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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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Vision of Hope
file under: peaceIndustrial ZonehopeGaza 16 Jan 2009 3:05 PM
They Beat Their Swords Into An Industrial Zone Posted by Nissim Dahan
In the Bible, Isaiah, in one of his more memorable prophesies, says that there will come a time when, "...They beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation does not lift a sword against nation, and they no longer learn war." Quite a profound sentiment, if you ask me, but how realistic is it, given the recent violence in Gaza?

 

In recent days, in the midst of the ghastly fighting in Gaza, I've heard about a proposal to build an industrial zone on Gaza's border with Israel, which will employ as many as 200,000 Palestinians. At first blush I thought, "That's crazy." But upon further reflection I thought, "That's brilliant." And actually, come to think of it, the line between "crazy and brilliant," is often a thin line.

 

As we speak, Hamas and Israel seem very close to concluding a truce. Israel is probably facing insurmountable international pressure to the point where further military gains will be outweighed by extremely bad PR. And Hamas has probably reached the point where it can still claim some sort of victory, having survived the onslaught, without tipping the balance toward utter military defeat. So both sides may have reached the point where a truce makes sense.

 

My guess is that the truce will call for an end to the rocket fire by Hamas, in exchange for an easing of borders on the part of Israel. To that end, international monitors would probably be put in place to verify compliance on both sides. But what if we could use this opportunity to create new realities on the ground, realities which will help to insure the continuity of the ceasefire, without having to rely solely on the agreements reached?

 

And so, in recent days, an unusual idea has surfaced; Why not build an industrial zone on the border between Gaza and Israel. The more I think about it, the more I think it could work, not only to help the people in Gaza, but actually, as a symbol of hope which will point in a new direction for the Middle East, a new direction that points to the possibility of peace.

 

As part of the ceasefire, and of the truce, a demilitarized zone will have to be created between Israel and Gaza. Why not use this zone to build an industrial zone? Such an outcome will afford ordinary Palestinians the opportunity to find employment, and to support their families. Gaza, by implication, will no longer face the prospects of an economic blockade. Economic prosperity would breathe new life into that troubled region. People on the street will begin to embrace the possibility of hope, and with hope, all things are possible, even the impossible dream of peace.

 

But will Hamas buy in? Believe it or not, I think there's at least a good chance they will. Hamas may spew forth a lot of ideological rhetoric, but in the final analysis, what they are most interested in is power, raw political power. An industrial zone, with its resulting economic prosperity, may be the easiest way for Hamas to consolidate its hold on political power.

 

Every political party needs some basis for its political legitimacy. If Hamas continue to rely on its hatred of Israel, and on its campaign of terror, they will continue to face Israel's retaliation, and they run the risk that ordinary Palestinians will become fed up. But if Hamas can show that its efforts have brought about economic prosperity, then now they have a source of legitimacy which actually satisfies the man on the street. Hamas may then find it comfortable to rule on the basis of political and economic gains, as opposed to empty rhetoric and terror.

 

Will Israel buy in? I think they will. To many around the world, Israel's military attack may seem irrational, and certainly not related to any reasonable notion of self-defense. But Israel may look at self-defense from a different point of view than most. For example, in light of its 2006 defeat in Lebanon, Israel may sense that she is losing her credibility with regard to military deterrence. She may conclude that if her enemies see her as weak, then she is done for. In addition, Israel may have launched the attack in Gaza for internal consumption. If her own citizens see her as weak, in response to Hamas' barrage of missiles, how could she hope to maintain her legitimacy to rule her own people?

 

However, having launched and concluded the military onslaught, Israel may quickly come to the realization that in the final analysis, only peace will bring her security. And therefore, peace may ultimately be the best form of self-defense. If an industrial zone on Gaza's border could help secure the peace, by creating jobs and by giving Palestinians a place at the table, a stake in their future, then Israel will not only buy in, but will help to make it happen as well. The most dangerous man is a man with nothing to lose. Give Palestinians a sense of hope that their lives could indeed get better, and they will give you back their hearts in return.

 

What about Abbas? An industrial zone in Gaza, along with its resulting economic prosperity, could well threaten the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, in its existential struggle with Hamas. Hamas sees the West Bank as the ultimate prize. Therefore, as has been suggested, it will be important as well, to grow the Palestinian economy in the West Bank, so that both territories will come to enjoy the hope that comes from job creation and economic growth.

 

Business creates its own ideological imperative. When people are making money, they have little time or inclination for ideological nonsense. And people will think twice about allowing violence to rock the boat. If both leaderships, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority, come to embrace economic growth and political freedom as their legitimate sources of power, then it will be up to the people to decide who should rule the new nation, and under what terms. And no matter who wins, the decision will be left to the people, who will have to live with the decision they made. Such an outcome is at least preferable to the irrationality and unpredictability of war.

