Nonviolent Change Journal

Publication of the Research/Action Team on Nonviolent Large Systems Change,
an interorganizational project of the Organization Development Institute

Home        Subscribe    Funding      About the Journal        Editorial Team      Questions/Feedback        Links         Past Issues    Current Issue

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Editor's Comments

What Are You Up To?

Ongoing Activities

Upcoming Events

World Developments

Articles

Media Notes

Reports and Announcements

Letters: Dialoging

North East Asia's Undercurrents of Conflict

What Awaits Samira?

It’s Good to Talk

Freeing Ourselves of the Prisoners

Imagining Peace

Seeking Effective Ways to Talk to the World

Needed: Reconciliation

 

Vol. XX, No.2            Winter, 2006

 

Nonviolent Change Journal helps to network the peace community: providing dialoguing, exchanges of ideas, articles, reviews, reports and announcements of the activities of peace related groups and meetings, reviews of world developments relating to nonviolent change and resource information concerning the development of human relations on the basis of mutual respect.

 

Dialoguing

 

 

NORTH EAST ASIA'S UNDERCURRENTS OF CONFLICT

International Crisis Group, Asia Report N°108 15 December 2005

 

The complete report is available in PDF format by going to the IGC web site: http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=3834&l=1

 

 

Executive Summary And Recommendations

 

     Shifting power relations in North East Asia are spurring rising nationalism in China, Japan and South Korea, aggravating long-standing disputes over territorial claims and differing interpretations of history. Failure to bridge these differences could raise tensions and impede efforts to tackle the security and economic challenges confronting the region. While finding lasting solutions will be difficult, a series of practical confidence and institution-building steps should be taken immediately by the three states to keep the simmering disputes from boiling over.

 

     The economic rise of China, generational shifts in South Korea, and the waning of Japan’s economic dominance have spurred xenophobia that occasionally spills over into violence. All three need to work together to address their major challenges in security, non-proliferation, energy procurement and environmental protection, but North East Asia remains one of the least integrated regions, with no effective institutions to address its common political and security problems.

 

     A number of events in 2005 illustrate the simmering tensions. In March, South Korean demonstrators cut off their fingers in protest over Japanese claims to a pair of small islets. The next month, Chinese demonstrators attacked Japanese businesses and diplomatic missions over a Japanese history textbook, while in June, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun spent most of a two-hour meeting discussing history, rather than current issues. China began drilling for oil in September in a disputed area of the East China Sea, over Japanese protests, and in November, as a result of the visit Koizumi paid to the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese war criminals are among the millions of honoured dead, President Hu Jintao refused to have a one-on-one meeting with Koizumi on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

 

     Most territorial disputes in the region are over uninhabited islands and partially submerged rocks, whose status remains ambiguous under international law, including Tokdo/Takeshima, jointly claimed by South Korea and Japan; Senkaku/Diaoyu, jointly claimed by China, Taiwan, and Japan; and the Kuril/Northern Territories, jointly claimed by Russia and Japan. The importance of most of these lies not so much in their intrinsic value, but in the surrounding economic zones. The best way to address the problems, therefore, would be to leave aside territorial issues and focus on joint exploitation and, as appropriate, conservation of the natural resources. A lesser, but longer-term, dispute involves the area in North East China (Kando in Korean, Jiangdao in Chinese) populated by ethnic Koreans and to which some groups in South Korea have begun to advance a historical claim that they hope to make good when Korea is reunified. In reality, however, ethnic Koreans in China have little interest in joining a unified Korea, and Seoul will likely need to renounce any such interests if it wants to gain Chinese support for any eventual unification of the peninsula.

 

     Prime Minister Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine and attempts by right-wing groups to produce revisionist history textbooks have prompted alarm in both China and South Korea and added to the emotion with which they accuse Japan of failing to show contrition for its World War II crimes. While Tokyo has offered numerous official apologies and provided billions of dollars of aid to help spur the development of South Korea and China, it has failed to offer direct compensation to individual victims, and, unlike Germany, has shown little interest in continued, critical examination of its history.

