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Israeli-Palestinian peace also requires deconstructing the myth of the enemy

(La paix israélo-palestinienne passe aussi par la déconstruction du mythe de l’"ennemi")

Claire MOUCHARAFIEH

05 / 1994

Founded in 1984 with the aim of encouraging the condition for real cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians on the basis of coexistence, solidarity and equality, the Alternative Information Center produces information and analyses concerning the social and political reality of both national communities. The AIC is one of the rare "mixed" Israeli associations, at both the level of its members and that of its management board. For many years it has published two newsletters: one a monthly called "News from Within", the other a weekly called "The Other Front" which focuses more on the pro-peace Israelis.

Since the Israeli-Palestinian framework agreement was signed in 1993, the AIC, fully committed to the fight against the occupation, has been occupied by a fundamental debate on the conditions of building real and sustainable peace based on cooperation. Convinced that peace cannot be built exclusively between the political leaders but also between the societies they represent, the AIC believes that much work remains to be done to break down the barriers of fear and hate so that diplomatic "mutual recognition" takes root at individual and community levels. Major obstacles remain: the Israelis’ ostracism and anxiety is perpetuated by their education and the media, whereas the Palestinians’ anger and retreat into themselves is fuelled by every new injustice in the field. This dual phenomenon of defiance strengthens the extremism in both societies. For the members of this association, the current process can mostly be assimilated with a truce based on political pragmatism and exclusion. A large part of the Israeli peace movement, more interested by exclusively political initiatives than by education for peace, exacerbates this trend: the separation of two peoples rather than their coexistence, is generally considered as the only aim of the current peace process. For the AIC, this "ideal" of separate peace cannot be seen as being viable from every angle. First of all because it is based on the a priori that suspicion and hate cannot be overcome, although they perpetuate the conflict; secondly, because the future of the two nations is inevitably intertwined (sharing of land, water and resources); and, lastly, because they turn their backs on the geopolitical realities of the 21st century which will demand all sorts of cooperation. Cooperation between the two peoples will be indispensable, not only for the economy and infrastructures but also to promote educational, social and cultural alliances.

At present, the fragmentation characterising the peace movement harms its efficiency to act. The different constituent groups are scattered, separated from each other, and there is no common strategy. Thus the groups operating in a given region are unaware of what is happening elsewhere. Groups having a religious base have no contact with "citizens" associations, nor is there any dialogue between young Jews and Arabs, etc. This absence of unity and coordination prevents any accumulation of information and any capitalization of experience. Everyone has the feeling that they are starting from scratch, even when they are merely following on from previous practices and experiences. Furthermore, contacts with international peace movements are clearly inadequate. Working in a network is nonetheless vital in terms of opening out to the outside world, sharing experiences and comparing strategies, so as to enrich and increase the efficiency of the peace and solidarity movements in Israel/Palestine.

The AIC has decided to devote some of its energy and activity to setting up a research project named "Building peace by cooperation", whose aim is to improve understanding of this "art" of peace and to develop new strategies. This process of research-action aims at increasing the peace movement’s present capacity to :

- call into question mutual destructive perceptions so as to break the cycle of hate and violence and eliminate mutual fear and suspicion,

- develop public awareness of history, culture and the struggles of both peoples by working simultaneously to reestablish equality,

- demonstrate to both sides the legitimate political rights of the other,

- create models of cooperation based on the respect and vision of a common future.

The originality of this project depends in particular on the importance given to the practical and theoretical activity and experience of groups of Israeli and Palestinian women. In spite of their diversity, women’s committees have for long put into practice the central idea of coexistence. More than others, they underline the importance of developing interpersonal relations at grass-roots level and they work concretely to deconstruct the myth of the "enemy". They also attempt to restore substance to the concept of difference so that it is understood as a potential source of resistance rather than antagonism in the fight against oppression in its different forms.

This work of research and action started in the spring of 1994, and it should last from 12 to 16 months.

1)It first entails accumulating information on all the local groups that have worked for coexistence during the last ten years, in order to identify the obstacles, the failures and also the progress accomplished. Emphasis will be given to actions aimed at transforming perceptions of the "other" in one’s own camp.

2)The second stage (6 months)will consist of studying the different "models" of coexistence, by highlighting in particular the specific contribution of women (e.g., the Black Sea Sash in South Africa, Madre in Latin America and the United States, Belgrade Women in Black, etc.). To do this, contacts will be made with foreign groups active in the reconciliation processes stemming from different historical and political contexts (Northern Ireland, South Africa, Latin and Central America). To make research easier, the global electronic PeaceNet network will also be used. The accumulated knowledge and information gathered will be analysed in the light of the Israeli-Palestine situation to determine what know-how and methods can be transposed.

3)The last four months will be devoted to setting up a "program" of strategic actions for coexistence and cooperation. Specific work will be devoted to expansion in order to integrate groups, especially Palestinian ones, which have not been involved in this movement so far.

Mots-clés

paix, éducation à la paix, solidarité, société civile, passage de la guerre à la paix, capitalisation de l’expérience


, Palestine, Israël

Notes

This sheet is based on documents from the Alternative Information Center which presents the project and the general context in which it is carried out. The CCFD gives financial backing to the project (study grants). Contact : Alternative Information Center. PO Box 31417. Jerusalem. Israel. Tel. (972)2-24 11 59; Fax. (972)2- 25 31 51. Original text in French in this data base.

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