Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Palestine”

Gaza and Facebook Pt. 2

This post follows on from Monday’s post regarding the progression of the Internet in Gaza,  a politically ravaged and poor country which has a huge proportion of its population under the age of thirty.

Dr. Saidam - the Palestinian Mr. IT.

The image that Gaza is a technologically backward country is wrong according to Dr. Sabri Saidam. Gaza has the largest number of Facebook users in the world per capita and (also per capita) the largest number of video conferencing in the world is also in the Palestinian territories. “The legislative council used to meet through video conferencing in the West Bank and Gaza,” says Saidam.

“There were medical exams conducted over the Internet. My mother, who lives in Gaza, has a heart problem. She comes to Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem for treatment. And in so many cases, she was refused permission to go back to Gaza after treatment. That’s one of the reasons I was trying to promote Internet treatment so people wouldn’t have to travel. People take it for granted because the culture of IT is so embedded in society, but there are economic hardships that prevent people from acquiring technology, even though 94 percent use cell phones.”

Saidam has worked hard to teach about social media and the Internet. He launched an initiative to encourage those who use the Internet to teach their parents, as well as stay-at-home mothers, to use the computer and to surf the Internet. He also hosts a radio program in which he advises listeners about what should not be publicized on Facebook. If they surf in other countries, he tells them, they need to bear in mind that their boss has the ability to surf their page. He also warns that the Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, can monitor them as well.

This is no idol scaremongering as Saidam is keenly aware that it is Israeli companies who provide Palestinian telecommunication services. “This is a prime source of intelligence for the Shabak [Shin Bet], Mossad and whatever,” he says. “Everybody here publishes his or her beliefs and opinions and pictures and family news – everything. I tell them: You are the owner of the information. Whatever you are hesitant about – don’t release it.”

Saidam is frustrated that Palestinian politicians seem apprehensive about utilizing the Internet because they have no control over those who surf it. “But then they came to realize that it’s something that is totally out of the censorship scissors, nobody can gag anybody else, it’s a free world.”

The now infamous Third Intifada Facebook page that was closed by Facebook because it was inciting violence, Saidam points out, was created in Lebanon – not in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. However, once the page was closed this served only to excite young Palestinians who opened several more such pages and websites.

Internet communication has led to a number of peace initiatives that are coordinated between activists from all countries in the region. Whether this leads to more peaceful initiatives or a third Intifada remains to be seen.

Whichever way it turns, the potential for information to flow strengthens the hope that people on both sides of the conflict will have the ability to make more informed choices and possibly form low-barrier connections with those on the other side.

The Internet may yet hold the key to peace. But first, we need to ensure that as many people as possible are using it.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Gaza and Facebook Part 1

When you think of Gaza, many images come to mind: poverty, Muslim fundamentalism, frustration, unemployment, Facebook. Facebook? Yes, the Palestinians in Gaza, for all their challenges, are online and connecting.

Dr. Sabri Saidam, a former member of the Palestinian Authority government began getting involved in politics at the not so young age of 34. He was immediately appointed minister of communications and information technology and became known as “Mr. Technology.”

“Coming from the IT field, I can tell you honestly that I’ve always felt as if I were carving in stone – getting computers or talking about e-government in Palestine was mission impossible,” he says in an interview with Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. “Now all the politicians are meeting bloggers and talking to them. There was no party interested in these people until the events in Tunisia and Egypt. They were considered to be time-wasters, kids.”

Saidam now works in Washington for the Aspen Institute where he continues to promote entrepreneurship among young Palestinians. “All of a sudden, everybody wants to know and have a private session to talk about Facebook and how they can open an account,” he says.

Saidam estimates that half of Palestinian households in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have computers and about 30% are connected to the Internet. As we saw in Egypt and Tunisia, however, this does not include cell phone connectivity.

