Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Signs of hope

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Often when discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is easy to despair, but if we search there are stories waiting to be told about every day people that give us hope and inspiration. Here are some of those stories:

Social media is increasingly being used to break down social barriers between peoples, including between Israelis and Palestinians, especially with the Facebook pages "Palestine loves Israel" and the reciprocal "Israel loves Palestine". Both pages are linked with the Peace Factory, which according to its website was established in October 2012 as "a non political organization promoting peace in the middle east by making connection between people, opening new communication line, making people get to know each other, re-humanize people from ‘the other side'..."

The pages are being used to pour out messages of peace and reconciliation from Israelis and Palestinians around the world. The "Palestine love Israel" page states, "This page was created to make a start for a new beginning. We are Palestinians and we believe in peace. With this page we prove the world, that we can be friends. Real friends."

Joujou, reportedly a German-Palestinian editor, and a granddaughter of Palestinian refugees manages the page, and writes on it:

"I was asked a lot of times why Palestine should love Israel. After all, we have a conflict here that is not solved yet. My answer is always the same:
Hate never works. It's nonsense to hate a whole people for political reasons. The energy is wasted in hating one another. We could use the energy for working together for peace, become partners in a peace movement that changes the reality. Hang out together and talk, touch the pain and heal it together. Become friends. Why I know that this can work? Because I've done it. Love is the thing that works."

It demonstrates how social media may provide a way to circumvent the official incitement (see for instance this presentation at the New York Times) and anti-normalisation enforcers in Palestinian society designed to prevent Palestinians from relating to Israelis as anything other than enemies.

In another hopeful sign, MEMRI reported that Professor Muhammad Al-Dajani Al-Daoudi, a political science lecturer at Al-Quds University and founder of the Wasatiyya ("Middle Way") movement has called for Palestinian schools to teach about the Holocaust. In an article published on 26 November 2013, Al-Daoudi acknowledges the social barriers to teaching the Holocaust to Palestinians but nevertheless writes that he believes it must be taught; "Learning about the Holocaust is a sign of honoring truth, while ignoring it destroys the values that man takes pride in... Holocaust denial is a historic mistake and is morally unacceptable... Knowing about past tragedies is vital to preventing their recurrence."

In other news an article by Marissa Young in the Jerusalem Post discussed the good neighbourly relationship between a small Palestinian village near Bethlehem and a Jewish settlement. She writes:

"On a field trip to Palestinian villages as part of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs Israel-Arab conflict program, I had the opportunity to meet leaders of the village, sit in their living rooms, and discuss their relationships with the Jews in the settlement next door. I was moved by the story of how these Palestinians formed their own small school so that their children would not be indoctrinated in the hostile environment of the school in a nearby town. I have seen how Israeli Jews have worked with the military authorities to ease building restrictions for the village. These Israelis and Palestinians defy the polarized norm we hear about so often."

However, this story also highlights difficulties faced by Palestinians trying to co-exist and cooperate with Israelis:

"Recently, three men from this village, whose names are omitted to protect their safety, were arrested by the Palestinian Authority for the crime of forming friendships with their neighbors, therein violating a 2010 Palestinian anti-settlement products law."

Finally, there is the Atlantic's story by Neri Zilber - an account both heart-warming and heartbreaking, highlighting the potential for normal human relations as well as the ugiliness that often prevents this. It concerns a Jordanian Muslim boy called Yitzhak Rabin Namsy, who has been living in exile in Israel for the past 16 years because of his name.

Yitzhak and his mother are now waiting on formal approval for their permanent residency in Israel, which is expected to be granted. Yitzhak's mother Miriam explained her family's incredible story to Zilber:

"Protecting Yitzhak has been her life's mission ever since he was born, in January 1996, near the city of Irbid in northern Jordan-just two months after the assassination of the original Yitzhak Rabin at the hands of an extremist Israeli Jew opposed to the prime minister's peace overtures to the Palestinians. Miriam decided to name her son after the Israeli leader in honor of the historic Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty signed in 1994 by Rabin and Jordan's King Hussein.

The problems started almost immediately. The media in both Jordan and around the world got wind of the plan, and the Jordanian Interior Ministry wouldn't approve the name. Only the personal intervention of King Hussein, Miriam says, allowed the couple to prevail. "The king said, ‘Let them name the baby whatever they want.'"

Local opposition to the move didn't subside, however, especially after King Hussein himself fell ill (he would die, in 1999, from complications arising from cancer). The family was harried by Palestinians inside Jordan who were strongly opposed to any reconciliation with Israel...

Germany, where her husband had lived in the past, offered asylum, but Miriam didn't want to relocate so far away from her family. Eventually Leah Rabin, Yitzhak Rabin's widow, came to Jordan and ‘adopted' them, in Miriam's words...

Given everything she and her son have been through over the past 18 years, I had to ask Miriam the most obvious of questions: Did she have any regrets about naming her newborn after an Israeli prime minister?

‘Why should I have regrets?' Miriam fired back without hesitation. ‘Yitzhak [Isaac] was a prophet for both Jews and Muslims. And Rabin? [Most] Jordanians want peace. So why should I regret it?'"

Yitzhak now wants to follow in the footsteps of the late Rabin, he said in an interview:

"I want to become an officer [in the army], and continue in the path of Yitzhak Rabin, may his memory be blessed... I want to give back to the state in a way that would make Yitzhak [Rabin] ... proud of me."

Sharyn Mittelman


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