enough to bring unity. Making the leap to trusting leads to actions that allow for and promote well-being and peace.

Dr. Jumana Odeh, Director of the Happy Child Center in Ramallah, treats more than 2000 Palestinian children with special needs, mental, physical, and emotional. She says, “No one on earth would accept the suffering of the Palestinian people on the human level if they see and experience what we are going through. I am sure Israeli women wouldn’t accept what is going on here. Some of them don’t know, some of them don’t want to know, and some of them are kept from knowing. … I can’t afford to sit in the corner and wait for something to happen from the sky. I have to work hard to change the situation, to prevent little kids from becoming suicide bombers, to prevent the suffering of the Palestinian people, in order to grow up in a healthy atmosphere.”

Dr. Mohammed Dajani, Director of American Studies at Al Quds University, is launching the Wasatia political party for Palestine on March 21, 2007, the first day of spring. Based on Islam, Wasatia—extracted from wasat, Arabic for “middle of the road” or “center of the circle”—wants to provide the majority of Palestinians with a moderate political option that is neither secular like Fatah nor fundamentalist like Hamas. I asked Dajani, “Today I saw a future where all the communities lived peacefully. You would go to one village to buy fruit, another for your technology needs. Am I delusional? Is it possible to catch the imagination of a people so that they find their directions to peace?” Said Dajani: “You are not dreaming. If leaders, even within the radical groups, who see the vision of moderation and see a future where there could be peace and then teach others or lead them to that future, then it will happen exactly as you say. It is not a dream to think in terms of communicating with other people. Once people know each other as human beings, there is responsiveness, there is a human reaction.”

Perhaps most telling are the words of Bassam Aramin who spoke with me one day after burying his ten-year-old daughter, Abir, who died from a blow to the base of her skull. A rubber-coated steel bullet was found near where she fell, shot by an Israeli patrol into a group of Palestinian boys throwing stones. School had just let out and Abir was nearby, buying candy. Bassam is a member of Combatants for Peace, a group that includes former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian resistance fighters. The Israelis kept vigil with Aramin at the hospital while doctors operated on Abir’s brain in an attempt to save her life. Says Aramin, “They have the same dream to protect our people, our children, the civilians.” He added, “It is very important to understand each other, by Internet, by dialogue, by meeting and speaking… And we must still hope. Without it we cannot live… I hope my child, my heart, is to be the last victim of the war between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

Then there’s writer David Grossman, whose speech last November at a memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin circulated around the world. Grossman, who lost his son Uri to a Hezbollah sniper in last summer’s war on the Israeli Lebanese border, appealed directly to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: “Just as there is unavoidable war, there is unavoidable peace. … We have no choice, and they have no choice, and we need to set out toward this unavoidable peace with the same determination and creativity with which we set out to an unavoidable war. Anyone who thinks there is an alternative, that time is on our side, does not grasp the profound, dangerous process that is now well underway.” This dangerous process includes the larger forces of Iran and Syria. Maybe that, too, is the crucible: people choosing hope because there is no other choice aside from destruction.

These people who have decided to find the humanity in each other, to place their life and life’s work on the line, have a natural dignity that looks like sanity and wholeness, even happiness. This depth of human capability that rises out of the crucible of pain is a wonder, perhaps even holy in the Holy Land.

About the Author

Patricia Smith Melton is the founder and first executive director of Peace X Peace and the editor of the 2008 Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women. Her vision of connecting women through the internet as Sister Circles for direct private communication guided the development of Peace X Peace and the Global Network in three years to more than 1000 women’s Circles in 60 nations. Smith Melton has a special interest in the Peace X Peace presence in Israel and Palestine.

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Dr. Muhammed Dajani
I don’t believe that Palestinians are tired of the situation. I think they are in despair because they don’t know how to get out of the tunnel. So people are directing them to violence. However, now they see that this violence is not paying off and has been counterproductive. That’s why they are starting to look for other options.
Read Full Transcript »

Dr. Muhammed Dajani speaks to Patricia Smith Melton for Peace Times

PSM: Can peace be built out of the fact that people are too tired and weary to do anything but stop fighting? Or can it be built out of having a common goal that catches and fires their imagination?

MD: It should be because of a common goal. I don’t believe that Palestinians are tired of the situation. I think they are in despair because they don’t know how to get out of the tunnel. So people are directing them to violence. However, now they see that this violence is not paying off and has been counterproductive. That’s why they are starting to look for other options.