“When the demonstrations started in Tunisia, there were 600,000 Palestinian Facebook users, and 200,000 of them were posting about politics. Each one of these 200,000 Facebook users is influencing five people around him. We’re talking about over a million Palestinians over the age of 18. In terms of population size, that’s 33 percent. In Egypt, that would be 28 million Egyptians, but there it took only 2,890 bloggers and computer activists to do what was done. The moral of the story is that there is a critical mass of Palestinians waiting to see how things are going to swing.”

Saidam believes that access to a wider discussion group and opinions will broaden the political debate within Gaza and include the younger generation, who make up the majority of the population in Gaza. “But there is no Palestinian Wael Ghonim [the young Google marketing executive who became a symbol of the revolution] . . . It’s the issue of getting bored of the fact that they see leaders who existed for dozens of years. They don’t want any leaders.”

It was the younger generation of Palestinians who marched on March 15 demanding an end to the conflict between Hamas and Fatah. This prompted President Abbas to decide he would go to Gaza and flesh out the subsequent agreement.

“The young people felt they had some influence on the decision,” says Saidam. “And I am telling my peers that they should not only passively listen but allow young blood to flow into the decision making of the parties.”

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

From Stabbing to Soccer

Tomorrow is September 20th, a day billed with controversy as the Palestinians seek a statehood via the United Nations. Those in favor recognize that the Palestinians need a state of their own and are frustrated by the lack of negotiations with Israel. Those against say that a sustainable solution has to come from negotiations between the two sides.

It all looks very depressing as both sides dig in and intransigence seems the order of the day. Perhaps it is best to focus on those organizations that are trying to bring Israelis and Palestinians together in dialog and the creation of relationships. I have already written about One Voice, still one of the most outstanding examples in my opinion.

So it was encouraging to see this article by Dan Goldberg about co-founder and director of the Al-Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue, Sulaiman Khatib who went to Australia with Tami Hay, director of the Sport Department of Israel’s Peres Center for Peace. They  led a team of 24 Israelis and Palestinians in a unique bridge-building exercise: to compete in an international competition of Australian-rules football. We shall leave  the intricacies of the game, a mix of soccer, rugby, with Gaelic roots, for another time.

Twenty-four Israelis and Palestinians came together as a "Peace Team" to play Australian-rules football. (Jonathan Davis)

Khatib has an amazing personal story. He was born in the West Bank near Jerusalem, and grew up “throwing stones and preparing Molotov cocktails” at the Israeli army.

In 1986, at the age of just 14, he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for stabbing an Israeli soldier. While in prison, Khatib was exposed to the writings of the Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. He learned both Hebrew and English and studied history, in particular other conflicts around the world. This provided Khatib with the basis for what became his philosophy.

“I believe there is no military solution to the conflict,” Khatib, 39, said of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an interview with JTA while still in Melbourne. “I believe nonviolence is the best way for our struggle, for our freedom and for peace on both sides.”

For the story of how the team came together and became a cooperative group, I would suggest reading the article. The Palestinians who participated were admonished and even threatened, with many seeing them as collaborators. The bravery of these people should be applauded.

One Palestinian participant said: “Many people I know are opposed to my participation in activities with the Israeli side. They do not believe that it can improve the situation or lead to peace. I try to portray the positive things as much as possible.”

Nimrod Vromen, an Israeli player, told one media agency: “For me it’s easy. For the Palestinians, they actually have their lives threatened playing in this team.”

Tanya Oziel, Executive Director of the Australian branch of the Peres Center for Peace, knew there would be massive hurdles when she conceived of the idea of a joint team in 2007. A Sephardic Jew with Iraqi origins, Oziel knew that the Peres Center already had an Israeli-Palestinian soccer team, so she adapted the idea for Australian football and first brought a joint team to Australia in 2008.

“I think because of the power of the story and the impossibility of the story it actually gave me more motivation to make it happen,” Oziel said.

Some of the Palestinian team members are still worried about a backlash once they return home, but Sulaiman Khatib hopes his life experience will help his friends and himself weather such opposition.

“I’ve been in an Israeli jail for 10 years. I do things I believe in and I’m ready to risk my life,” he said. “So I’m not really worried about me.”

