uploaded : Saturday 29th Dec 2001 at 18:53
by : Dr Gershon Baskin
Creating Peace The Bottom-Up Approach by Gershon Baskin (IPCRI)
Many people ask me “How do you get up every morning and go to work at IPCRI?” The situation is terrible and not improving. The violence is debilitating and optimism belongs to another era. Yes, I do get frustrated. But we will continue our struggle.
The following piece is a first effort at looking what can be done from “bottom-up”. This is far from exhaustive; in fact, it is only a first attempt. I invite your comments and suggestions.
Happy New Year to All!
Creating Peace The Bottom-Up Approach by Gershon Baskin, Ph.D.
The current leaders of Israel and Palestine are not going to bring peace. According to public opinion surveys in Israel and Palestine, large numbers of Israelis and Palestinians are still in favor of a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Once in a clear majority, today these people feel a lack of efficacy and their sense of powerlessness has created a feeling of despair and a significant loss of hope. It is time to recreate hope. It is time to begin the process of building peace from the bottom up.
We are suffering from what can be called Psychosocial trauma as inhumanisation. (Ambrogio Manenti, Sarajevo, May 1999)
“This is the Impoverishment of the human capabilities such as capability to think brightly, to communicate truth, sensibility for suffering of the others, are very common. Behaviour changes in favour to ideological rigidity, evasive scepticism, paranoiac defence, hatred and desire for revenge. Insecurity facing one’s own destiny, lack of sense in making things and a strong need to belong to a group are spread feelings. Psychological characteristics caused by fear such as feelings of vulnerability and weakness, excessive "state of alert", and feeling of a loss of control over one’s own life, alteration of reality sense are quiet diffused.”
The violence of the past 15 months has rendered us to a state of psychosocial trauma as described above. Many people, perhaps most, on both sides have lost their belief that peace is possible. Each side accuses the other of being responsible for the violence and the breakdown of the peace process. New national myth building around the peace process and the failed Camp David Summit have reached new heights in public indoctrination. A steady, progressive and dangerous process of mutual de-legitimisation has been rooted and fertilized on both sides. The first victims of this process have been the elected leaders, but it has not stopped at the level of leaderships. The de-legitimisation has brought about a mutual demonization of both peoples and societies such that while many people on both sides may still desire peace they no longer believe that there are people on the other side who want what they want. But from my experience on both sides of the green line this is not true. Israelis and Palestinians alike want to return to the negotiating table rather than face each other on the front of violence.
It is true that the violence of the past 15 months has destroyed what little trust remained between the sides, both at governmental levels and at people-to-people levels. This trust needs to be rebuilt and today the job of rebuilding has to be done by people, not by governments. The cry for peace has to replace the cry for revenge. The pressure for peace has to come from the bottom up. It is time for taking responsibility and not for “passing the buck”. Those of us who want peace must make a decision to make peace happen. Each of us must say “It is time for me to do something constructive to create peace in this land!”
Many of us feel frustrated by the lack of activities and peace-oriented organizations. The lack of institutional infrastructure for peacemaking must be faced head-on. We must create it.
Building a Process of Local and Cross-boundary Decentralized Peace Building Activities
The peace building and creating efforts must be both uni-national within our own societies and cross-boundary building new Israeli-Palestinian partnerships. The Hague Appeal for Peace in 21st Century put some ideas down in its charter for what must be accomplished:
Taking the Initiative in Peace-Making
It is time for people to assert their commitment to peace and - if necessary - to wrest peace-making away from the exclusive control of politicians and military establishments. Too often, peace initiatives are proposed as a last resort, with negotiations restricted to the warmongers, and imposed on those most affected, particularly women and children. Those who have suffered the most must have a place at the table when peace agreements are drawn up, with equal representation for women. If necessary, civil society should also convene peace initiatives before crises get out of control and lives are lost. This can help to turn early warning from a slogan into a reality.