 

Isaiah's vision may still be a long way off. But an industrial zone in Gaza may well be a step in the right direction. What do you think?

file under: passions vs solutionsMiddle East Peace 7 Jan 2009 1:59 PM
You've Just Been Appointed U.S. Middle East Envoy...Now What? Posted by Nissim Dahan
With the bloody fighting in Gaza, emotions are running high in the region, and around the world. The ghastly images we see on the news evoke a wide range of emotions: sympathy, empathy, regret, guilt, remorse, and yes, anger. All this is understandable. And yet we sense that strong passions and unbridled emotions, in and of themselves, will not bring peace.

 

What is needed is a rational and concerted effort to broker a peace deal which maximizes justice, and which creates new realities on the ground that will help to sustain the peace once it is in place. And so, if you get a call, in the middle of the night, from President Obama, informing you that you have just been appointed U.S. Middle East Envoy; what would you do to bring peace to the Middle East? Here are a few suggestions. Perhaps you have something to add.

 

Gaza: Negotiate a ceasefire, and then a truce, between Israel and Hamas, on the basis of an Israeli pullout, accompanied by a cessation of missile and mortar fire by Hamas, to be monitored by U.N. observers. Suggest to Hamas to give up their military ambitions in exchange for: an easing of border restrictions, a lifting of an economic blockade, and an opportunity to partner with Fattah to provide a democratic government for the Palestinian people. If Hamas agrees, launch an international investment program for Gaza, with the purpose of: creating jobs, building infrastructure, growing the economy, and weakening the hold of extremist thinking. Along with the hope that comes from economic growth, launch a series of programs to sustain the hope: a more balanced and modern approach to education, a student exchange, a cultural exchange, an empowerment of women, an expanded Peace Corps presence, a media campaign, international conferences, etc.

 

West Bank: Continue to train Palestinian soldiers, so as to enable the duly elected government to defend itself from outside threats, including the threats posed by Hamas and other extremist factions. Encourage Fattah to reach a workable agreement with Hamas so that the two could work together to negotiate a comprehensive peace deal with Israel for the creation of a Palestinian state, along the lines of the understandings that have been reached between President Abbas and Foreign Minister Livny, and reminiscent of the deal offered by President Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barack to President Arafat in the year 2000. Continue to develop the four industrial zones in the West Bank, and launch an international effort to invest in good paying jobs, jobs which grow the economy, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which help to neutralize extremist thinking. Work to inspire Palestinians with a Vision of Hope, and support that economic effort with Public Diplomacy Programs which are specifically designed to prop the vision up and to carry it forward. Use an Ideology of Common Sense to speak to Palestinians with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity.

 

Israel: Encourage Israel to embrace and enhance the possibility of peace, and to take positive action in that regard by: negotiating a truce with Hamas, allowing Hamas to partner with Fattah for the sake of democratic rule, helping Hamas to build infrastructure and to grow Gaza's economy, and helping Fattah to do the same in the West Bank. Encourage Israel to negotiate a final status agreement, one that protects Israel's security, but one that also allows Palestinians to achieve at least most of their political aspirations. To the extent possible, convince Israel to become actively involved in orchestrating the economic growth of the new fledgling state so that the ordinary Palestinian citizen is finally given a place at the table, a stake in his or her future.

 

Syria: Encourage Syria to negotiate peace with Israel on the basis of an Israeli pullout from the Golan Heights, along with a U.N. monitored military free zone in that area. Structure a series of economic and diplomatic incentives to lure Syria away from Iranian control, and to cause Syria to stop its support of terrorist organizations, and to stop interfering with internal Lebanese affairs.

 

Lebanon: Continue to bolster Lebanon's democratically elected government. Try to steer Hezbollah away from military confrontation, in favor of a political role as part of a duly elected government. Use a Vision of Hope to empower the Lebanese people to embrace the possibility of peace among themselves, and with Israel.

 

Egypt: Encourage the international community to continue to invest to grow Egypt's economy and to create good paying jobs. Support Egypt's efforts to mediate regional disputes. Empower the man on the street with the notion that his life could get better, and use that hope to weaken the hold of extremist thinking. Push for warmer relations between Israel and Egypt on the basis of peace in Palestine, and on Israel's efforts to help orchestrate an economic revitalization of the Middle East with her technological know-how and her economic drive.