During a week when all eyes are on the United Nations, it helps to know that seeds of real peace are still being sown in the Middle East and the real heroes don’t make meaningless speeches but follow a dream. Sulaiman Khatib and his team are heroes.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Circumcision brings a family together

By now you have probably read about the attempt to ban circumcision by putting a motion on the ballot during the November SF municipal elections. While many in the Jewish community are up in arms about this, I can’t say it has caught my imagination. For disclosure’s sake, my sons and I all went through this rite-of-passage at eight days of age (not sure my eldest is too happy with me broadcasting this).

Circumcision in Jerusalem

Circumcision was first done when Abraham showed his commitment to God’s calling by keeping his part of a covenant (Genesis Chap. 12) and circumcising himself (at the age of 75-80 if I remember correctly). God, for his/her part, promised that Abraham’s seed would flourish and live on the land of Canaan.

Abraham then had two sons (one with his wife, Sarah, and the other with her maid, Hagar). The descendants of the two sons became the Jewish and Arab nations. Both peoples circumcise their boys, see Abraham as their patriarch, and lay claim to Canaan (now Israel, Palestine and Jordan).

As you may have heard, there has been some contention between the children of Abraham – but then which family doesn’t have its troubles?

However, it seems that this assault on circumcision is bringing our peoples together. With both Muslims and Jews feeling attacked, we are apparently teaming up to take a united stand. Both religions see family as one of their highest values. Whatever it takes to bring the family together, huh?

Attacks on Jewish and Muslim traditions are an opportunity to bring us together

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Bridge to Peace

After writing a somewhat negative post about the Israel/Palestinian conflict a few days ago and yesterday’s post about bin Laden, I feel a need to come back with something positive, something that can give us hope that the extremists won’t win.

Save A Child’s Heart is an amazing organization that enables children from countries without facilities for heart disease treatment. Many of these children are Palestinian. Money is raised around the world, particularly from Jewish donors, that help pay for everything including travel, medical procedures, and rehabilitation. There are volunteers that help prepare the paperwork and deal with the bureaucracy and the logistics.

Doctors evidently do not distinguish between children of different races, religions, or economic capacity.  A child in need is a child in need is a child in need.

Maybe the political leaders should step  aside and let the doctors lead the way to a peaceful and sustainable reconciliation.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Juliano Mer-Khamis R.I.P

Juliano Mer-Khamis was the son of a Jewish-Israeli father and Christian-Arab mother. He declared himself 100% Israeli and 100% Palestinian. He was a highly successful film actor (see a list of his movies and a bio of his life here) and could be forgiven for sitting back and enjoying the fruits of his success.

Instead, he sought to produce documentaries and films to help each side understand the other. Five years ago, Mer-Khamis  created a team that included Zakaria Zubeidi, a former military leader of the Jenin Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Jonatan Stanczak, Swedish-Israeli activist, and Dror Feiler, Swedish-Israeli artist. Together they established The Freedom Theatre.

The Freedom Theatre remains today a community theater that uses drama to develop skills, self-knowledge and confidence for the children and youth of the Jenin Refugee Camp, through  using the creative process as a model for positive social change.

On April 4th, masked gunmen shot and killed Mer-Khamis in front of The Freedom Theatre. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the killing saying that “We cannot stand silent in the face of this ugly crime, it constitutes a grave violation that goes beyond all principles and human values and it contravenes with the customs and ethics of co-existence.”

There are simply not enough men and women willing to stand up for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The students who I blogged about a month ago that are trying to create a peaceful solution were beaten and had their Tent of Peace burned, all while police watched from the side, only interceding to have the extremists wait for three students to leave the tent before allowing them to set it on fire.

World media barely mentioned it. It barely acknowledged the murder of Mer-Khamis. Until governments and activists around the world show support for the moderate majority in Israel and Palestine, they will not believe they have the support to create a sustainable peace.