Educate for Peace, Human Rights and Democracy
In order to combat the culture of violence that pervades our society, the coming generation deserves a radically different education - one that does not glorify war but educates for peace and nonviolence and international cooperation. The Hague Appeal for Peace seeks to launch a world-wide campaign to empower people at all levels with the peacemaking skills of mediation, conflict transformation, consensus-building and non-violent social change. This campaign will:
? Insist that peace education be made compulsory at all levels of the education system.
? Demand that education ministries systematically implement peace education initiatives at a local and national level.
? Call on development assistance agencies to promote peace education as a component of their teacher training and materials production.
Mainstream Multi-Track Diplomacy
In the next century, we must aim to make "multi-track diplomacy" the standard approach to preventing, resolving and transforming violent conflict. Multi-Track Diplomacy involves the cooperation of numerous sectors of society - governments, non-governmental organizations, religious groups, the media, business, private citizens, etc; in preventing conflict and building peace. It is a multi-disciplinary view of peace building that assumes that individuals and organizations are more effective working together than separately and that conflict situations involve a large and intricate web of parties and factors that requires a systems approach. Each "track" in the system brings with it its own perspective, approach and resources; all of which must be called upon in the peace building process.
Empower Young People
Wars are initiated by irresponsible leaders, but it is young people who are their most vulnerable victims, both as civilians and as conscripts. Their experience, fresh perspectives and new ideas must be heard, integrated and acted upon at all levels of society. There is ample evidence that young people in conflict situations can find ways to overcome traditional prejudices, to creatively resolve conflicts and to engage in meaningful reconciliation and peace building processes. The opportunity for youth to participate in peace building is essential for breaking the cycle of violence, for reducing and avoiding conflict. Let us all share our vision, open-mindedness, solidarity and willingness to learn in a truly inter-generational exchange based on mutual respect, trust and responsibility.
Engender Peace Building
Conflict and war are gendered events. After reproduction, war is perhaps the arena where the division of labor along gender lines is most obvious. Therefore, women and men experience conflict and war differently and have different access to power and decision-making. There is a need for (1) specific initiatives aimed at understanding the interrelationships between gender equality and peace building, (2) strengthening women's capacity to participate in peace building initiatives and (3) equal participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels. To meet these needs, governments must commit to including women representatives of civil society in all peace negotiations; peace and security institutions must incorporate gender-sensitive perspectives into their activities and methods; and civil society must build and strengthen women's peace networks across borders.
“Peace professionals and conflict resolution practitioners” together with lay people must interact together in order to plan a peacemaking strategy aiming to build a coherent plan of action. Israelis and Palestinian peace strategists can together confront some of the following:
? Identification of and systematic involvement of all potential organized local partners for peace building efforts;
? Organization of technical discussions and exchanges between the parties to identify areas of common interest in which decentralised co-operation could provide a qualitative contribution to the development of peace;
? The promotion and constitution of local working groups which include representatives of local authorities, public service institutions and civil society organisations as the centrepiece of decentralized peacemaking;
? Participatory methods for identifying needs, resources and priorities for project activities;
? Prioritisation of those activities that foster cross-boundary dialogue and cooperation, respond to the needs of the most vulnerable groups, contribute to the development of sustainable models for continued cross-boundary activities.
Peace Coalitions on Both Sides
Peace groups and political parties on the Israeli side have established a peace coalition. It would be very positive for a similar peace coalition of organizations, NGO’s, and institutions that support peace on the Palestinian side to organize themselves into a public coalition. Public legitimacy must be re-established for Israeli-Palestinian engagement. This is particularly important and relevant on the Palestinian side. Peace NGO’s, institutions and individuals must make public statements in Palestine in support of re-engagement between the forces of peace on both sides. A process of de-legitimizing contacts between Palestinians and Israelis went on for too long without a significant outcry from those who opposed it. The damage has been done now is the time to correct this.