Peace, unfortunately, is starting to have negative connotations because of past experience. We have to look into how to bring back the idea of peace and dress it in such a way that it will have appeal. We gain this by trying to build trust within the people, and engaging in confidence-building and peace building. You have to go down to the roots of the people.

In the past ten years the funding that was spent on people-to-people activities did not exceed US $20 million. But if you look at the wall that is being built, it is costing more than US $ 2.5 billion. This gives you an idea of how much money is being spent on building a wall that will only create enmity versus building peace where there will be no need for walls. This is where the focus should be and so far, it hasn’t been.

PSM: How do you start building a dialogue between people who don’t recognize each other? I have listened to people in refugee camps who will not talk with or recognize Israelis, and I have talked to Israelis living in villages that are being bombed and who have a very defined set of beliefs and stereotypes. How do you get these people to come on board with moderation?

MD: By education and focusing on building a leadership base. I think that before there is dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis, there should be dialogue between Palestinians and Palestinians. I’m trying to create leaders, and to create a leadership that is enlightened, that is tolerant and educated, that has knowledge and as a result, can give the people good skills and give them access. By creating this leadership, we will be able to have this dialogue with the Israelis, and then it will come naturally. Part of our Palestinian problem is we don’t have enlightened leadership within our community. Leaders, instead of leading, follow what the people want and they give them what they want. If people want violence, they give them violence. If people want rhetoric, they give them rhetoric. If we have strong leaders who could lead the people in the right direction, rather than follow their emotions, we might be able to build an environment that is conducive to this dialogue.

PSM: Can women be in these roles of leadership? Will they be followed, or honored?

MD: Women are an important and integral part of the community. There should be focus on them. Unless the woman is brought up to become a leader, or unless she is educated to be a leader, then it is very difficult for anything to happen. The woman, actually, is the core, the backbone of the family. If we can focus on the woman, then we are focusing on the whole family because the message she can give to her children is very important. The father goes out of the house in the morning and comes back in the evening, but the mother is there all the time. If we can educate her, if we can give her skills, if we can make her a leader in the community then she can lead and she can do miracles. And I believe that the Palestinian woman is a woman in waiting; she didn’t have an opportunity before. But if you give her the opportunity, she will blossom, and very well.

PSM: You are taking on such complications, such responsibilities. What you are proposing with the founding of your moderate party Wasatia is to change the entire political landscape for the Palestinians.

MD: What we are trying to do as intellectuals is to serve the society by giving directions on where it needs help and what needs to be done, so that we can move from where we are to where we should be. Unless you give people guidance, they will be in despair and won’t know where to go. In Alice in Wonderland, Alice comes to the cat and asks for directions. The cat asks her, “Where are you going?” Alice says, “I don’t know where I am going.” The cat then tells her, “Then you don’t need directions.” We want to identify for the people a better future and help them get there.

PSM: I have heard positions on all sides, but I’ve also heard from incredible people with moderate, middle-road, foundation-building ideas. Today, I saw a possibility, a vision new to me that there could be a future where all these communities really did live next to each other peacefully. You would go to one village to buy fruit, and to another village for your technology needs. There could be such richness, an incredible thriving of the people, and this could be where this deep wound starts healing for the whole planet. Am I delusional, or is it possible to catch the imagination of a people so that they find their directions to peace?

MD: You’re not dreaming, this is exactly how things are. To give you an example, we started an American studies program in order to introduce American civilization to the Palestinians because they never had the chance to know more about America except through the U.S. foreign policy. Basically, I can see the change that happens when people join the program and when they graduate. I can see a shift in their way of thinking. One student was a journalist, who was an ex-communist and an ex-fighter in the intifada. By the time he ended the program, he wrote an article in Al-Ayam in which he is working as a columnist, in which he says we need a Palestinian Martin Luther King. If you can create leaders like that, even within the radical groups, who could see the vision of moderation and who could see a future where there could be peace and then teach the others or lead the others to that future, then what you are saying will happen. It is not a dream to think in terms of communicating with other people. Once people know the other as human beings, then there is a lot of responsiveness, and there is a human reaction. I don’t believe in walls because any wall when you don’t see the other, and you are separated from the other, makes you afraid of what you don’t know. Ignorance ignites this. As a result you have a stereotyped image of the other, you think of the other as evil and yourself as good. You are right, he is wrong. Basically, we can learn a lot from each other.