Sometimes it takes more than Facebook.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Don’t Let The Extremists Control The Agenda

I recently shared my optimism that with the various demonstrations and upheavals in the Middle East, and specifically in Gaza and the West Bank, we were nearing a stage whereby the moderate Palestinians and Israelis were moving closer towards a shared agenda of a sustainable peace treaty.

Tragically, terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Itamar, multiple launches of bombs from Gaza towards populated areas of Israel and the anticipated military response of Israel, suddenly makes my blog post look, at best, wildly optimistic.

Anti-missile protection deployed for the city of Beersheva

But this is where we need to step back and gain perspective. Why did Palestinian extremists decide to up the ante now? Did they think the world wasn’t distracted enough by the upheaval in the Middle East, or the natural and nuclear catastrophe in Japan? Hardly makes any sense.

Perhaps they actually felt threatened by the peaceful demonstrations in their own backyard? Faced with the possibility that the majority of people, Palestinian and Israeli, were calling for a diplomatic solution, these extremists decided that the best way to prevent such progress was to blow it up in their faces – literally. They could count on cooperation from the Israeli right, who would immediately demand revenge and retribution.

It is easier to destroy than build bridges of peace and trust. It takes a single spark to ignite the powder keg that is the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Many say that when there is violence, we should be strong and not talk peace. I admit that I have felt this way in the past. But however painful it is when we see the pictures of victims, this is precisely the time to understand that there can only be one sustainable solution to the conflict. This must be the assertion of the moderates on both sides – that they will not tolerate their leaders straying from paths that will bring us closer to a permanent peace.

Egypt & Israel sign a peace treaty

Now more than ever, we need to be out in the streets, banging the drums of peace.

IT CAN BE ACHIEVED!

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

 

Hope Springs From The Youth

Last week I attended a meeting held by One Voice, a group made up of Palestinians and Israelis who are demanding an end to the violence and a sustainable, peaceful solution. One Voice is different from most dialogue groups in as much as they do not focus on dialogue with the other side, but with their own constituents.


“One Voice is an international grassroots movement that amplifies the voice of mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, empowering them to propel their elected representatives toward a two-state solution.”

One Voice began on the university campuses and is still primarily propelled by students. What amazes me and gives me so much hope is that there are many individuals involved whose lives have been impacted by violence and yet have chosen a path of peace.


The following video is a great 5-minute introduction to the movement. To steal one of One Voice’s sayings: Do you have 5 minutes to help end the conflict?

Today, more than ever, there is hope that the conflict will end. It is a hope based upon the millennial generation standing up and saying enough is enough. As one eloquent Palestinian, Bashar Shwaiki, told me: We are simply not willing to suffer the way our parents did. It is time to create a new narrative.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

 

 

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Palestine next?

With the world’s eyes focused on Libya, one string of events last week went under the radar. Led primarily by students, peaceful demonstrations were held throughout the West Bank. Most exciting, they began in Gaza, where mainly young people demanded that Fatah and Hamas stop the internal war and join together to build a state for Palestinians.

Last Week's Unity Demonstrations

Hamas violently seized control of Gaza, publicly executing and murdering Fatah employees and civilians. Fatah, in return, has cracked down on Hamas supporters in the West Bank. The violence and denial of basic human rights for those who support openly one side or the other, is bad enough.

But it has repercussions beyond their own border. Israelis, even the most left-wing, admit that they cannot imagine negotiating a final settlement with one side without the agreement of the other. Any comprehensive peace agreement would include an implicit agreement to cease violence and the destruction of the other people. With both countries so small,  everything is of strategic significance. The stability of a Palestinian government is vital to any validity of a peace agreement. Not everyone in Israel agrees with this, however.

Last Week's Unity Demonstrations

 

The world should pay more attention, offer more encouragement, and help bring about the stability of a Palestinian government. It is probably the biggest obstruction to final negotiations. The Palestinian youth should be praised for their resilience and their vision. It is encouraging to know that true peace partners are out there on the streets.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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