Nonviolent Change Journal

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

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World Developments

Media Notes

Reports and Announcements


Letters: Dialoging

  Alon Ben-Meir, Ph.D.: 

God Has Spoken: An open letter

to the Palestinian Prime Minister designate  Ismail Haniya


  Marc Gopin,

"Testing Hamas and a Saudi Option”


  Robert Malley,

"Making the Best of Hamas' Victory”


  Jerome M. Segal,

"Avoiding ambiguity on the

'right to exist'”


  George S. Hishmeh,

"Hamas and the Irish Model”


  Nazir Majali,

"Israel Should Stop

 Pressuring Hamas”


  Maggie Mitchell Salem,

"Middle East Democracy:

For Better or for Worse”


  Gideon Eshet,

"Drinking from Toilets:

Is it Wise to Refuse Talks

with Hamas if the Price is Typhoid

and Cholera?”

  Rami G. Khouri,

"A Historical Verge,

or Back to Algeria in 1992?"


  Patricia Golan,

"Solar Energy Lights

up a Negev Village


  Rami Khouri,

“Respond to Racism

and Death with Humanity

and Life”


  Rabbi Jeremy Rose,

 "Olive Trees”


  Letter from ENCASA/Emergency Network of Cuban American Scholars and Artists for Change

in U.S.-Cuba Policy


  Kamran Mofid,

 "An Open Letter to G8 Leaders: Why World Poverty is a Justice Issue First, and then an Economic Matter”



Vol. XX, No.3                                                   Spring 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.





An open letter to the Palestinian Prime Minister designate Ismail Haniya


Alon Ben-Meir—February 21, 2006


I am addressing this letter to you because you are known to be a pragmatic man and also a believer. Use your pragmatism and belief in God to alter the destiny of your people and walk them to the “promised land” because they have suffered enough.


The long history of the Holy Land attests to the fact that no other land has seen so much glory and despair or touched the souls of so many. It is a land that has shaped the destiny of its inhabitants and witnessed the rise and fall of many ancient empires, including the Assyrian, Persian, Babylonian, Roman, Greek, and the Ottoman Empire. All failed to live up to their promise. By denying human rights and justice to those who lived there, they rendered themselves unfit to possess the land. Consumed from within, in the end all perished.


You must know that neither Israelis nor Palestinians can have it all: It is impossible in the profoundest sense to build one's home on the ruins of another’s. The self-consuming cycle of violence must stop. For nearly a century, Israelis and Palestinians have been at war. During the time they have inflicted terrible wounds on each other. Governed by misguided leaders, the two peoples have acted out of blind hatred and animosity, poisoning generation after generation. Today cold-blooded murders, suicide bombings, stabbings, abductions, and other hideous crimes perpetrated by one side are countered by the other side with demolition of homes, detentions, targeted killings, expulsions, and daily humiliations, each of these actions defying the very premise of the religious connection of both peoples to the land. So its sacred soil is defiled.


Let me share with you my own humble observations: Every time I travel to the Holy Land, I visit the Haram Al-Sharif, the Temple Mount. There I linger, watching scores of Muslims flocking to the great Golden Dome of the Rock and Al Aksa Mosque. They come to pray to almighty Allah for his mercy and compassion and to pay homage to his messenger Mohammed. I make my way down the steps to the Western Wall of the Temple (known as the Wailing Wall), destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 75. Thousands of Jews visit this entrancing edifice daily to relive history or watch it unfold. Some come to pray; others to seek salvation; still others, to repent. Some visit and ponder; others pray for absolution.  Some are on a simple human quest: they seek good health and peace of mind, while others gape in wonder, spellbound by the imposing wall and what it means to them.


Across an invisible, deepening emotional divide, Arabs and Jews weep silently for the loss of loved ones, victims of merciless violent conflict, and pray for an end to the tragedy that has befallen them. Separate, yet together in their yearning, both peoples pray for peace. Here they are, the holiest shrines for Jews and Muslims, juxtaposed, with no possibility of either side altering anything in these sacred settings. Every stone, every gesture or movement has the same message: There is no escape from cohabitation, no way out of coexistence. Separate but inseparable, this is the destiny of Jews and Muslims. The echoes of Arab and Jewish prayers mingle in the air, reaching out to the same God.  The Islamic Resistance Movement platform “believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the day of resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it. Or abandon it or part of it…” But you know that the historical record, the way the three monolithic religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam evolved, and the reality on the ground refute the stated assumption in the covenant.


The dream of Israelis to live in their ancient homeland and that of Palestinians to have a state of their own do not cancel each other out. Rather, they provide the sole basis for sharing the land equitably, though under separate rule. The ancient world thrust Israelis and Palestinians together. Now, in our own time, the children of Abraham have returned home to join their cousins. This is neither an historical accident nor an aberration of time and space. The Wall and the Dome of the Rock summoned them together long before the first Palestinian youth and Israeli child died in the current inferno. The radicals on both sides must remember that the campaign to dislodge each other from the land will fail because Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is an historic reality anchored in a religious promise more powerful than blind fanaticism and deeper than their perverted convictions. This is the most compelling reason why the pain and anguish must now end. The salvation of the souls of both peoples and the redemption of the soil must be the task at hand.


I ask you: How many more deaths of Israelis and Palestinians must God witness in silence? How much more blood must spill? How much more destruction and despair must these two peoples endure? How could this land, the cradle of three great religions, have become the killing fields for its sons and daughters, victims of extremism, delusion, and the tragic denial of each others' rights? Hamas can kill another hundred or a thousand Israelis; thousands of Palestinians can be expelled or shot to death, but then what? Israelis and Palestinians will be left still facing each other. As both sides reposition themselves, they will be talking with one another, simply because there is no other option. Except the hatred will run even deeper, and mutual fear and suspicion will extinguish the last vestiges of trust, taint every gesture and action. The loss of human live and the sustained suffering will have taken their toll, further scarring hearts and minds, making negotiations increasingly intractable.


Mr. Haniya, the truth is that Israel does not need your recognition or your acceptance of previous agreements with the Palestinian Authority. If you insist on violent resistance, your people will suffer far more disproportionately than Israelis ever will. Israel is a reality whose existential being is beyond the capacity of Hamas or the combined Arab States’ to alter by any means, including force. Only by recognizing Israel and adhering to existing internationally accepted agreements can you secure a place under the sun for your people based on a two-state solution. You must know that the majority, the mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, believe in coexistence, believe in their mutual right to live on the same land, believe they share the same destiny, and that they must live and let live to make the Holy Land truly a land of milk and honey.


In this holy setting, a breakthrough vision must be summoned to create a larger picture of promise. Please remember that if the religious teachings and practice you ardently invoke in support of your historic rights have any bearing on the outcome, then God has already spoken.


P.S. I will be happy to meet with you to present in person the merits of my argument.


Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU and is the Middle East Project Director at the World Policy Institute, New York.





Marc Gopin


Source: Common Ground News Service (, February 21, 2006.

Distributed by Common Ground News Service with publication of this article.


Washington, DC - Troubling questions abound in light of the Hamas victory, but the imperative now is to decide on a course of action that is morally defensible. Is it wise to permit Hamas, or any group with a militia that regularly attacks civilians, to participate in democratic elections? Most pundits in the Middle East feel that everyone should be allowed to participate democratically in elections, regardless of militias, weapons or war crimes. Whether this approach signals the beginning of non-violent democratic evolution in the Middle East, or the death of it, only time will tell. I am skeptical, but we must work with what is now.


There are questions that the Palestinian people must face such as what will be the fate of moderates, Christians, democrats and atheists in a state run by Hamas. But the fact is that 40% of Palestinians united in a vote for change and the recent, incredible revelations of massive PA corruption while people starved more than explains the vote. The fact is that most did not vote for an Islamic state but the question is will they get more than they bargained for, as did the people who supported the revolutionaries in Iran decades ago. The people of Palestine have spoken and decided on their own risks to be taken, but that is a separate question from whether states that are fighting a war against extremists everywhere want to support the Palestinian choice.