 

Saudi Arabia: Give Saudi Arabia credit for proposing a comprehensive peace deal with Israel. Encourage Saudi Arabia to continue mustering Arab support in this regard. Encourage Saudi Arabia, in light of lower oil prices, and worldwide green demand, to diversify its investment portfolio by investing in green technology in Palestine, and throughout the Middle East. Use oil profits to create green profits, and use these profits to create even more good paying green jobs, jobs which will grow the economies, jobs which will protect the environment, and jobs which will weaken the strangle hold of extremist thinking. Use a growing economy, and the prospects for Middle East peace, to shift the thinking on the street from an extremist ideology to an ideology of common sense. Use the momentum of change to gear the educational system to a more modern and balanced approach, and to gear religious practice to be more in keeping with the more peaceful aspects of Islam.

 

Iran: Try to convince Iran that its nuclear ambitions are not in keeping with Iran's best interests long term. Make the point that a nuclear Iran will be in the crosshairs of many a potent foe, and that the least bit of miscalculation could spell a doomsday scenario. Use diplomacy and economic incentives to convince Iran to give up its nuclear aspirations. As such, Iran could begin to play a vital role in pushing a comprehensive peace process forward, based on mutually shared economic and political interests. Iran could also cooperate by having Hezbollah and Hamas play political, as opposed to military roles. Iran would also be able to quell dissatisfaction from within by delivering to its people the promise of a better day.

 

With this much on your plate, you may think twice about taking the job. But don't you agree that a chess game of this sort is what is called for, given current realities on the ground? Don't we have to table at least some of the emotions and passions, for there to be even the slightest chance for peace? And do we have any choice but to try, even against all odds?

file under: Gazafrom hate to hope 31 Dec 2008 10:18 AM
We Could Argue Until The Cows Come Home...Or... Posted by Nissim Dahan
On the surface, at least, the purpose of a system of justice is to bring justice. In America, however, every defendant has the right to legal counsel. Every once in a while a sharp and crafty lawyer can get the defendant off, even if he was caught with blood on his hands. Such is the power of a persuasive argument. But is justice served when legal arguments and loopholes are used to subvert the truth?

 

We see unfolding before our eyes a tragedy in Gaza. Innocent civilians are losing their lives even as we speak. And as we witness the events of recent days, we also hear some rather persuasive arguments on both sides of the conflict. And since there are strong equities on both sides, and since the arguments are often equally persuasive, depending which side you're on, then the same question arises once again: Is the cause of justice being served?

 

From the Palestinian side we hear arguments which would constitute a strong case in a court of law: that Israel is responding disproportionately in relation to the initial provocation of the firing of the homemade rockets and mortars, that the rockets were fired as an act of self-defense in the face of the closures and the economic boycott of Gaza, that only a few Israelis have died as opposed to hundreds of Palestinians, that the targeting of civilians violates international law, and so forth, and so on.

 

Likewise, those in support of Israel could counter these charges with equally persuasive arguments: that in the face of mortal enemies Israel is forced to project a strong image of deterrence, that the closure and boycott of Gaza came in response to a constant barrage of rocket fire which can potentially target as many as 500,000 Israelis, that the respective number of casualties on either side does not negate the right to self-defense, that the civilian casualties are not intended but are inevitable when the militants choose to position themselves among civilians, and so forth, and so on.

 

These are just some of the arguments that are volleyed back and forth like ping pong balls. And yet, where is the justice? What do you say to a mother who lost five beautiful daughters who were only trying to make their way on a horse-drawn carriage? We can continue to argue back and forth, and satisfy ourselves that we are out doing one another in the blame game. Or we can be a bit more original, and bring forth peace, instead.

 

For peace to happen, a lot of things will have to change. Foremost, as far as I can tell, is the way we think. In a way, when we go about gingerly arguing our positions endlessly, with no clear outcome in sight, aren't we being just a little bit selfish? It's about what I believe and what I think. In other words, it's about me. And what is lost in the focus on me, is we.

 

We are all entitled to our beliefs, and to our ways of seeing the world. But are we entitled to trap ourselves in a vicious cycle of recriminations, a cycle that has no beginning, and no end, a cycle that will deprive our children of their right to a decent and peaceful life? It may well be time, before time runs out, and believe me, time is running out, to step out of ourselves and beyond our differences. It may be time to put on a shelf at least some of who we are and what we believe, in favor of something we can believe in even more, in favor of peace, in favor of sustainability, in favor of what makes sense.

 

Imagine, if we continue down the path we're going, we may well find ourselves all dead, and even in death, arguing our case before God: "Oh God," we'll say, "We were right about this or that, and we had no choice but to do what we did, in your name no less." And what do you think God would say in response? "I gave you life so that you could live, not kill, and not die, before your time. I gave you the common sense to bring a semblance of order to your lives. I gave you a wondrous world, full of beauty, so that you could create a paradise right here and right now.  And what did you do instead? You took what could have been a heaven on earth, and made it into a living hell. And you did all that in My name? Well guess what...thanks but no thanks."