 

     Combined with Japan’s moves to become a more “normal” nation in terms of defense capabilities, these battles over history increase regional fears of reviving Japanese militarism. Japan has passed legislation to allow it to play a stronger role within the U.S. military alliance and in international peacekeeping operations, and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is backing a constitutional amendment that would remove most of the restrictions imposed on the country’s military after 1945. Hostile reactions to these moves by China and South Korea have created a backlash in Japan that goes beyond the extreme right.

 

     History is an equally troubling subject, though in different ways, in South Korea, which is in the midst of leadership change and a re-examination of its relationship with the U.S. at the same time as it re-examines the national myths surrounding politically sensitive collaboration with and resistance to imperial Japan. And in China, history, not least the memory of the military struggle against that imperial Japan, is used to provide the legitimacy for its political order that communist ideology no longer can.

 

     Attempts to address these emotion-laden and intertwined problems have led to some encouraging instances of inter-regional cooperation among scholars and civil society groups that suggest North East Asia’s problems can be managed. Promising proactive measures include codes of conducts – one has already been effective in reducing tensions over the Spratly Islands; agreements on joint management of off-shore resources; regional institutions to address energy and historical issues; increased military-to-military exchanges; and historical memorials that focus on the universal suffering of war victims, rather than on national glory or shame.

 

      Definitively resolving territorial and historical disputes that have been building for decades will not be easy or quick but failure at least to ameliorate them risks undermining the peace and prosperity of the region.

 

Recommendations

 

     To the Governments of Japan, China, South Korea and the United States:

 

1.  De-link history issues from diplomacy by continuing contact among officials at all levels regardless of the fluctuating state of public opinion.

 

2.  Refrain from unilateral military exercises in disputed areas.

 

3.  Increase military-to-military exchanges, training and confidence-building measures.

 

4.  Establish a regional institution for energy security and cooperation that would explore such issues as establishing a depository for spent nuclear fuel.

 

5.  Set up regional cooperative mechanisms for disaster relief and environmental protection.

 

6.  Start an East Asia Peace Institute for sustained Track Two dialogue, joint inquiries, scholarship and conferences.

 

7.  Convene a committee of museum curators and scholars to develop agreed standards for historical exhibitions, with the goal of focusing displays on universal human suffering and accomplishment, rather than nationalism.

 

8.  Increase support for NGO activity that promotes regional dialogue.

 

To the Government of Japan:

 

9.  Set up a fund that uses public money to assist remaining individual victims of Japanese war crimes, in particular “comfort women”, forced laborers, and subjects of biological warfare experiments.

 

10.  Release into the public domain any remaining documents on World War II and colonial activities.

 

11.  Build a new memorial to Japanese war dead to provide an alternative to official visits to Yasukuni Shrine.

 

12.  Have cabinet members refrain from making public statements which praise or downplay Japan’s colonial exploits.

 

To the Government of South Korea:

 

13.  Conclude an agreement on allowable catches by South Korean and Japanese fishing boats in the median fishing zone around Tokdo/Takeshima.

 

14.  Clearly state that the South accepts existing border treaties and will pursue peaceful reunification on this basis.

 

15.  Establish a public fund to provide compensation for the victims of Japanese colonialism who were under-compensated or not compensated by the 1965 Normalization Treaty.

 

16.  Publicly acknowledge and thank Japan for the economic aid provided under the Normalization Treaty.

 

To the Government of the People’s Republic of China:

 

17.  Allow Chinese internet users greater access to Japanese and Western media to provide alternative views.

 

18.  Accept in principle Japanese offers on joint development of oil and gas deposits in the East China Sea.

 

19.  Develop a Code of Conduct with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute, using the China-ASEAN Code of Conduct on the Spratlys as a model.

 

20.  Publicly acknowledge Japan’s role in China’s economic development.

 

To the Government of the United States:

 

21.  Strengthen trilateral policy planning coordination with Japan and South Korea to develop more direct discussion on security issues between Seoul and Tokyo.