It is time to test the parameters of Hamas‚ intentions. The United States and other European states are making this test a stark one that involves Hamas turning against its own charter, "Recognize Israel or we will not recognize you". As we know this runs the risk of pushing them into the arms of an extremist Iran that single-handedly undermined each moment of quiet in the past decade with bombs from Islamic Jihad.


This may be a moment for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to step in. After all, his Israeli-Arab peace plan still stands as an offer from the Arab world, and if the Kingdom, a major source of funding for Hamas, could bring its weight to bear we could see a steady shift of a Gulf-funded Palestine toward a two-state solution.


There is an argument to be made that this moves things toward where they always should have been, not a Palestine looking for Western handouts while resenting it, but rather an Arab-funded Palestine that represents both Palestinian and Arab parties in any final agreement with Israel. This duality of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was always a hindrance to real progress, and perhaps it is time for an Arab-supported Palestine and a comprehensive peace settlement.


What will be the true test for Hamas? Not recognition of Israel, which could be an end-goal of a comprehensive peace process, and not Hamas disarmament, but rather the public and testable disarmament of its bombing infrastructure. The key grievance of the West has never been Palestinian resistance, but resistance by targeting civilians with terror. We have the makings of a Hamas version of this already through the concept of long-term hudna, a religious ceasefire that would be coupled with, and conditioned upon, Hamas‚ public embrace of negotiations leading toward a two-state solution.


This could have revolutionary implications in terms of the direction of Islamicism across the world. It would put Hamas and Saudi Arabia, not to mention Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and The Gulf States, into a realistic political struggle for justice, and decidedly against the neo-apocalyptic Islamicism of Bin Laden and the Iranian President that requires Israel‚s destruction (and the West‚s).


The trouble at this point is that whenever a violent party in a resistance movement agrees to a ceasefire a competitor takes up the mantle of legitimacy through violence in the minds of the masses. There are already signs that Fateh and the Al-Aqsa Brigades, not to mention Islamic Jihad, are filling that role.


There is one important element of this scenario to be worked out and this involves the important insight of Rabbi Menahem Fruman. Hamas instinctively cannot cope, as of now, with the idea of recognizing any apostate state, let alone Israel. But there is place for  an interim maneuver whereby Hamas declares a treaty of peace with the Jewish people, as represented by a gathering of rabbis and Hamas leaders. This would entail a commitment to struggle for justice in Palestine over land holy to both peoples, but without ever again targeting civilians and for any violence outside of Palestine to become haram, disallowed -  in other words an end to a war of demonization of the Jewish people as such. If this were endorsed by Saudi Arabia it could prove an important reversal to the war of hatreds that abounds now. It would be a step in the right direction for both Israel and the Arab world that have much to fear from an ever expanding Islamicist extremism that contaminates the streets of the Muslim world.


Marc Gopin is the James Laue Professor of World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University.






   Robert Malley


Source: The Baltimore Sun

February 19, 2006. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to republish.


Washington DC - Hamas' stunning electoral triumph last month has generated widespread alarm, calls to shun the Palestinian Authority and pleas to cut off aid.


The reaction reflects opposition to bankrolling an organization that has neither recognized Israel nor renounced violence. It is premised on the hope that Hamas, confronting international pressure, will be forced to change its ideology or, starved of resources, be forced out of power. All of which, given Hamas' history, is understandable. But it also might be short sighted and, ultimately, self-defeating.


If dealt with wisely, the Islamists' victory could present an opportunity for the United States to promote its core interests without betraying its core principles.


Hamas' victory undoubtedly presents the United States with a headache, but it is an equal-opportunity headache, with migraines for all, most prominently the victors themselves.


Paradoxically, Hamas' electoral landslide might optimize conditions for its political transition, for victory is likely to inhibit it far more than would have defeat. The more Hamas exercises government responsibility, the less it is likely to revert to violence; the greater its electoral mandate, the lesser its freedom of action.


The Islamists ran on a campaign of effective government and promised to improve Palestinians' lives; they cannot do that if the international community turns its back. They need to reassure anxious Palestinian security forces and the defeated Fatah movement; they cannot do that if they pursue an aggressive domestic agenda.


Most of all, they must prove their way works; they cannot do that if conflict escalates. Renewed attacks against Israelis would lead to a swift and far-reaching response and ravage whatever hope the Islamists have for their turn at the helm.


Far better, for all these reasons, to have the Islamists in the PA instead of opposing it. What they could afford from the outside they cannot similarly get away with from within.


Even on the diplomatic front, Hamas' victory is not necessarily a fatal setback. The Islamists' approach is more in tune with current Israeli thinking than the PA's loftier goal of a negotiated permanent peace ever was.


In its penchant for unilateralism and partiality toward a long-term interim deal, Israel may have found its match in Hamas' reluctance to talk to the enemy, opposition at this stage to a permanent agreement and preference for an extended truce.


And in the unlikely event that the possibility of a comprehensive agreement were to be resurrected in the near future, does anyone believe that it could succeed over Hamas' opposition? Ultimately, a sustainable peace might not be possible with the Islamists. But it plainly will be impossible without them.


For the United States, there are policy implications and, if played astutely, potential policy rewards.

Don't talk to Hamas, for there is no reason to reward its outlook. But don't ostracize or actively undermine a Hamas-backed PA, either.


Instead, deal with President Mahmoud Abbas and ministries that are not directly in Hamas' hands. Don't discourage third-party unofficial contacts with the Islamist organization in an attempt to moderate it. And judge the experiment based chiefly on what the Islamists do - whether quiet is maintained, who is named to the Cabinet and whether the government's platform respects past agreements and accepts peaceful dealings with Israel - not what they say.


The objective should be to set conditions that will be hard for the Islamists to accept but equally hard for them to reject. If this seems like a hard pill to swallow, consider the alternative: a threat to halt all aid unless Hamas wholly changes its stripes.


The elections made plain the limitations of outside threats and pressure. The Islamists won in part because of dissatisfaction with the PA, disgust at corruption and frustration at Fatah's performance. But more than that, and more important, the vote expressed anger at years of humiliation and loss of self-respect because of Israeli settlement expansion, Yasser Arafat's imprisonment, Israel's incursions, Western lecturing and, most recently and tellingly, the threat of an aid cut off in the event of an Islamist success.


Hamas, which benefited mightily from this deep-seated aspiration for dignity, is not about to betray it, and the Palestinian people, which put Hamas in power, are not about to blame the Islamists if they fail because of international hostility.


An inflexible approach to the PA would carry other perils. Hamas, searching for a substitute source of funds, might turn to Iran or, convinced that it is being set up for failure, drop its political gambit and return to the familiarity of armed confrontation. Without the leverage of Western funding, without the responsibility to ensure it keeps flowing, Hamas will be less constrained and freer to revert to past practice.


Should the PA go bankrupt - if Israel withholds tax refunds, bars trade and prevents movement - Israel will be compelled to do what it heretofore has been generously spared: finance an occupation that has been subsidized by the outside world.


As for the prospect of the PA's collapse, poverty and despair strengthened Hamas in the past, and there is every reason to suspect they would do so again in the future. Even those most hostile to Hamas, whether in Israel or the United States, must ponder whether that really is the result to which they aspire.


The Bush administration obviously didn't want a Hamas victory and wasn't prepared for it. But bringing the more militant segment of Palestinian society into the political fray, maintaining the truce, boosting the U.S. democracy agenda and promoting reform are not the worst hand the United States could have been dealt.


President Bush's effort to promote democracy in the Middle East was premised, in part, on the reasonable assumption that electoral politics is a recipe for pragmatism and moderation. The gamble might or might not work. But the least we can do is not condemn it to failure before it has even begun.


