Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Walking to a Place of Understanding
June 24, 2009
For many Americans, 9/11 marked the start of a new era that represented just about anything other than greater inter-faith dialogue and understanding. An era of fear, terror, war and suspicion—yes. The last thing anyone would expect to gain from the events of 9/11 is an enlightened interaction between Jews and Muslims and an attempt to spread a message of tolerance between the two faiths.
In Tucson, Arizona, however, this has been the case for the past 6 years. Since 9/11, there has been a heightened level of dialogue between Jews and Muslims, supported and expressed by the city’s annual Jewish-Muslim Peace Walk. The event’s goal each year is to get people talking to people outside of their regular circles about what’s going on and to promote mutual understanding between Tucson residents of the two faiths. It seems to have been a pre-emptive measure taken by the city’s residents to prevent what has happened in many other parts of the country and the world—a greater rift between people of different religions and cultures, and an ever-increasing fear and marginalization of Muslims in America.
The walk this year, which took place in March, began at a Jewish Synagogue and ended at a Mosque, where participants expanded their horizons even more with a Thai dinner. The event has a different theme each year, and this year’s theme was water. Participants learned how to spell the word water, as well as other words, in both Arabic and Hebrew.
Although the event is intended to serve only the city of Tucson with its message of coexistence and interfaith dialogue, its message has reached residents of cities as close as Phoenix and as far away as the state of Michigan. Hopefully, the message will resound even further, proving to people everywhere that there is nothing to fear and much to gain from simply taking a walk with someone different from you.
“Two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history”:
Obama’s Promise of Peace in Israel/Palestine
June 24, 2009
This is the quote that kicked off the Israeli-Palestinian conflict portion of President Obama’s June 4th highly anticipated speech in Cairo, Egypt. Within just 4 minutes and 45 seconds, the US’s still fairly new president laid down what he believes is the foundation for peace between Israel and Palestine.
In the speech, President Obama makes it very clear that he supports a two-state solution and makes demands of both sides to change their behavior, lest any chance of peace be lost. Many of the statements made by Obama can be remembered in speeches made by most other American presidents since this conflict has become significant enough for the US not to ignore. However, there were significant differences in Obama’s speech which may give people the notion that we can actually believe that Obama means what he says and that, with his speech, he made have forced the peace process to take a step forward.
It is obvious in his speech that Obama was taking careful steps to be an unbiased as possible. “If we see this conflict from one side or the other,” Obama states, “then we will be blind to the truth. The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met, through two states where Israelis and Palestinians can each live in peace and security.”
It was not these types of statements, however, which set Obama apart from the men who have previously held his position. In the sentence following this statement, Obama says that, “That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest and the world’s interest.” What makes this sentence stand out is the fact that, unlike former US Presidents, Obama refers to the West Bank and Gaza as ‘Palestine’, rather than ‘The Occupied Palestinian Territories’ or something similar, as many former presidents have while in office. What this means for potential future peace between Israel and Palestine is yet to be seen, but in the meantime is has been taken as a very good sign, and a statement that was awarded with loud cheering and clapping by Obama’s audience.
Obama promised to patiently dedicate himself to a peaceful process towards two secure states, but also called on Israelis and Palestinians to live up to their obligations, realize their mutual responsibilities and to remember and live up to past promises for peace. Using a powerful comparison to Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful struggle for civil rights for black Americans, and pointing out that this peaceful struggle has been mirrored in all parts of the world, Obama called on Palestinians to abandon violence.
“Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed,” Obama stated. “For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that one full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia.”
These words, powerful enough on their own, are made all the more convincing and motivating coming from the mouth of America’s first black president. Perhaps without even meaning to, Obama stood as a clear example that what he was saying was right.
Obama insisted that the use of violence is, “…not how moral authority is claimed…that is how it is surrendered,” and called on Palestinians, including Hamas, to refocus their efforts on economic and social development, paving the road for their eventual independence.
Demands were made of Israel as well. Obama insisted that, in order for peace to be possible, Israel must recognize Palestine’s right to exist just as Israel expects Hamas and Palestinians to recognize its own right to exist. “At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s”, Obama stated.
Obama’s biggest criticism of Israeli policies was clearly the continue construction of settlements on Palestinian Territory. He stated that the United States condemns their construction and reminds Israel of past promises not to continue this practice. Of the settlements, Obama stated, “This construction violates previous agreements, and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.” These statements as well as others condemning continued settlement construction were met with loud applause by the audience.
The portion of his speech dedicated to Israeli/Palestinian peace closed out with a reminder to of the basic humanitarian needs that are not being met in the West Bank and Gaza. He called on Israel to live up to its responsibility of ensuring that Palestinians in both areas are able to lead free, happy and fulfilling lives, and called to attention the fact that not doing so only acts against the security of Israel. “Progress in the daily lives of Palestinians must be a critical part of the Roadmap to Peace,” Obama proclaimed. “And Israel must take concrete steps to enable its progress.”
Since Obama’s speech, there has been one faulty promise of a two-state solution made by Israel’s government and rejected by the Palestinian government. Whether or not Obama will put continued pressure on both sides to live up to the expectations he set for them in his speech is yet to be seen. Where this conflict will lie on his list of priorities, along side a crumbling economy, North Korea’s threatening actions, massive protests in Iran, healthcare and immigration reform, a war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the countless other issues the new president is facing, is something I and many others hope he considers very carefully. Hopefully his determination to find peace will not have ended with that speech. Hopefully he will, at some point during his presidency, make a concerted and determined effort to bring about a peaceful resolution. Can we do it in the next four years? Simple logic would likely tell us no, but I prefer to use the campaign slogan that brought Obama to where he is now to answer that question: Yes we can.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I figured I'd post this article I wrote for ALLMEP's website. It took me so long I don't know if it will actually be published, but I figured I'd put it up here anyway. Enjoy!