 

22.  Release to bona fide researchers documents related to Japanese war crimes seized at the end of World War II and which until now have been withheld.

Top

 

AWAITS SANIRA?

 

Uri Avnery, October 15, 2005

 

Circulated by Gush Shalom, www.gush.shalom.org

 

 

     A few days ago, at a conference in Europe, I met a charming young lady. Intelligent, well educated, versed in several languages, and, well, very attractive. After a few hours of shopping, she was as elegant as a model, dressed in the very latest fashion. She happens to be a Shiite from Baghdad, where she has now returned. Let's call her Samira.

 

     What struck me most about Samira was her pessimism. The situation is bad, she said, and, whatever happens, it is going to get worse.

 

     For a young, professional woman, the outlook is bleak indeed. The Shiite community is in the grip of the ayatollahs, who are out to enforce a rigid religious attitude towards women. Perhaps not as strict as in the Taliban's Afghanistan or in Khomeini's Iran, but strict enough to make it impossible for a woman to dress as she likes or to pursue the career she wants. Already, Samira is hiding her profession from her neighbors in a well-to-do part of Baghdad, for fear of attracting the attentions of one of the numerous armed militias.

 

     What is life like without a regular electricity and water supply in 40 degrees Centigrade, dependent on generators and improvisation, in a perpetual state of fear, while tanks roam the streets? It's very, very bad, she says, and not getting any better.

 

     The prospect for Iraq? She sees several possibilities, all of them bad. Perhaps a break-up of the state. Maybe a civil war. Certainly an ever growing bloody insurgency. No chance at all for a new, prosperous, democratic, multicultural society.

 

     Iraq looks now like a broken toy, taken apart by a willful, mindless child.

        

      I have avoided writing about Iraq for several months, while still following events there with unflagging fascination, because it is almost impossible to write about it without saying "Told you so!"

 

     The world (and especially Israel) is full of politicians, generals, journalists, academics, intelligence agents and suchlike who have been invariably wrong about everything they have forecast (with rare exceptions, just as a broken clock still shows the right time twice a day.) Yet strangely enough, they remain in demand, their mistakes forgiven and forgotten, even if they had catastrophic results, as often happens in the case of generals and politicians.

 

     Long experience has taught me that "told you so" is by far the most infuriating thing one can say. While the public can forgive commentators who are proven wrong, it will never forgive those who are shown to have been right.

 

     So let's avoid that phrase. Let's just hint that some of the things I said before the war have been proven to be not so very wrong.

 

     Two of these deserve consideration at this time.

 

     First: That the real aim of the war on Iraq was to station a permanent American garrison in that country, supported by a local Quisling regime, in order to secure direct control of the vast oil resources of Iraq itself and indirectly of the oil reserves of the region - Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf states and the Caspian basin. No "Mass Destruction Weapons", no "Removal of a blood-thirsty Tyrant", no "Spreading Democracy", no "Axis of Evil".

 

     Second: That the main result of the war will be the breakup of the country into three mutually hostile components - Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds. Whether this breakup of the Iraqi state is disguised as a "loose federation" or in some other way is immaterial. The important point is whether control over the oil resources is vested in the central or the local authorities.

 

     It was clear that the Kurds would settle for nothing less then de facto independence, keeping their oil revenues for themselves. It was also clear that this would arouse the most profound fears in Turkey, Iran and Syria, all of which have an oppressed Kurdish population which dreams of the eventual establishment of a great, united Kurdistan.

 

     It was also clear that the Iraqi Shiite state would be led by religious figures, most of whom have lived in Iran, who would impose the Islamic code of law, the Sharia. These clerics, while not necessarily becoming stooges of Tehran, will certainly lean in that direction. They will, of course, try to keep the huge oil revenues of their region to themselves.