Rob Malley, who was special assistant to President Bill Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs, directs the Middle East program at the International Crisis Group. His e-mail is






Jerome M. Segal


Source: Haaretz (, March 18, 2006. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to republish.


Maryland - In the summer and fall of 1988, when contact between U.S. officials and the PLO was not allowed by law and policy, I was one of a number of private individuals who traveled to Tunis to see if there was a way in which the PLO could accept the three conditions that were required before dialogue with them would be permitted: acceptance of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, a renunciation of terrorism, and recognition of Israel's right to exist. Recent statements by U.S. and Israeli officials, specifying various conditions that Hamas must satisfy, suggest that there are lessons still to be learned from past experience with the PLO.


I recall one conversation with PLO leaders in particular. I was meeting with Khalid al-Hassan, one of the senior leaders in Fatah and a moderate. Hassan said the PLO could accept the first two conditions, but the third, recognizing Israel's right to exist "was ideology". Initially, this was puzzling, because the PLO was seeking to enter into negotiations with Israel in order to end the conflict through the creation of an independent Palestinian State.


Yet, Hassan's point was well taken. First of all, the concept of a state having a right to exist was, and is, outside the conceptual bounds of existing international law. It had no standing meaning. Was the right being referred to a legal right or a moral right? And more fundamentally, did it refer to a right to have come into existence, or a right to remain in existence?


When Hassan said the affirmation of Israel's right to exist was ideology, he was interpreting it as an affirmation that Israel had a moral right to come into existence. As to Israel's right, under international law, to come into existence, within a few months, the PLO reversed the historic stance of Palestinian nationalism. On November 15, 1988, in the text of its Declaration of Independence, the PLO affirmed for the first time that the historic Partition Resolution of 1947, (UNGA Res. 181) was part of valid international law, thus accepting that Israel came into being lawfully. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence specifically noted the factual truth that the Partition Resolution provided for "two states, one Arab and one Jewish".


What the PLO did not say, then or ever, was that Israel had a moral right to come into being. To do this would be to affirm the central ideological tenet of the Zionist movement. While such a view was widely shared by much of the world in 1947, there was virtually no Palestinian in the world who believed that then, hardly any that believed it in 1988, and scarcely more today.


Moreover, from the point of view of policy, the question of PLO views about Israel's birth was really of secondary importance to whether or not it was prepared to make a lasting peace agreement with Israel, thus ending the conflict.


Ultimately, in December of 1988, a month after the Declaration of Independence, specific statements by the PLO were accepted by the Reagan administration as fulfillment of the three conditions, and the U.S.-PLO dialogue began. It is instructive to consider exactly how the PLO dealt with the "right to exist" condition. The key event was a special meeting of the UN General Assembly, which convened in Geneva to hear Arafat (the Reagan administration refused to allow him into New York). But it was not his speech to the General Assembly that proved satisfactory to the U.S.; rather, it was a statement Arafat read at a press conference he gave the following day. Referring to his speech of the day before, Arafat said "we mean . . . the right of all parties concerned in the Middle East conflict to exist in peace and security, including the State of Palestine, Israel and other neighbors, according to Resolution 242 and 338". He then went on to "renounce all forms of terrorism, including individual, group and state terrorism".


Reporters attending the press conference assumed that this, too, would prove an inadequate effort. To their surprise, hours later, the State Department announced that the United States had accepted Arafat's statement as PLO fulfillment of the three conditions.


What Arafat did was to take the thoroughly ambiguous concept of "right to exist" and imbed it within the familiar notion that existing states have a right to exist in peace and security. Moreover, he linked Israel's right to exist in peace and security to the extension of the same right to the state of Palestine. In short, he was saying that peace and security for Israel could be attained in the context of a solution to the conflict which provided the Palestinians with a state of their own, also having peace and security. Wisely, the Reagan Administration accepted his formulation.


Interestingly, Israel's peace treaties with both Jordan and Egypt drop the term "exist" and have both parties recognizing each other's "right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries". Moreover, this was the result of negotiations, not a precondition. Had it been a precondition, no negotiations would have occurred.


One lesson in all this is that words matter. Verbal preconditions, either by cynical intention or inadvertence, can ensure that groups seeking to come in from the cold are kept outside. The conditions that the PLO met in 1988 were imposed in 1975, thirteen years earlier. A strong case can be made that as preconditions for contact and dialogue, they retarded rather than hastened the evolution of the PLO.


With respect to Hamas, it may be that the same is true. For instance, Hamas has indicated its willingness, under certain conditions, to enter into a long-term truce with Israel. In negotiations, Israel might seek an agreement that explicitly proclaims the end of the conflict. But attaining this might only be possible once the process of negotiations has been long under way.


If, despite their questionable wisdom, various verbal affirmations are required as a precondition to contact and negotiations, great care should be taken in how they are formulated. Surely it would be best to avoid the ambiguities of "right to exist". Don't ask or expect Palestinians to accept the same moral narratives that are held by Israeli Jews and friends of Israel.


Finally, if the objective is to promote the evolution of Hamas, then it would be wise to shift the focus from verbal affirmations to a focus on behavior (e.g. no suicide bombings) and their committing to a process that could potentially lead to an end-of-conflict agreement. For instance, it could be required that Hamas specifically affirm: a) that Mahmoud Abbas, as head of the PLO, is the recognized Palestinian agent for negotiations with Israel, and b) that Hamas would accept as binding any negotiated treaty that was approved in a referendum of the Palestinian people.


*Jerome M. Segal is a Senior Research Scholar at the University of Maryland's Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy.






George S. Hishmeh


Source: The Jordan Times ( February 24-25, 2006. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to republish.


Washington DC - Before she embarked on her three-country tour of the Arab world, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice invited for the first time a handful of Arab print correspondents for a roundtable discussion about the region's concerns, primarily the ascendancy of Hamas and Iran's nuclear ambitions.


An articulate speaker, the top American diplomat underscored headline-grabbing US views about the Arab and Muslim worlds. For example, she stressed that "there is nothing incompatible between Islam and democracy" or "there is no reason that the Palestinian people ought to be denied statehood, a more peaceful life, an end to the kind of daily humiliations to which they are currently subjected". She also declared that "Israel should not try to prejudge a final status outcome, that it's important that Israel do everything that it can to make it possible for the Palestinian people to have a good life and a normal existence and to move freely". More interestingly, she emphasised that "the United States is not trying to contemplate overthrowing, doesn't have a plan for ousting Hamas".


Rice acknowledged that the Hamas' landslide victory in last month's parliamentary elections represented the Palestinian people's desire for change "after more than a decade of corrupt leadership that did not address their needs". She, however, maintained that both President Mahmoud Abbas and his Finance Minister Salam Fayyad had tried but "were not able to fully transform" Fateh, the predominant Palestinian party, and the Palestinian Authority and "deal with the (deteriorating) security situation in Gaza" after Israel's unilateral pullout.


Her punch line during the session: "The obligation of the international community is to say that the only path to a good and peaceful life (in Palestine) is to have a government that is prepared to seek a two-state solution, that is prepared to recognise the other party to that two-state solution. You can't say you want the destruction of Israel and be committed to a two-state solution. So, Hamas needs to do that. They also need to renounce violence, because you can't have one foot in violence and terrorism and another foot in the political process."


Whether Rice's views will find any positive response in the countries she was visiting - Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - or in the Arab and Muslim worlds at large depends on how the Bush administration's actions vis-à-vis Hamas are perceived. The first wrinkle became apparent following reports of collusion between the US and Israel, first revealed by The New York Times earlier this month, to prematurely deflate the Hamas victory. And when Israel announced, last Sunday, that it is freezing the transfer of about $50 million a month in tax and customs dues to the Palestinian Authority, President Jimmy Carter saw this emerging collusion as having "counterproductive" and "devastating consequences".