One of my favorite stories which we want to tell Palestinians when they say they are right or when they want to blame the Israelis: I tell them the story of the rabbi – two Jews come to him to resolve a conflict. The first tells his side of the story, and the rabbi says “you are right.” The second tells his side of the story, and the rabbi says, “You are right”. After they leave the rabbi’s wife looks at him and asks, “How can they both be right?” The rabbi tells her, “You are right, also.” I tell Palestinians this story because the protagonists are Jewish, and to show that there is wisdom in other religions, not only in our religion.

There is no monopoly over truth. You have to look at things from different perspectives. In the film To Kill a Mockingbird the lawyer explains to his daughter the position of the blacks, and that you have to be in their skin to understand how they feel about being black in a white community in which there is a lot of prejudice. Basically, the Palestinians need to be in the skin of the Israelis and the Israelis need to be in the skin of the Palestinians to see how each one feels. This way people can relate to the other. This is happening to me. The more I talk to Israelis, the more I try to see their point of view, the more I try to educate myself about Judaism, then I can see things differently, much more openly, and much more moderately. This is the message I am trying to give to others.

Dr. Jumana Odeh
No one on earth would accept the suffering of the Palestinian people on the human level if they see and experience what is going on here.
Read Full Transcript »

Dr. Jumana Odeh speaks to Patricia Smith Melton for Peace Times

Director of the Happy Child Center in Ramallah, Dr. Odeh treats more than 2000 Palestinian children with special needs, mental, physical, and emotional.

PSM: Can women working together help bring peace to this region?

JO: Certainly, women consist of 50% of the population. Unfortunately, in our case, not all of them are actively working for peace or for the survival of their people and their country. If all women will speak the same language, then women can do a lot. Education and women’s empowerment are a must.

I believe that here in Palestine, education is a must, for girls more than boys. I encourage that. In fact, I teach at the medical school; we have only one medical school in Palestine, and we have a quota. I am the only female doctor in the faculty and I insist that we have 60% girls and 40% boys because sometimes it is the only opportunity for girls in Palestine to enter medical school. Their parents will not let them go abroad to study. So, it is the only opportunity for women to become doctors.

PSM: Do you believe there are inherent difficulties between Muslims, Christians, and Jews that cannot be solved by communicating with each other?

JO: Not at all. I was born a Muslim. I was born in Jerusalem and raised in Ramallah. When I was little, we used to celebrate Christmas, Easter, Eid-al-Fitr, and Eid-al-Adha as the same holidays. I have brothers who are Christians. I call them brothers because we were neighbors, we were raised together. We used to play together, and we never felt any difference. We are always proud of ourselves that there’s no difference between Muslims and Christians, at least as Palestinians. And, I got to know Jewish people – not as Israelis, because Israelis for us means guns, soldiers, checkpoints, enemy – but Jewish people, as individuals. Many are my friends.
When I was 15 yrs old, I decided to go to the Church and study the Bible. I used to go and pray twice weekly and I found it eye-opening to know the “other.” In fact, the idea behind the Happy Child Center is to know the other, to accept the other. Maybe he or she is blind but one percent is disabled while the rest 99 percent is a person with a heart, emotions, with full potential. This is the way I see how people can live together. I found the core of all religions is alike. So, definitely, especially the Muslim, Christian, and Jew can live with each other in peace and dignity, but they first have to respect each other and accept the other.

PSM: What would you like to say to women in the United States?

JO: Wake up! (Dr. Odeh laughs after her emphatic statement.) My daughter is studying in the United States, and I respect women in the United States and all over the world. No one on earth would accept the suffering of the Palestinian people on the human level if they see and experience what is going on here. I am sure Israeli women wouldn’t accept what is going on here. Some of them don’t know, some of them don’t want to know and some of them are kept from knowing. But no one who would see what is going on at the checkpoints would accept that. If they are aware of what is going on in this part of the world, they won’t accept it as women. They won’t accept it as civilized people, and they won’t accept it as humans.

To me, blood has one color. If an Israeli child is suffering, it is like my child is experiencing that pain. I don’t want the next generation to suffer.

And we have to share our narratives. I have a friend, my Hebrew teacher. Her narrative is totally different from mine. We are different and we can disagree and agree. Respecting each other and our differences is the first step to love.