 

     One does not have to be a prophet of Biblical dimensions to have foreseen that the Arab Sunnis would not accept this lying down. In such a "federation" they will lose power and oil revenues, being thrown from the heights of their might into an abyss of impotence. This led to an "insurgency" which grows ten new heads for every one cut off, because it results from an insoluble problem. Neither the Kurdish nor the Shiite leaders are the kind of people who would relinquish any of their long-yearned-for advantages, for the sake of an Iraq they neither loved nor identified with from the start.

 

     All this could have been easily avoided, if the only superpower in the world had not been led by a tenth-rate politician; if policy had not been shaped by neo-conservatives blinded by a fanatical obsession; if Tony Blair, who should have known better, had not been an incorrigible opportunist.

 

     Millions of decent, innocent Iraqis of all communities, like my new friend Samira, are paying the price.

Top

 

IT'S GOOD TO TALK

 

Jordan Times Editorial. "It’s Good to Talk"

 

Source: Jordan Times www.jordantimes.com  October 7-8, 2005

 Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to republish

 

      Whether or not His Majesty King Abdullah has succeeded in bringing together Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for a summit next week still remains to be seen. The effort to do so is invaluable.

 

     The last time the two met, at Sharm El Sheikh in February, a ceasefire ensued, eventually cemented in cross-factional Palestinian talks in Cairo in March. Then followed the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, uninterrupted by Palestinian interference. While the decision to dismantle settlements and military positions in the strip was a unilateral Israeli one, the outcome was desirable by all concerned parties.

 

      The issues Abbas and Sharon have yet to tackle are, of course, much more complicated than the relatively straightforward issue of Gaza. The long-term issues of Palestinian statehood, borders, Jerusalem and right of return will not be resolved in any summit next week. But what may be accomplished is an understanding between the two sides over Palestinian parliamentary elections, necessary to ensure that the ceasefire can be maintained, and what role Hamas will play.

 

     Without Hamas, the elections will have no legitimacy. Without elections it is not at all clear that a ceasefire is sustainable. It is vital that the Palestinian Authority and Israel agree on this, and that Abbas, in the strongest possible terms, is presented with an opportunity to make this point directly to Sharon.

 

     Sharon too, for all his bluster about Hamas, needs the ceasefire. Having ridden the storm of former finance minister Benyamin Netanyahu's leadership challenge, a calm that continues well into next year, election year for Sharon, is very much in his interests. Again, Hamas' participation in parliamentary elections holds the key.

 

     A successful summit needs tangible results. An outcome that leads to an undertaking that Palestinian parliamentary elections will take place on time with the broadest possible participation will signal success.

 

     But summits should not be talking shops. While the mere fact of a meeting between the two leaders could be seen as bringing closer the end of the very damaging Israeli unilateral thinking predominant in Sharon's government, there is little point in photo-op summits. All concerned parties know this. A postponement of an Abbas-Sharon summit is inevitable if the two sides know it will not yield any tangible results. It's good to talk, but a shame to waste breath.

Top

 

FREEING OURSELVES OF THE PRISONERS

 

Akiva Eldar

 

Reprinted from Haaretz

Distributed by Common Ground News Service with permission to republish

 

    What would have happened if the damage to the wing of the plane that dropped a one-ton bomb, killing 11 sleeping Palestinian children, had forced the Israeli pilot to eject over Gaza? Would his release not have been the first subject on the agenda of a meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen)?

 

     Who would have been prepared to agree that the pilot should remain jailed "because his hands were stained with blood?" We do not leave prisoners - sorry, prisoners of war - on the battlefield, even if they are dead. On our side, those who kill such prisoners are pardoned and able to reach key positions. But when it is the Palestinians we are talking about, everyone is called a terrorist.

 

     When the issue of releasing Palestinian prisoners is raised, such as in a meeting between Sharon and Abbas, government policy is determined by Israeli public opinion. The Arabs have neither families nor public opinion. Who cares that they also make the same distinctions between prisoners and POWs? What do we care if the Palestinian public is demanding of its leaders "to bring the children home?" Only a handful of bereaved parents, such as Rami Elhanan, whose daughter Smadar was murdered in a Jerusalem terrorist attack, and other members of the Forum for Bereaved Parents, who are prepared to call for the release of their children's murderers so that the murder of another child can be prevented.