In a column published in The Washington Post last Monday, the former president said that "the likely results will be to alienate already oppressed and innocent Palestinians, to incite and to increase the domestic influence and international esteem of Hamas".


The Bush administration and Israel, as well as the other members of the Quartet, will do well to mark time and see how Hamas, which has 35 more days to deliver a government and a policy statement that has to be supported by the newly elected legislature, performs.


Although it is understandable that Rice should feel that Hamas cannot have "one foot in violence and terrorism and another foot in the political process", one must not forget the Irish model which included both Sein Fein, the political wing, and the Irish Republican Army. Richard Haas of Brookings Institution and a former presidential aide in the administration of George Bush, Sr., sees the challenge nowadays as "find(ing) a way gradually to bring (Hamas) into the (political) tent", in the same way "the United States, Britain and Ireland successfully worked with (Sein Fein/IRA) and over the course of more than a decade (and) essentially moved that group into the political process".


Israel, of all other nations involved, must be aware that since Hamas has accepted the "hudna", or truce, a year ago, it has not been targeted by Hamas elements and the situation might continue if the new Palestinian leadership can be positively engaged. In this respect, there is much hope in the selection of Ismail Haniyya, the pragmatic prime minister-designate, who has been described as the Gerry Adams of Hamas.


George S. Hishmeh is an Arab American columnist based in Washington DC.






Nazir Majali


Source: Haaretz (, February 21, 2006. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to republish.


Tel Aviv - Israel has apparently decided to continue being the "bad boy" of the Middle East. The wisdom that it showed in taking its official position toward Iran - contending persistently that nuclear armament is a global problem and not just an Israeli one - did not come to the fore in the approach it took toward the Palestinians. It is incomprehensible. With the blood of its children, Israel purchases more and more hatred, which on our side, among the Arabs, plenty will volunteer to sell. And both sides pay, with terrifying generosity. The government of Israel has decided to lead the global movement of the delegitimization of Hamas, which was elected democratically. One can understand the declaration that conditioned talks with Hamas on its abandonment of violence and terror, because peace is made with one who wants peace. One can understand the firm demand to recognize Israel and respect agreements signed with it. But why put together a plan for military and economic pressure that will bring about the fall of the Hamas government even before such a government is established? Why threaten to choke off simple Palestinian citizens, based on inherently inhuman intentions, thereby causing them to pressure their government until it collapses?


After all, this policy of putting massive pressure on the Palestinians so that they will pressure their leaders has failed in the past. The idea to freeze tax revenues - which is actually Palestinian money and not some sort of Israeli aid, as one may think sometimes by the way this threat is presented - was tried out for about a year. Since the 1967 war, through the first intifada and to this day, Israel's leaders have tried all sorts of pressure: from moderate physical pressure to radical pressure, closures, curfews, roadblocks, arrests, targeted killings, closing the gates to Palestinian workers, offensive operations, the uprooting of trees, the demolition of houses and more. All this has brought about the rise of Hamas rule in the Palestinian territories and the creation of Hezbollah in Lebanon, because the despair that is planned to be added to the existing despair of the Palestinians only helps the extremists. Instead of taking an in-depth look at what brought about the Hamas victory, dealing with it and learning its lesson, more reasons for its occurrence are being supplied. Instead of letting Hamas run the business of the Palestinian Authority and failing on its own because its way does not suit the Palestinian people - it is being handed the excuses that it will be able to present to them when it is asked to give explanations for its failure. It is clear already that if Hamas fails, it will be because of Israeli-American pressure and not because it is not suited to run a modern government in our time. Instead of allowing the Palestinian people to settle its accounts in the future with Hamas because of its firebrand policies, it is being allowed to get away with holding on to the argument that Israel is t he one that declared war on it. One of the main avenues that Hamas used to assume power was citing the contention that Israel only understands force. That is the way it was after the Yom Kippur War and after Lebanon. Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said in a speech in Sudan that the Western world, and especially the United States, never forced Israel to carry out the United Nations resolutions regarding the Palestinian problem. "Therefore," he told the thousands of people listening to him closely in the audience, "we have no one to depend on but God and ourselves." The hard-line Israeli position will only help strengthen this argument. The writer is a commentator on Israel affairs on Arab television stations and in the Arabic-language daily Asharq Al-Awsat.


Nazir Majali is a journalist, author, and a commentator on Israeli affairs. With Father Emile Shufani from Nazareth, he leads a group of Palestinian citizens of Israel who study Jewish suffering throughout history and especially the Holocaust.






Maggie Mitchell Salem


Source: Morocco Times (, February 19, 2006. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to republish.


Washington, DC - The ballot is not unlike the pledge, "for better or for worse," with one notable exception. If "worse" is all the winner ends up offering, "until death do us part" is not the voters' last recourse.


In the case of Palestinian elections, voters struck back at chaotic governance, corrupt leadership and societal decay by voting in, perhaps unwittingly, Hamas. As one Palestinian minister put it, "They wanted to slap us; they ended up amputating a leg."


The meddling in-laws, Washington and Tel Aviv, were certainly more of a hindrance than a help. They belatedly backed the woefully deficient incumbents, Fatah, though for the preceding year they did little to sustain and effectively undercut President Mahmoud Abbas‚ authority.


On Saturday, Hamas formally took charge of the Palestinian National Authority, a milestone in the history of the Palestinian people. Some worry that it could become their tombstone.


The EU, particularly Denmark, usually acts as a counterweight to Washington. Copenhagen was instrumental in convincing Washington to accept Hamas participation in the elections. Yet, despite having anticipated the Hamas win, EU member nations remain divided on next steps and the legal implications of terror financing prohibitions. In addition, the cartoon controversy's aftermath has shifted attention from PNA funding alternatives to debates on the responsibilities and consequences of free speech. As the EU attempts to find a cohesive approach, Washington and Tel Aviv have managed to concoct a scheme of their own.


On Tuesday a front page article in the New York Times revealed that a plan is afoot in both capitals to starve the PNA of funds and international support. Such a tactic is collective punishment dressed up as bilateral sanctions.


The real objective is to compel 150,000 civil servants, and the roughly 900,000 relatives their salaries support, to take to the streets, demand the government resign, spark new elections and return Fatah. Yet the "you reap what you sow" policy (i.e., Palestinians elected Hamas, so Palestinians suffer the consequences) is a dangerous, double-edged sword that should not be wielded without adequate appreciation for the possible outcomes. With over 70% of the Palestinians hovering just above or well below the poverty line, they may well blame Hamas for their economic strangulation, particularly if the party fails to adopt a compromise position. In such an event, the scenario outlined above is plausible.


Yet this seemingly perfect plan has a significant downside. Fatah will not reform. Why should they? The process is painful and destabilizing in the short-term as positions are cut, security services reordered and patronage excesses curbed. What's the incentive? They are assured that the reins of power (and the government purse) are theirs to misuse and plunder at will.


But what if Hamas does endeavor to make a few but not all of the changes demanded by Tel Aviv and Washington? Hamas leadership may shrewdly decide to buy some time by adopting Ariel Sharon's strategy. Sharon staked out such hard line positions that he transformed the most modest compromise into a major event. Hamas can do the same. After taking a few credible steps forward, the international community will debate the merits of the effort, fissures will deepen, and a number of countries will continue to provide assistance in the interim. Hamas can use this cushion to raise funds in the region, improve governance and services at home, and slowly broaden its electoral base.


Were this to occur, then Palestinians may just as easily turn their anger on Washington and Tel Aviv. The streets of Ramallah and Gaza City are not the only ones likely to show a surge of anti-American and anti-Israeli demonstrations. With outrage over the cartoons simmering in the SMS-connected and IT-savvy "ummah", an obvious and catastrophic demonstration of American and Israeli pique could galvanize public opinion once more.