PSM: The other side of respect is humiliation. How does humiliation affect people?

JO: One example of humiliation is when you go through a checkpoint from Ramallah to Jerusalem. Why should every person go through four turnstiles in order to pass? You show your documents, you go through the magnetic gate, they check everything, and almost x-ray your bones, but then you have to go through turnstiles. I learned from my Israeli colleagues that the bars of the turnstiles at the checkpoints are 50 to 70 centimeters, narrower than the standard everywhere else. Just to go through these narrow turnstiles, you cannot carry your baby through with you even, you feel like you are nobody.

Humiliation, you can’t talk about it unless you experience it. Sometimes I wonder, did we get used to this humiliation? Is that why we are accepting it? No, we are not accepting it. I’m not accepting the occupation. I cna’t afford to sit in the corner and wait for something to happen from the sky. I have to work hard to change the situation, to prevent little kids from becoming suicide bombers, to prevent the suffering of the Palestinian people, in order to grow up in a healthy atmosphere.

I talk about the Holocaust with my Israeli friends. I visited Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Museum. I cried because I could see that people suffered and I don’t want this suffering to continue. For if you humiliate and you exploit and you occupy the other, it’s not healthy for the occupier. I am occupied, but I survive, I struggle, I am resilient, I resist. Somehow I feel deep inside that “yes, I have problems but I am healthy psychologically.”

Mr. and Mrs. Aramin
I hope that my child, which means my heart, to be the last victim of the war between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We must still hope, because without hope we cannot live.
Read Full Transcript »

Mr. and Mrs. Aramin talk to Patricia Smith Melton for Peace Times

Bassam Aramin is from Hebron. He and his wife, Salwa now live in East Jerusalem. Mrs. Aramin spoke to Peace Times through an interpreter.

PSM: You are a man who has worked for peace and for communication with the Israelis. Can you continue this work?

BA: I must continue, we must be very courageous, especially at this difficult time. This is our message: to defend our children. It is civilians who are paying the price of this dirty war, this dirty occupation.

PSM: What is your vision for the future?

BA: I hope that my child, which means my heart, to be the last victim of the war between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We must still hope, because without hope we cannot live.

PSM: I hear of subjugation and humiliation. How do you find the inner courage to work daily against that?

BA: Simply to defend my five children and to defend other children. I can’t change my way of life and lose my mind because I lost my lovely daughter.

PSM: What would you like to say to the world about your situation?

BA: This is not a special case. It’s not my child only. Children are suffering every day. Every day, we must encourage our children to go school because they must face the terror gangs and the soldiers. I want to ask the world if this is acceptable, especially the Israelis. Would it be acceptable if something like this happened in the west of Jerusalem? No way, no way. How could they send just kid soldiers to shoot students, children? I want to see the man (who killed my daughter) standing in front of the justice.

PSM: Are there Israelis who talk with you, who work beside you and have the same dream that you have?

BA: There are many, many, many, many Israelis, especially from the Combatants for Peace, who are soldiers. When they realize they are being asked to be killers, to do war crimes, they refuse. They declare they will not be a part of this occupation, and that they will not be a part of the suffering of another people. They are very courageous. They have the same dreams to protect our people, our children, to protect the civilians.

PSM: Do you see value in using the Internet to connect citizens to citizens, women to women, to work in a worldwide web for peace?

BA: Yes. We must make contact with the other side in any way. It is very important to understand the Israelis’ background, how they see the Palestinians, and for Palestinians to do the same. It is very important to understand each other, by Internet, by dialogue, by meeting and speaking. It’s very good and very useful.

Salwa Aramin: It means a lot to me to see all of the people, here in this difficult and tough personal situation. There are no words that can express what I am feeling.

PSM: Are you able at this time to think about the future, to have any hope for the future?

SA: Of course, hope to be with my family, hope to see Palestine as a free country. I remember that I always asked to be a martyr, and now I am the mother of a martyr. This means that my daughter will be up in the sky with God. This gives me the support to stay alive, to stay with hope and to stay to raise my children in a better life. I say the verse from al-Quran, to God we belong, and to God we return. My daughter is a martyr and she will live a better life up in the sky. This is a feeling that no one else can understand, to have strength and hope and sadness all gathered inside me.

PSM: What are your hopes for your other children?

SA: I hope that my sons and daughters will live a better life, will live in a good country and in a better situation.

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