 

     Even security considerations, such as strengthening Abu Mazen's position in his confrontation with extremists, have no weight when it comes to the demagogic phrase, "Blood on their hands." The Shin Bet experts well understand the extreme importance that Palestinian society attaches to freeing thousands of prisoners. They appreciate the significance of an Israeli decision to grant Abu Mazen release of 8,000 Palestinian prisoners, particularly 400 who were sentenced before the Oslo Accords.

 

     If Sharon continues to refuse to release prisoners, Hamas will be able to claim that it forced the liberation of the Gaza Strip while Abu Mazen makes agreements, but that he is not only unable to get Israel out of the West Bank towns, he can't even obtain the release of several hundred prisoners. The results will find expression in the balance of power between the PA security forces and the armed militias, in the municipal elections that will take place in December and the parliamentary elections that are slated for January.

 

     Freeing prisoners is not just another humanitarian gesture like removing roadblocks, but rather an integral part of any cease-fire agreement and the beginning of peace negotiations. Sharon has recently been proposing to the Palestinians that they learn from Northern Ireland how to disarm terrorist organizations. He is certainly aware that the release of prisoners was the second foundation on which the cease-fire agreement in Ireland stood. There, as in the territories, security prisoners have a tremendous influence on public opinion and on leaders. For better and for worse.

 

     In a comprehensive document prepared on behalf of the Council for Peace and Security, Orit Adato - former head of the Prisons' Service - points to the surprising similarity between the Irish experience and the issue of the Palestinian prisoners. She makes several recommendations in this respect. She proposes that the prisoners' leadership declare publicly that they intend to renounce armed struggle and support the diplomatic process, and stop their attempts to organize terrorist attacks from behind prison bars.

 

      Adato points out that there is in fact moderate leadership of this kind in the prisons but it is insufficiently exploited. For its part, the PA should take upon itself the preparation of a program to rehabilitate released prisoners while keeping an eye on them.

 

     Instead of perpetuating the disagreement with the Palestinians and getting dragged into an argument with the Americans, Adato proposes a redefinition of "blood on one's hands." She notes that a stricter definition of the Irish prisoners as criminals in every respect was employed in Northern Ireland than in Israel. Neither public opinion nor the families of victims there danced for joy when the prisoners were released. For that, there is leadership.

 

* Akiva Eldar is senior columnist at Haaretz. He has been covering the Middle East for the last 22 years.

Top

 

IMAGINING PEACE

 

Gershon Baskin

 

Source: The Jerusalem Post

www.jpost.com   October 28, 2005

 Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to republish.

 

      Thirteen months from now the Israeli people are scheduled to go to the polls to elect a new government for the coming years. If the government doesn't fall in the coming months, the Sharon government will be the first in many years to last its full term in office.

 

     One of the main reasons for Ariel Sharon's success in remaining in power is because the overwhelming majority of the public is pleased with his performance - at least when it comes to disengagement from Gaza. Sharon will remain popular in the public opinion polls if he continues to move Israel in the direction of peace. While the public is quite skeptical about the possibilities of making peace with the Palestinians, the public trusts that Sharon will not go too far and will not take too many too dangerous risks. On the other hand, if Sharon does nothing with his time remaining in office in moving Israel toward peace, the public will support calls for early elections and will search for political alternatives, even though these seem quite limited.

 

     On the Palestinian side the situation is amazingly similar. The public is behind President Mahmoud Abbas's platform for peace and negotiations. Palestinian public opinion polls show, for the first time ever, concern for the economy above and beyond other political issues. Palestinians want to move toward peace with Israel. They don't want to drag the process on for a long time. They believe that Abbas is the right person for the job at the right time and do not wish to see another opportunity lost.