Countries bordering Palestine are likely to erupt in opposition. Lebanon, whose own law and order is largely dependent on its neighbors will face yet another challenge to its security. As always, Damascus is likely to exploit the situation to its own advantage. Enough reason for Washington to reconsider.


The potential for Hamas to outflank the US and Israel is quite real, particularly as elections in both countries hobble already straight jacketed political sense and sensibility.


Oddly enough, one of the less obvious results of the election seems to have escaped strategists' attention: Hamas did not win or failed to secure large margins in towns and municipalities that it already controls. In other words, were sound minds to prevail, they might counsel patience. Hamas showed remarkable discipline in the run-up to the elections and maintained the ceasefire with Israel, though other groups broke it. Let Hamas govern, have to deliver on pre-election pledges, and suffer the consequences of its own, not Washington or Tel Aviv-inspired, actions.


Fortunately, there are a few individuals with enough sense, and perhaps enough "wasta", to urge Bush to reconsider. In an interview last week, former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer said, "we have principles, we're not going to deal with terrorists, and we're not going to deal with parties which don't recognize Israel's right to exist. But we can deal with a Palestinian Authority which remains loyal to those positions, even if the parliamentary support of the authority has a different aspect." Kurtzer added, "I think if we're agile enough in our diplomacy, we can at least keep alive the prospect of an engagement with the PA, should that kind of government emerge." Such political finesse could give all parties enough cover to constructively, if cautiously, engage. Shrewd allies should mobilize to encourage such an outcome. There is much more at stake than Palestinians' salaries.


* Maggie Mitchell Salem is a political and communications consultant based in Washington, DC. Previously, she was director of communications at the Middle East Institute and a special assistant to former secretary of state Madeleine Albright.







Gideon Eshet


Source: Ynet (, February 16, 2006. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to republish.


Tel Aviv - There was a large demonstration last month in Tehran, Iran. For some reason, the media, and not only the Israeli press, chose to ignore the bus drivers strike broken by the right-wing theocracy. A British organization found that more than 1,000 drivers were arrested. There's a lesson in this small story: Even the media is partner to attempts to present the Iranian regime as radical Islamist, anti-Western, anti-Israel bloc. And so it does not report on the struggle of a professional trade union. In any event, we consider the word "strike" to be a dirty word, and a bus drivers' strike is the dirtiest word of all.


This is also related to Hamas. Suddenly, after the carnival of pluralism that enveloped us during the Gaza pullout, now we've got ideological unity: We don't talk to Hamas. Olmert, Netanyahu and Peretz agree: Hamas is a terrorist organization. The fact that the group won power won't move us from our current position. We don't talk with terrorists who want to kill us. Very good, absolutely correct, very patriotic. But what should we do with the pooh?


Swimming with sewage


It's a geographic issue. When a Palestinian goes to the bathroom in Gaza, there is a good chance the sewage will grace swimmers off the coast of Ashkelon and Ashdod. There's about 10 million cubic meters of it each year. This happens because currents along the eastern Mediterranean run south-to-north.


In the West Bank - 40 million cubic meters - the chances of Israel encountering Palestinian waste are even better, and the potential consequences even more serious. When a woman in Nablus relieves herself it seeps underground - into the channels that supply our drinking water.


This is also a matter of geography: Nablus is higher than the Alexander Creek. And so the laws of gravity will ensure that what comes out of Nablus is sure to reach us.


Treating the problem


Foreign governments have provided millions of dollars in aid for the Palestinians to build sewage treatment plants. Now that the Palestinian government is in financial crisis - that will only get worse in the near future if Israel steals the tax money it collects on behalf of the Palestinians - the sewage treatment plant will not be built, and the money will go to pay the salaries of Palestinian "police" officers.


Israel has a supreme interest in treating Palestinian sewage before it reaches our water sources. Water quality is a supreme matter of health. But what can we do if our neighbors up on top of the mountain relieve themselves all over us? We can go on playing the argument game, as it relates to sewage just as it relates to terrorism. Or we can try to talk.


Israeli interest


It is in Israel's interest - it seems appropriate to put the issue in its proper place - to make sure the treatment plants get built, even if we have to pay for them ourselves. Whereas we've got money, they've got malaria. Political arguments - whether they recognize Israel or stop terror attacks - will not stop the flow of sewage.


Squaring the circle will require a creative solution. We can continue refusing to talk to Hamas about politics. We need not talk about final status agreements, interim agreements, the war on terror. But it would be stupid to refuse talks about sewage. The appropriate and wise thing to do, before our declaration that "We're not talking to Hamas" becomes holier than God Himself, would be to talk to Hamas.



This dialogue can also focus on something else. Palestinian tax money that we collect on their behalf should be used for a joint Israel-Hamas waste management project. Because from our perspective, a Hamas member who builds such a plant is just like that Iranian bus driver - he is undermining the anti-Israeli regime. If not, we can stick to being right, and suffer the consequences of malaria and cholera.


Gideon Eshet is a Yedioth Ahronoth journalist and regular commentator on economic affairs.






Rami G. Khouri


Source: The Daily Star (, February 22, 2006. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to republish.


Beirut - We are in 1992 once again. Will the victorious Islamist political movement Hamas be allowed to govern in Palestine, as the triumphant Islamic Salvation Front was not allowed to do after it won the first round of Algerian elections in 1992? The denial of incumbency to the Algerian Islamists resulted in a bitter and bloody civil war that cost thousands of lives over a decade. It set back the democratization trend in the Middle East by at least a decade, at a crucial moment after the Cold War when democracy was spreading throughout the world.


Decisions made today may be equally fateful. How the United States, Europe and Israel respond to Hamas' assuming control of the government in Palestine may well define political trends and militant violence throughout much of the Middle East for years to come. This is because several historical factors have converged to make the success or failure of a Hamas-led Palestinian government a litmus test for broad perceptions and relations between the U.S. and the Arab world.


At stake here are several major issues: the future direction of the democratic wave that is slowly moving throughout the Middle East; the fate of America's credibility with the Arab-Islamic world on promoting freedom and democracy; the possibility of achieving a negotiated Arab-Israeli peace in the coming years; the balance between, on the one hand, the majority of mainstream political Islamists such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and, on the other hand, radical terrorists like Osama bin Laden; the legitimacy and staying power of most so-called "moderate" Arab regimes that are close to the U.S.; and the situation Washington faces in Iraq and in its so-called "global war on terror."


Not surprisingly, the Bush administration's response to Hamas was a main theme at the annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, organized by the Brookings Institution and the Qatari government. The prevalent sentiment among Arabs and Muslims from other parts of the world was that Hamas should be given an opportunity to form a government and declare its policy program before it is sanctioned through aid cut-offs or other such punitive measures, as Israel has already imposed. American participants generally seemed less convinced, wanting specific assurances that Hamas would end its military resistance against Israel and recognize its existence.


My own sense is that the Hamas victory provides a rare historical opportunity to achieve goals that all the main parties should welcome - Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and Europeans. The best possible scenario would be for the U.S. to repeat its existing opposition to Hamas' military resistance and terror against Israeli civilians, but state that it will continue to deal with a legitimately elected Palestinian government that adheres to existing agreements and aims to achieve a negotiated peace settlement based on Israeli and Palestinian states living peacefully side-by-side. The Hamas-led Palestinian government, after consultations with Arab states, should declare its acceptance of the 2002 Arab peace proposal endorsed in Beirut, which offers coexistence with Israel in its 1967 borders and requires a fair resolution of the Palestine refugee problem. The Arab plan is almost identical to Hamas' position on Israel, so it should not be difficult to accept it.


The U.S. can achieve several goals by responding slowly, clearly and positively to Hamas and engaging it in a diplomatic dialogue. It would cement the cease-fire in Israel and Palestine and nudge Palestinians and Israelis toward the negotiating table; enhance Arab confidence on democracy; make it easier for all Arabs to cooperate with the U.S. in other fields, including Iraq; create conditions in which Islamists who govern are forced by circumstances to be increasingly moderate, pragmatic and realistic; and mobilize the silent majority in the Arab world to delegitimise and perhaps end the terrorism of Osama bin Laden and his ilk.