Joint Israeli-Palestinian Coalitions
A new more formalized partnership between Israeli and Palestinian peace groups, NGO’s, and institutions must be established. The Israeli-Palestinian partnership for peace must be based on a clear public statement of mutual agreement for a broad based political platform expressing the fundamentals of an Israeli-Palestinian peace ending the occupation, ending violence, sharing Jerusalem, a solution for the refugee problem, economic cooperation and development, joint water sharing and management, real democratisation, mechanisms of verification, compliance and dispute resolution, and a process of building peace between the two peoples. Political leaders, public and cultural figures from both sides should place their public support behind such a platform and encourage Israelis and Palestinians to sign on. Public and cultural figures from both sides should appear together, speak together and educate their publics together. These activities must be aimed at the masses not elite dialogues. At first it can be small gatherings, even in individual homes. Eventually it will grow and more and people will be exposed. At each gathering people should be asked to make a commitment to the joint public platform. They should sign on. Efforts should be made to sign on hundreds, then thousands and then hundreds of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians.
Changing the Mass Media
In order to create a bottom-up peacemaking strategy we must have more public exposure. The mass media in Israel and in Palestine ignores peacemaking actions and activities; as such they have contributed to the continuation of violence and the abandonment of peacemaking efforts. A working group of media connected people from both sides should be formed, working uni-nationally and cross-boundary in designing a strategic plan for breaking the mass media boycott of peacemaking actions and activities. This is a very difficult task, but not impossible. We have many allies in the media, they need to be empowered vis-?-vis their editors.
Lack of Democracy and Breaking Ranks
The problems confronted by Palestinian peace advocates will be different from those confronted by their Israeli partners. The lack of democracy in Palestine limits the free of action significantly. More often than not, individuals and institutions wait for a “green light” from the Ra’is’s office before doing anything. This is self-defeating and paralysing.
In Israel, supporting peace is clearly not the trend. The stream is flowing swiftly in the opposite direction and organizations and individuals are often afraid to suffer the social and political ramifications of swimming against the flow.
Developing a strategy for building peace from the bottom-up by definition involves taking risks. This is unfortunately unavoidable. Not everyone is in the position to take risks, but without risk taking in challenging the current political norms and consensuses in Israel and Palestine little change is likely to take place.
What Individuals Can Do
The old saying “Peace Begins at Home” can serve as a guide for individuals who want to make a difference. Think about the things that you can do that will make a small contribution towards a “bottom-up” peacemaking strategy. These are all small actions and by themselves won’t have a large impact, but we need to begin from small steps and build up towards critical masses of people taking action. Here are some ideas:
1. Learn to speak the other language - there is great resistance in Israel towards learning Arabic and in Palestine towards learning Hebrew. Make a decision that you will learn the other language. Organize a small learning group for yourself and for your children. Find a teacher and let your friends and neighbors know that you are doing this.
2. Place a handwritten sign on your house saying “I support peace” and encourage your neighbors and friends to do the same.
3. Find someone on the other side to talk to. Contacts between Israelis and Palestinians have all but disappeared over the past 15 months. Make a decision that you will not be part of the silence. There are many differences between the positions of people on both sides, but dialogues begin with two people you can be one of them.
4. Join an organization that is working on your side for building peace. Some organizations still exist that are working for peace. Find them, join one, and participate.
5. Search for other sources of information. Our newspapers and media have become part of the conflict. Often the “real” story is hidden from the reader or listener. Don’t believe everything you hear or read check its validity out with other sources of information. With the internet, this is becoming increasingly easier.
6. Tell your children’s teacher that you want them to learn about the other side. Our schools don’t teach us about each other. When they do relate to the other side it is usually in a negative way. Regardless of what their political position is, they have a responsibility to teach our children about our neighbors.
7. Educate yourself about your neighbors. Educate yourself about the issues. The parameters of peace or the “price” of peace is well known. Learn about it. Test your own willingness to “pay” the price. Challenge your neighbors and friends too.
Gershon Baskin, Ph.D. Co-Director
IPCRI - Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information
P.O. Box 9321, Jerusalem 91092
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Telephone: 972-2-676-9460 Fax: 972-2-676-8011
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