 

     Abbas's White House visit was a great disappointment to the advocates of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The main news item from the summit was the removal of the time frame for the creation of the Palestinian state which is now no longer linked, as many had thought, to the length of Bush's stay in the White House. This puts the possibilities for peace too far into future for it to have any real meaning for pushing toward peace in the present. The removal of the ticking clock as a means of pressure enables Israel to demonstrate complacency in the face of the developing stalemate with the Palestinians. This is a very dangerous attitude and state of mind in the Middle East. It should be well enough understood today that if there is no progress there is regression. There is no such state as the status quo in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

 

     The state of complacency might be viewed in Israel as a means of putting pressure on the Palestinians to act; however, no progress and more regression works more against Israeli interests - both short-term and, more importantly, the long-term interests, than it does against the Palestinians. Israel needs the Palestinian state for its survival at least as much as the Palestinians do.

 

     Rather than celebrating the de-linking of the time frame from the Bush presidency, Israel should be urging President George W. Bush to assist the sides to speed up the clock. The disengagement from Gaza should have been the lever that moves the process forward.

 

     ISRAELI TABOOS have been broken - the most important of these are the dismantling of settlements and agreeing to have third-party forces deployed and involved in monitoring. These are major steps forward. The momentum of progress has been halted by the failure of the sides to reach agreements on the issues of passages and access from Gaza to the world. James Wolfensohn, the special envoy of the Quartet has already complained about the wasted time and the dangers imposed as a result of the freeze. Allowing despair to overtake hope in Gaza is a precarious wager that neither Sharon nor Abbas can afford to take.

 

      Abbas has been proposing for months now to enter into a secret back channel of permanent status negotiations. This has been rejected by Sharon, but nothing else has been offered except the usual mantra of dismantling terror. This should not be dismissed because of the overriding importance of basing any peace process in a process of disarming and reducing the threats and the realities of terrorism.

 

     Abbas has now launched a process to disarm those militias working under the Fatah title. This is an important step forward. The US is apparently not opposing Abbas's plan to allow Hamas to become a legitimate political party through its participation in the elections. There is little that Israel can do now to prevent the Hamas from participating without taking the blame from the international community for preventing legitimate processes of democratization. Hamas parliamentarians will sit in the Palestinian parliament after January 2006. The true test of Abbas' governing ability and capacity will come after the January elections - if he achieves a large enough majority in the parliament to support a continuation of the disarming process that will then include Hamas.

 

     In the meantime it is essential that the Palestinian elections take place in an atmosphere of a real political horizon. The Gaza questions must be resolved immediately. The economic hopes for Gaza and the willingness of the international community to assist with significant amounts of capital will only come to fruition if Gaza is opened to the world, to the West Bank and to Israel. Sharon's political leadership is necessary to break the deadlock (not between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but between the various players inside Israel - including the competing policies of Shimon Peres and Shaul Mofaz). Israel must demonstrate its commitment to a negotiated process by beginning the dialogue (if not negotiations) with the Palestinian leadership.

 

      It is time for the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships and people to open a process of imagining peace. This is not to be confused with designing the "New Middle East" fantasy world, but rather beginning to paint realistic pictures of scenarios of how each side envisions Israeli-Palestinian peace. Imagining peace must not be detached from the difficult realities on the ground. Imagining peace is a useful tool that could enable each side not only to present their visions, but also to define their threat perceptions and fears regarding the policy options that are available to each other. Imagining peace would enable the sides to eventually approach the real negotiations with a greater understanding of the real red lines of each side while also being able to create new possibilities for resolving some of the more complex issues, such as Jerusalem.

 

      The process of imagining peace should begin with an exchange of letters between Sharon and Abbas. Other Israeli and Palestinian leaders, writers, academics and ordinary Israelis and Palestinians should add their own visions to the public debate. The 13 months ahead of us should be used for changing the Israeli-Palestinian public discourse and for creating the atmosphere for negotiations and compromise. This process will enhance the process of enabling and concluding successful negotiations that  can take place during the Bush presidency.

 

* Gershon Baskin is the Israeli co-director of IPCRI (Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information).