Israel and its slightly hysterical polemicists and lobbyists in Washington are in overdrive these days. They wish to prevent any possible thoughtful American response that gives Hamas time to show whether it is willing to move toward a position that accepts Israel's existence, in return for legitimate Palestinian demands for an end to the occupation, the birth of a Palestinian state and a fair resolution of the refugee issue.


If the U.S. follows Israel by isolating and sanctioning Hamas and punishing the Palestinians for electing it, the potential consequences are grim: the government in Palestine could collapse and chaos might reign again; most Arabs (and people throughout the entire world) would deem the U.S. totally unreliable and non-credible in its talk of promoting democracy; radical terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda would win more converts from frustrated Islamists who would feel that they followed the more moderate Hamas line to no avail; anti-American sentiment and militancy would rise throughout the region; the exposed U.S. position in Iraq would become increasingly difficult and dangerous; anti-American populism championed by Syria and Iran would expand rapidly, and find grim new forms of expression; and, Arab regimes friendly to the U.S. would become more exposed and vulnerable to their own peoples' anger.


The choice is laden with momentous consequences. Washington should recognize the historic opportunity that stares it in the face, and for once adopt a Middle Eastern policy that is a win-win situation for all concerned.


Rami G. Khouri writes a regular commentary for The Daily Star.






Patricia Golan


Source: Israel21c (,February 12, 2006. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to republish.


Jerusalem - There is no sign on the main highway to the Israeli town of Arad in the northern Negev telling you where the village of Drijat is. Only when you have driven down an off-road for four kilometres do you finally see the homemade sign.


But behind the anonymity of the village is an achievement that makes it unique. It recently became the first community in the country - and in the world - to be outfitted with a multipurpose solar electricity system for providing power to the entire village.


The project, initiated by The Ministry of National Infrastructure, The Negev Development Authority and MK Shimon Peres' office for developing the Negev and Galilee, has lit up the streets and mosque of this tidy little village.


Situated at the foothills of the Hebron Hills, Drijat is the only Palestinian Arab village in the Negev. The residents traditionally are agricultural labourers as opposed to Bedouin nomads. The 850 residents of Drijat all belong to the same clan - Abu Hamad. The village was established 150 years ago by the Abu Hamad family from Mount Hebron, who lived in caves they carved in the centre of the village. After the establishment of the State of Israel they built permanent stone houses.


Until recently Drijat, like many other Arab communities in the Negev, was not recognized by the government. This meant it was not connected to the water, power or other services. After fighting the bureaucracy for decades, two years ago the villagers finally won formal recognition from the state. And now the government is trying to make up for lost time in providing fundamental services to the residents of Drijat.


To accomplish this, they hired Interdan, a private Israeli natural-electricity company, to carry out the actual installation and management of the project. The energy is collected by eight solar photovoltaic panels fitted on the rooftops, then stored in a DC battery system which converts it to AC. It provides a stable current of the same quality as the electric company provides (or would provide were it hooked up to the village!) according to Interdan, the batteries will supply electricity at night and on cloudy days - for four days without direct sunlight, a rare occurrence in the Negev desert.


"What is unique is that we are trying to convert the entire village to a modern solar village, not just installing individual systems to run telephones, like they do in Africa," Gil Nezer, Interdan's marketing director, told ISRAEL21c.


What this system can't support are air conditioners and heaters which would quickly consume all the stored up energy. Generators are still used at night.


"The hope is to reduce the use of generators once the whole village is connected to solar panels," says Nezer. "The main thing is that we can use electricity during the day."


That fact has already stared changing the lives of the residents. Housewife Tagrid Abu Hamad shows us around her spacious home which has been outfitted with one of the solar systems. "Now the kids have something to do during the day - they can watch TV or use the computer. I don't have to worry about them," she told ISRAEL21c. "We used to light candles, and this is dangerous."


Tagrid's neighbour, Nasser Abu Hamad, agrees. "This is particularly important for the children. Instead of roaming around outside, and the parents not knowing where they are, they can watch TV or use the computer. And it helps them study."


Now with the installation of solar electricity systems, after relying on noisy, unstable and polluting private generators for years, the residents will be able to use household appliances powered by natural "green" electricity, even at night or on cloudy days.


So far, the system - manufactured by the Canadian company Xantrex - has been installed in 20 of the 100 households, the science and computer rooms of the local school, the mosque and the streetlights in the village.


The village is also now illuminated with streetlights powered by solar panels atop poles fixed along the streets. Abu Hamad says that in the past it was uncomfortable coming home late at night. "Everything was shut down and dark. Now the village is lit up and you can see everything. There's a feeling of more security." Also visible at night for the first time is the village mosque - its green dome dramatically lit up. Abu Hamad is convinced this is the first mosque in the world that is powered by solar panels.


The long process by which the Drijat families decided who would get the initial units had its own social dynamics. The key was how many family members were living in a house, but those with seriously ill family members were pushed to the top of the list. The requirements for solar energy - sun, wind and high levels of radiation - are readily available in the region, but have been left largely untapped for energy production. Interdan's Nezer says the company hopes Drijat will serve as a model for spreading solar electricity throughout Israel.


Patricia Golan is a journalist based in Jerusalem.






Rami Khouri


Source: The Jordan Times (, February 17-18, 2006. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to republish.


Beirut - When religious blasphemy and genocide denial converge, watch out: we're in for a rough ride. This may be the case in the controversy over the offensive Danish cartoons equating the Prophet Mohammad and Islam with terrorism.


One of the most unnecessary, unfortunate and dangerous aspects of this matter has been the slow introduction into the discussion of the issue of the Holocaust by various Arabs, Iranians and other Muslims, and the counter-accusations that this is simply a new form of rabid anti-Semitism.


Sadly, this is not an isolated or unusual phenomenon. It occurs often, whenever a contemporary political or religious argument in the Middle East touches on Israel. Legitimate political accusations against Israeli state policies - illegal colonial settlements, for example, or bombing civilian quarters and killing babies along with wanted militants - often become lost among either of two equally reproachable phenomena. Israelis, and slightly hysterical pro-Israeli quarters in the United States, quickly accuse Arabs and Muslims who challenge Israeli policies of being anti-Semitic, while some Arabs and Muslims are baited, or on their own degenerate into Holocaust denial.


This trajectory seems to be at work again these days in relation to the Danish cartoons, in particular in view of the announcement Monday that one of Iran's biggest newspapers has launched a Holocaust caricature competition. The paper, Hamshahri, initiated the contest under the title, "What is the Limit of Western Freedom of Expression"?


This is a most disturbing development at the moral level, and extremely counterproductive at the political level. It will surely escalate the existing penchant of sinister polemicists and provocateurs on both sides to transform a legitimate debate about religiously offensive cartoons into a mindless, destructive mud-slinging match about whether Jews should live or die, and whether Muslims and Arabs were fully human, moral and rational.


Both parties that foment this anti-Jewish, anti-Islamic frenzy are equally despicable. It is bad enough that devious or ignorant minds in Denmark and other Western places have resorted to arguments as press freedom and secular modernity to rationalize the blasphemous, insulting cartoons about the Prophet Mohammad and Islam. It is equally regrettable that some Iranians and others in this region should respond with the same sort of gutter behavior.


Europe seems to have received the message that publishing the offensive cartoons is inappropriate and unacceptable, on the grounds of basic human decency at least. The many, mostly peaceful, popular demonstrations by Islamic communities around the world, combined with diplomatic, media and religious expressions, seem to have sparked a genuine sense of regret about the cartoons among many Danes and others in the West. This is likely to lead to more constructive engagements with Muslims and others around the world on the many important issues involved. These include: secularism, religiosity, identity, modernity, press freedom and responsibility, and religious pluralism, tolerance and respect.