Building Peace, One Note At A Time
You can call them many things--ambassadors for peace, progress makers, barrier breakers, models of coexistence—just don’t call them off key!
Mira Awad, a Christian Palestinian from Galilee, and Noa (Achinoam Nini), an Israeli Jew, are singers working towards peace and coexistence through the power of their voices, in song form. While many people speak out against violence and war in the region, these two women chose instead to sing about the need for peace in Israel/Palestine. They hope to spread the word of peace to whoever in the world isn’t yet listening, one note at a time.
The duo’s song, “There Must Be Another Way”, was broadcast on this year’s Eurovision contest, in which the pair performed as representatives of Israel. The song’s lyrics are sung in English, Arabic and Hebrew and argue, as its title implies, that there must be an alternative to the present situation. “And when I cry, I cry for both of us…My pain has no name,” the lyrics state, telling the world that both sides of this conflict suffer and that both an Israeli and a Palestinian can relate to the pain the other is feeling.
The performance was aired in the midst of the conflict between Israel and Gaza, causing a flurry of criticism against the duo. An open letter was drafted, asking the pair to withdraw from the competition. The letter stated that the performance was just Israeli propaganda—a way of taking the world’s eyes off of the war in Gaza and putting them on a more positive vision of the situation in Israel/Palestine.
This criticism is outlined in a JTA article by Dina Kraft, “For Arab-Jewish singing duo, coexistence conquers criticism.” (http://jta.org/news/article/2009/05/04/1004896/arab-jewish-duo-head-for-singing-contest-amid-criticism) This article published a statement from the letter sent to the women, saying that, “The Israeli government is sending the two of you to Moscow as part of its propaganda machine that is trying to create the appearance of ‘coexistence’ under which is carries out the daily massacre of Palestinian civilians.” The sentiments expressed in this letters and by its supporters can be seen by recent protests occurring in Brooklyn, NY, where 150 people protested in support of boycotting Israeli based dance group, Batsheva Dance Company, which was performing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music during the war in Gaza. (http://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/32/10/32_10_bm_bam_protest.html)
This article points out further criticism of the duo on behalf of right-wing Israeli law makers, who question Awad’s ability to ‘properly’ represent Israel. Awad, who grew up in Haifa and has expressed mixed emotions about being asked to perform in the show at the same time as the war in Gaza was occurring, is the first Israeli Arab to represent Israel in this competition. Awad is quoted in the article as responding to this criticism with stating, “I have a lot of friends who are Jewish Israelis, people who love me and would give their life for me. And therefore it opens your eyes when you realize the human connection is first and foremost, and then come the issues of nationality and religion.
The women did not withdraw, and have since also performed the song “Word” together. Despite their critics, these brave women are using their talents to work towards bringing about peace and letting the world now that it is possible for Israelis and Palestinians to work together, even if it’s just for a song. This positive momentum is exactly what the region, and the world needs.
Monday, April 27, 2009
As I began reading through the articles, whose fear-inducing titles proudly proclaimed that the "Swine Flu's Course [is] Unpredictable" and letting us all know that "Fear Over Swine Flu Grows" throughout the world. Apparently, we should all be really, really scared.
For some reason, be it my natural aversion to all that is trendy or maybe just my common sense, as I read through these articles, I began a silent protest against any type of irrational fear of this "epidemic"--which, I must point out, isn't even guarenteed to become an epidemic quite yet. This point is really the heart of my protest. While I certainly feel for those who have been afflicted by this sickness and their families, and I carry some amount of healty fear of it, as I do any other serious sickness, I don't see what the point is of freaking out about this, especially if we don't even know if it will become our next plague yet. And even if it does become so, what can I do about it? How can I stop a plague from infecting millions of people--myself having the potential of infection as well? And why should I spend my time worrying about it? In my opinion, worry leads to stress, which makes people much more suceptable to infection.
Additionally, I am refusing to allow the media to control me by scaring the crap out of me. I highly suspect the media's motive to be to get everyone hanging off of their every words, fighting each other to get to the newspaper stands first to see just how safe or unsafe they may be. People need to make sure that the 'epidemic' is close enough to them that they can feel rightfully frightened but far away enough that they have dramatic tales to read about families being quarantined in Mexico. And the media is more than happy to give them just that for the right amount. I refuse to buy into it.
And then comes the irony, forever present if you keep your eyes open. Sitting right beside the major article about the swine flu is a much smaller article about a group of doctors stating that men over 50 do not necessarily need to screen for prostate cancer. The kicker?? Within the article, a figure is quoted that 28,000 men were killed last year by prostate cancer. Why are we advising against screening for a deadly disease that killed 28,000 people in one year while simultaneously spreading word that the Black Plague, Part Deux is on its way without even knowing how much of a 'pandemic' the recent outbreak of swine flu will even be?
This is my protest, and I'm sticking to it! Until, as irony would have it, I contract swine flu and proceed to stick my foot in my mouth, where it probably belongs anyway.