Top

 

SEEKING EFFECTIVE WAYS TO TALK TO THE WORLD

 

Daoud Kuttab

 

Source: The Arabic Media Internet Network www.amin.org

 October 7, 2005

 Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to republish

 

      Some of the speakers and participants said a conference called for by the Palestinian Authority to discuss how to have an effective public relations campaign was tens of years overdue. Titled "Talking to the world", the invitation was issued by Information Minister Nabil Shaath and attended by the top public and private brass of the Palestinians, including President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian journalists and media activists.

 

     Held in Ramallah, the two-day conference reviewed the political scene in America, Europe and Israel. Participants discussed the status of the Palestinian cause in French, Spanish, German, Italian and even Japanese-speaking countries. They focused on the local media scene, the attitude of international wire services, the Hebrew press, looking at print, television and Internet media outlets.

 

     The first major disagreement occurred in the opening session. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat stated that the world knows what is happening to Palestinians while member of the Palestinian Legislative Council Hanan Ashrawi insisted that the world doesn't and surely doesn't understand the Palestinian reality. Some commentators attempted to bridge the gap by saying that the bare facts of what is happening in the occupied territories are available for those interested in finding them, but that the overriding image of the Palestinians is negative.

 

      By and large, the discussions, working groups, side debates and discussions during coffee breaks and meal outings focused on the English and Hebrew media. The only other issue of continued attention, other than that of the media in the US and Israel, was the international image of Palestinians, primarily on television.

 

      While many diaspora Palestinians felt that support from communities in the West showing solidarity could result in change, the majority agreed that the key to change is in Palestine and in the hands of Palestinians at all levels. They pointed to the need for a unified official position by the Palestinian Authority and the need to address the absence of coordination between the public and private sectors in Palestine and the need for a change in the Palestinians' attitudes. Creating the office of a spokesperson, with professionals not politicians, and a daily paper of talking points could go far in reflecting the Palestinian public position.

 

      Speaker after speaker criticized the mistaken attempt to present the Palestinian struggle as that of a Palestinian mother appearing to celebrate the death of her son and refusing to show her real feelings or a militant exhibiting a child carrying a weapon or a masked 16 years old parading with a Kalashnikov. The need to humanize the Palestinian image through encouraging human interest stories and documentaries was emphasized repeatedly, but the suggestion to break the camera's attempt to film some of the negative images was rejected.

 

      Improving the Palestinian image is not strictly a media issue. A number of astute speakers pointed out the absence of leading political groups and representatives of Palestinian factions who need to be involved in the job of educating the public about the need to stop idolizing death and militarization of the struggle.

 

      Discussion of the image of Palestinians in the Israeli media received much attention. Leading Palestinian media activists who are citizens of Israel spoke about the absence of a serious attempt to reach the Israeli public at all levels. The fear that such effort could be considered normalization, that some feel, was quickly rejected and the need to genuinely understand the holocaust was referred to as one of the first steps in trying to reach out to Israelis.

 

      The participants were surprised by the strength of the statement made by Nabil Shaath on the issue of incitement in the Palestinian media. He told the conferees what happened when he found out what was an anti-Jewish Friday sermon given by a Gazan sheikh which was aired live on Palestine TV. After explaining some of what was said, Shaath sharply attacked the sheikh, announced in the presence of the director of Palestine TV that this particular clerk will never appear on Palestine TV and that he insisted on the following week to make sure that a sermon espousing the opposite points of view was delivered. Shaath also discussed how he plans to reorganize the official media (making them genuinely a public service broadcasting), to cancel the need for licensing of newspapers and the way he hoped to regulate the private audiovisual media in a way that will make them more effective, with regulators' only work to be focused on issues of public taste, as decided by representatives of the public.

 

      The image of Palestinians in the world was summarized by one speaker as having one of the world's most just causes represented by some of the worst defenders. An attempt to change that, even a small one as that initiated by the Palestinian Authority, can lead to significant results. The key will be in the implementation, follow up and the seriousness of the Palestinian leadership in pursuing such endeavor.