The last thing we need now is for an Iranian newspaper to sponsor a contest on Holocaust cartoons, or for websites in Europe to publish cartoons that slander Jews or ridicule the Holocaust. These are grotesque examples of precisely what we should not do. Arabs, Iranians, Muslims and all people who value faith and human decency must not stoop to the same sort of degenerate racism that some in Europe have practiced in their relaxed attitude to blaspheming Islamic dignity, identity and religious sanctity.


The appropriate antidote to Western Islamophobia and racism against Arabs and Muslims is not counter-racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. If some Iranians and Arabs want to fight back against the illegal and inhuman policies and assorted crimes of the state of Israel against Palestinians, I would suggest a better way would be to pick from the following options:


˜ Start a worldwide drive to support Palestinian universities under Israeli occupation.

˜ Promote a global support system for Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem.

˜ Mobilize the lawyers and judges of the world to challenge Israeli practices in credible courts of law.

˜ Build 1,000 new nursery schools for Palestinian children.

˜ Launch a high-profile campaign for the whole world to engage peacefully with the new, democratically elected Palestinian government to be formed soon.

˜ Sponsor institutions that allow Christians, Muslims and Jews in Israel and Palestine to collectively discuss and manifest their shared moral and religious heritage, which affirms life and dignity, rather than death and insults.

˜ Start a serious international academic program that would study the parallels between the Israeli colonization and control of the occupied territories with the parallel apartheid system that ultimately collapsed in South Africa.

˜ Demand diplomatic action to ensure free export lanes for Palestinian agricultural produce.

˜ Match a well-off family in the world with a needy Palestinian family in occupied lands or in Palestinian refugee camps, to ensure that every Palestinian boy and girl has enough money to complete secondary education, and has a chance to go to college or post-secondary vocational school.


We should respond to the inhumanity of the insulting cartoons and the ugly emotions behind them by affirming our commitment to life, truth and positive human values.


Rami G. Khouri writes a regular commentary for The Daily Star.





Rabbi Jeremy Rose


Source: Common Ground News Service (, February 23, 2006. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission to publish.


New York - We have just celebrated the Jewish New Year for Trees to reinforce our appreciation of nature and God‚s gifts. The olive tree in particular is associated with peace ever since Noah sent the dove out of the ark and she came back with an olive branch. Nowadays olive trees are bearing the brunt of hatred in the hills of Judea.


There are biblical laws against cutting down trees needlessly. Mankind is compared to the tree of the field, growing slowly, producing and nourishing yet easily cut off in an instant. In the Talmud there is the famous story of a man planting a carob tree that will not bear fruit in his lifetime saying, ŒI found a world with trees in it that my grandparents planted, so I must provide similarly for my grandchildren.‚


Vandals have been destroying Arab olive trees in Judea and Samaria. It‚s part of a hidden war of attrition on both sides. Just as some Muslims on the West Bank make it tough for Christians in the hope they will leave, so settlers try to deprive local Arabs of a living in the hope that they will move on. Each side always finds justification and provocation. But I had thought the army had it under control. So it was with great sadness that I read the following recent report in the Israeli press:


"Over the past year there have been dozens of sabotage incidents of Palestinian-owned olive groves by settlers. As recently as last month more than 1,000 olive trees have been cut down on six different occasions. Judea and Samaria District police told Haaretz that 672 investigation files were opened in 2005 for "disruption of order by Israelis against Palestinian  property."


Attorney General Menachem Mazuz told the cabinet that Israel should give monetary compensation to Palestinians whose olive trees have been cut down. The excuse that there is a lack of resources is unacceptable," said Mazuz. "This is a matter of priority."‚


In a second story, Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz noted he has ordered the establishment of a special team to investigate the destruction of over 2,000 olive trees belonging to Palestinians in the West Bank:


"Mofaz said in the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday that, following the findings of an investigation into the matter, he ordered security forces to increase their presence in areas where trees have been destroyed, to carry out a policy of quick and effective arrests and to compensate the Palestinian tree owners".


The Jerusalem Post, not at all left wing, had the following report on January 13th:


"While the army plans to launch special operations to catch the perpetrators, officials on Thursday slammed what they called the police's constant failure to arrest the suspects. On Tuesday, head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Yuval Diskin criticized the police's failure to effectively prevent settlers from vandalizing Palestinian olive orchards.‚


Who are 'settlers'? It‚s a general term that is applied to anyone living beyond the old 1967 armistice borders. But it covers a range of people from religious to secular, economic settlers to ideological ones, aggressive to spiritual, pacifist mystics, criminals to law-abiding innocents. Sadly, amongst them are to be found those who resist the democratic process in Israel and refuse to try to live amicably with anyone who disagrees with them. They include no small number of 'Hill Top Kids'--delinquents and petty criminals, dropouts from society who use the cover of 'ideology' to indulge their own antisocial neuroses.


Whenever I read irrational, vituperative attacks on Zionism or Israel that are so totally lacking in any proportionality, I always determine to resist writing articles that are in any way critical of Israel. But then I pick up the Œ Jewish Press‚ in New York and see such ill-conceived apologetics that I think, "To heck with our enemies; let's just try some home truths". If I had seen an article excusing the work as the result of a few sick minds amongst the settlers I would have accepted it as at least an explanation. But this is what was written in a prominent article in the Jewish Press by Steven Plaut from Haifa University (the Alma Mater of the notorious Ilan Pappe--clearly extremes breed extremes):


"The simple answer is that the accusations are baseless. It would be hard to find another set of baseless rumors turned into 'news'. Not a single Israeli settler has been convicted of damaging Arab trees [That‚s like saying no one in Europe has been convicted this year of anti-Semitic attacks and therefore there have been none. JR] and several more plausible explanations for the cutting of the trees have been  provided. A small number of trees have been cut down by the Israeli Army because they were being used by Palestinian snipers. The Israeli government has been paying compensation to Palestinians who claim their trees have been vandalized and that is why more and more complaints are being made"!


As if tight-fisted Israeli exchequers under economic pressure are going to dole out compensation for no good reason!!! Sadly our world is full of irrational fanatics. We need to remember that we have our own.


Rabbi Jeremy Rosen is Professor and Chairman, The Faculty for Comparative Religion in Antwerp, Belgium, and Director of YAKAR Educational Foundation, UK.





Dear colleagues,


Attached below is a declaration by a newly formed group–-an Emergency Network of Cuban American Scholars and Artists for Change in U.S.-Cuba Policy (ENCASA/US-CUBA).  The statement, which is self-explanatory, was drafted by a steering committee (listed below) that has met and worked over the past several weeks, with a sense of urgency, to mobilize the largely silent and silenced voice of academics and professionals and to stimulate concerted action aimed to reverse a politically failed and morally bankrupt U.S.-Cuba policy–-as most recently reflected in the arrogant and extreme 2004 Report to the President: Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba (which had the temerity even to redefine away our own families in Cuba).


We are collecting the names of both non-Cuban American and Cuban American intellectuals and academics, scholars and artists, who support our call for a reversal of U.S.-Cuba policy, and who want to see educational and cultural exchanges with Cuba and to exercise their right as U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba without the intimidation and prohibitions of current policy.  We ask you to support this effort; and, if you can, to forward the attached statement (with this e-mail or a note of your own) to others you know (scholars, artists, public intellectuals, academics, professionals) who would be willing to do so.


If you agree in principle with the attached statement, please e-mail your name, title, and institutional affiliation/profession to <>, and indicate (in the subject line or the text of your e-mail) whether you are or are not Cuban American (since we are maintaining two separate lists).


We want to act quickly to generate as many names as possible, and continue this recruitment effort over the next few weeks, starting at the Latin American Studies Association meetings in Puerto Rico in a few days.  U.S.-Cuba policy is expected to take yet another a turn for the worse come May; in anticipation of this we are planning to send a delegation to Washington DC in April, and to use what political and moral authority we can muster as scholars and artists, public intellectuals and professionals, to articulate a reasoned and forceful repudiation of current policy and to push for an alternative vision.


Let us not abdicate our moral responsibility to speak our truth to power, or allow a clique that does not represent our views to continue to claim that they speak for all Cuban Americans (or for all USAmericans, for that matter), or continue to remain silent and intimidated in our homes and ivory towers when an incessant stream of outrages continues to be perpetrated in our name.  Let us instead speak up and act as moral agents and catalysts for change.


We hope to hear from you as soon as possible.  Muchas gracias,


Rubén G. Rumbaut


p.s.  Members of the steering committee include María Isabel Alfonso and Lillian Manzor (University of Miami); Ruth Behar (University of Michigan); Marta Caminero-Santangelo (University of Kansas); Max Castro (Independent Scholar); María Cristina García (Cornell University); Liz Cerejido, Guillermo Grenier and Lisandro Pérez (Florida International University); Félix Masud-Piloto (DePaul University); Rubén G. Rumbaut (University of California, Irvine); and Silvia Wilhelm (Executive Director, Puentes Cubanos).


Rubén G. Rumbaut, Professor of Sociology and Co-Director, Center for Research on Immigration, Population, and Public Policy, 3151 Social Science Plaza, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697.







Kamran Mofid , Friday, June17, 2005

Republished with the author's permission


Dear Honourable Presidents and Prime Ministers,

Gleneagles, Scotland .


Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.

— Nelson Mandela


The most basic right of all humanity is to eat three decent meals a day. Hunger is actually the worst weapon of mass destruction. It claims millions of victims each year. There will be no peace without development and no development without social justice.

— Luiz da Silva


Poverty is a breeding ground for discontent. There is a sense of injustice. We have got to act if we are going to avoid the development of terrorist cells.

— Gordon Brown


Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.

— Albert Schweitzer


The continuous existence of such high levels of abject poverty in Africa and elsewhere in the world in its very nature is an affront to God and humanity and thus can never be justified. You, the leaders of the G8, have an opportunity in the coming weeks to begin to reverse this inhumanity and injustice, once and for all, and leave your mark on history.


This open letter is a message from Africa, the Africans, in association with their non-African brethrens who recently attended an international conference, Africa: the Quest for Justice and Peace, which was held in Kenya:  Conference Declaration:


The right way to eliminate poverty and heal our broken world:


1- To make poverty history is mainly mobilized around the concept of justice. In many cases, challenging injustice is the first step towards the elimination of poverty. To do justice is to feel the pain and to become one with the sufferer; is to ask fundamental questions about the roots of injustice and to fight for their removals. It is then that poverty can be eliminated.


2- All manners of policies and theories have been tested on Africa. All failing and all bringing Africans a bitter harvest. This is so, because what has been tried has not been in harmony with Africa’s civilization, spirituality and culture. Without a deep understanding of these, we cannot begin to find development strategies that are going to work in Africa or any where else in the world. “One size fits all” economic strategy of development- obsessed only with economic reform, an ever expanding free-market liberalism, structural adjustments, privatization, deregulation and more of the same- has been nothing but a global tragedy. It would be an affront to our humanity and decency to ignore this.


3- Material wellbeing, economic growth and wealth creation are important. But, to create a world of true happiness, peace and wellbeing, wealth must be created for a noble reason. Economics, commerce and trade, without a true understanding of the aspirations of the people it is affecting, cannot bring justice to all. Social transformation can be achieved only when unselfish love, spirituality and a rigorous pursuit of justice are embraced. Moreover, Millennium Development Goals, Commission for Africa recommendations and more will only be achieved when unselfish love and the pursuit of justice guides the motivations, not more free trade or more privatization for example. Here the wise words of Albert Einstein ring true: “The world cannot get out of its current state of crisis with the same thinking that got it there in the first place”.


4- We need a “Spiritual Revolution” so that as Archbishop William Temple once so eloquently remarked, “The art of government in fact is the art of so ordering life that self-interest prompts what justice demands”. If we truly want to change the world for the better, all of us, the politicians, business community, workers, men and women, young and old, must truly become better ourselves. We must share a common understanding of the potential for each one of us to become self-directed, empowered and active in defining this time in the world as an opportunity for positive change and healing. We can achieve a culture of peace by giving thanks, spreading joy, sharing love and understanding, seeing miracles, discovering goodness, embracing kindness and forgiveness, practicing patience, teaching tolerance, encouraging laughter, celebrating and respecting the diversity of cultures and religions and peacefully resolving conflicts. We must each of us become an instrument of peace.


It is worth remembering the centuries-old wisdom of the Persian poet, Sa’di:


Human beings are like parts of a body

Created from the same essence.

When one part is hurt and in pain,

The others cannot remain in peace and be quiet.

If the misery of others leaves you indifferent

And with no feelings of sorrow,

You cannot be called a human being.


Ideals into practice: Healing the Scar of Africa:


The acknowledgement of God, Ultimate Reality, or the One. Our lives are grounded in an Ultimate Reality, the source of the sacredness of all life and of the spiritual power, hope, and trust that we discover in prayer or meditation, in word or silence, and in our striving for just relationships with all existence.


The investment of Spiritual Capital. The most powerful way for faith and spiritual communities to influence beliefs, norms and institutions is through prophetic voice and public action. Highly visible faith and interfaith affirmation of the great spiritual truths of peace, justice, and the sacredness of the Earth and all life can make a tremendous contribution to Globalisation for the Common Good. Action and service by spiritual and faith communities and groups can provide a vital source of inspiration and energy for the healing of the world.


The practice of selfless Love. The most important point of convergence shared by the world’s great spiritual traditions is to be found in the practice and power of selfless love for all humanity. It is the wellspring of the best hope for a better future.


The cultivation of interfaith Dialogue and Engagement. It is absolutely vital that religious and spiritual communities come together with one another in honest and open dialogue. It is also essential that these communities enter into dialogue with secular groups, organizations and governments working for a better world. Religious and spiritual communities - in mutual respect and partnership - must engage the critical issues that face the planetary community as the 21st century unfolds.


The nurturing of cultures of Peace. True cultural evolution is perhaps best measured in the growing rejection of violent approaches to conflict resolution in favour of the cultivation of the infrastructures of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. Our greatest contribution to the future lies in ensuring that our children grow to maturity in cultures of peace.


The struggle for Justice. Justice is the heart of all creation. It is the profound feeling of oneness with all other beings in the universe. Today, it finds its most vital expression in social and economic fairness, concern for others and the vigorous defence of human rights.


The realization of Gender Partnership. Challenging the assumptions and infrastructures of patriarchy is essential to cultural evolution. Women and men, living and working together in harmony and equity, can build stronger, more creative religious communities and societies.


The path of Sustainability. In this rapidly changing world, our reverence for the Earth will determine the fate of the entire community of planetary life. This deep, visionary and unconditional caring for what is yet to come, is the love of life embedded in ecological sustainability.


The commitment to Service. Service is our link to spirit. Personal action for a better world is the discernable manifestation of the divine in the human. The essence of service is the grace of giving. We give because giving is how life begins and how it continues. This process will enhance personal responsibility for the common good.


We affirm that economics is, above all, concerned with human well-being and happiness in society and with care for the Earth. This cannot be separated from moral and spiritual considerations. The idea of a “value-free” economics is spurious. It demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be a human being.




The choice is yours. Please make it happen. In contrast to the people of Europe who have been able to reject the “spiritually” impoverished proposed EU Constitution, the people of Africa have not been given the right to vote on the free-market liberalism and its “Structural adjustments”.


Kamran Mofid, PhD (ECON), Founder-Convenor, An Inter-faith Perspective on Globalisation for the Common Good (





©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.