 

*Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Arab journalist, he is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah and founder/director of Ammannet, the first Internet radio station in Jordan.

Top

 

 

NEEDED RECONCILIATION

 

Uzi Benziman

 

Reprinted from Haaretz

Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to republish

 

      Desmond Tutu says in his book "No Future Without Forgiveness" that blacks and white in South Africa succeeded in overcoming the built-up resentments of the past without a bloodbath thanks to the internal reconciliation mechanism that was set up. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established by a joint decision of majority and minority leaders in order to enable those who perpetrated injustices to confess their crimes, and to enable the victims to forgive them.

 

This lengthy process captured the attention of everyone in South Africa, and created an atmosphere of internal purification: Whites beat their breasts over concrete acts of cruelty that they perpetrated against blacks, and blacks testified about their suffering, as well as about shocking acts of reprisal that they perpetrated against their white oppressors. Tutu believes that this process enabled the atrocities of the apartheid regime to be exposed while also creating a dynamic of reconciliation, because it entailed both recognition by the perpetrators of the injustices that they caused and a willingness on the part of the victims to accept the perpetrators' confessions of their sins and forgive them.

 

     The professional political science literature agrees that a ceremony of asking forgiveness, or a structured process of reconciliation, is an essential component of conflict resolution: Without it, the embers of the conflict continue to burn and are liable to reignite.

 

     There are different degrees of relaxation in violent conflicts: a cease-fire declaration, an agreement on a state of nonbelligerency, a transition to cold war and so forth. But true resolution is impossible without a reconciliation phase.

 

     The problem is that the warring parties usually have trouble getting to this stage.Reconciliation requires an ability to identify with the enemy's view of the meaning and causes of the conflict, an acknowledgment of gu ilt for injustices committed by one party against the other and abandoning the desire for revenge.

Nevertheless, reconciliation is essential, because it puts both parties on an equal footing, declares that both sides are both victim and perpetrator, and enables them to agree on a common denominator and leave the bitter conflict behind, together with the

reciprocal atrocities that it spawned.

 

     Tonight, the day when Jews confess their sins, pray "forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement" and ask forgiveness of their fellow men, is an appropriate moment to think about whether the time has not come to begin an organized process of reconciliation with the Palestinian people.

 

     The emotional dimension influences Israel's relationship with the Palestinians far more than it does Israel's conflict with the Arab world as a whole, and particularly with the Arab states that border it. The quarrel with the Palestinians is not just about land and borders, but also about national existence itself. Both nations are intertwined with each other on a single piece of land that lacks clear boundaries. The dispute between them is of the nature of "to be or not to be," and it impacts on both sides' ability to preserve their national identities. One hundred years of mutual blood-letting weighs on both sides' consciousness, and their close proximity augments their fears, but also exposes them to the distress of the other side and undermines their fundamental beliefs.

 

     It would be difficult to quiet this emotional maelstrom with diplomatic agreements alone, and especially not if they are imposed or unilateral. What is needed is therapeutic intervention, which could be supplied by launching a process of reconciliation.

 

     Israelis and Palestinians continue to recoil from one another. In the best case, they relate to each other as strangers; usually with suspicion; and sometimes through glasses that attribute satanic characteristics to the other side. A process of reconciliation will not cause the two peoples to  become friends, but it will, perhaps, enable them to turn over a new leaf and concentrate on building a better future. The goal of the process would not exactly be to seek forgiveness; rather, it would aspire to a recognition of injustices and willingness to atone for them in deeds.

 

Uzi Benziman is a senior columnist for Haaretz. He has been covering Israeli politics and diplomacy for four decades.



Top


©2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006. All rights reserve. The Nonviolent Change Journal is published by the Research/Action Team on Nonviolent Large Systems Change - an interorganizational and international project of The Organization Development Institute.  Opinions expressed are solely that of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editing staff, Nonviolent Change Journal, Organization Development Institute.