 

Here is my dream for the Palestinian people for the New Year: a country of their own, side by side Israel, a country which enjoys the blessings of peace, prosperity, and freedom, where every citizen has the opportunity to pursue his or her dreams, and where every child dares to reach for the stars.

 

This war, tragic as it is, will soon come to an end, God willing. And then, hard as it may be to believe, because of many factors which are converging as we speak, there will be an opportunity to broker a lasting peace. Things can be done, right here and right now, by Palestinians, Israelis, and the rest of us around the world, to improve the chances for peace. But in order to do what we have to do, we will have to let go of some of our beliefs, of some of the history, and of some of who we are. We will let go of this, however reluctantly, so that we can realize a better version of ourselves, a version of ourselves that gives fuller expression to the potential for good that is within each and every one of us.

 

We were created in God's image. And so, like Him, we too are creators. It is time to create a version of ourselves that allows God to see His image in us.

file under: vision of hopeterrorism 8 Dec 2008 8:39 AM
What Does Mumbai Mean? Posted by Nissim Dahan
I don't claim any particular expertise in Indian/Pakistani relations. However, given the horrific events of recent days, I think that certain conclusions can be drawn.

 

1. Terrorism will not go away any time soon: Given the strong probability that there will always be various groups around the world whose members perceive themselves to be the victims of injustice, and given that as few as 10 men, acting in tandem, and with scant resources, could wreak such havoc in a huge metropolitan city like Mumbai, the chances are good that terrorism is likely to persist, as a relatively inexpensive way of lashing out, making your grievances known, and effectuating change.

 

2. The recruitment and training of terrorists is not particularly difficult: From what I've read, the lone terrorist, who participated in and survived the attack, has a 4th grade education, and admits to having been trained in a training camp located somewhere in Pakistan. It is apparent, therefore, that recruiting prospective terrorists, and inculcating in them an ideological mindset which predisposes them to carry out suicide missions, is both feasible, and not particularly difficult. It is also obvious that there are, as we speak, organized training camps, operating with impunity, in places like Pakistan, and probably in a great many other places as well.

 

3. The governments of countries which host terrorist training facilities are unable or unwilling to clamp down on such activities: We must assume that if terrorist camps are operating in countries like Pakistan, then the government leaders must know about such activities, and are currently unable or unwilling to eradicate them. It is not difficult to fathom why. Clearly, such governments may lack the resources, or may lack the political will, since acting forcefully in this regard could well result in civil war, which may pose even more of a threat than the terrorism itself. It is also possible that corruption may be playing a part in the decision making process, whereby people are being paid off to remain silent and to do nothing to disturb the status quo. There are quiet understandings in place.

 

4. There is a limit to the outside pressure that can be brought to bear against a nuclear power: Even if India rightfully claims that the Pakistani leadership is not doing enough to curb the threat of terrorism, its hands may be tied when dealing with a nation that possesses some 60 nuclear weapons. A military reprisal from India against Pakistan, which will probably not occur, will not likely be strong enough to curb the terrorist threat, given the need to show restraint, in an effort to minimize the risk of a nuclear confrontation.

 

So given the realities on the ground, and the constraints they impose, what should the world do to contain the terrorist threat? My answer would be to Sell a Vision of Hope, by which we use a multi-faceted approach to undermine the enemy, by beating him at his own game, and by strengthening our resolve to meet the threats he poses:

 

1. Ideology: If the terrorist uses the divisive ideology of violent Jihad to win hearts and minds, we counter with the unifying Ideology of Common Sense, an ideology based on common sense principles, principles which have universal appeal, and which are therefore universally accepted as true. We will use a new ideological framework to speak to one another with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity. In a more perfect world, common sense, the collective wisdom born of shared experience, will inspire our thinking and inform our speech. In our fractured world, common sense is the common denominator.

 

2. Investment: If the terrorist uses charitable handouts to win hearts and minds, we counter by investing in jobs, green technology jobs which protect the environment, which grow our economies, and which help to neutralize the hold of extremist thinking.

 

3. Hope: If the terrorist wins hearts and minds by selling people on a vision of hope for martyrdom, or virgins, or paradise, or what have you, we counter by selling people on a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom. People the world over need hope like air to breathe. Give the man on the street a sense of hope, and you will have turned the corner on world peace. Nothing more is needed and nothing less will suffice.

 

4. Public Diplomacy: If the terrorist wins hearts and minds by seeking to set us against one another, we counter by launching a series of Public Diplomacy Programs which are specifically designed to prop a Vision of Hope up and to carry it forward, including: a program to empower women, a media campaign, a student exchange, a cultural exchange, an expanded version of the Peace Corps, and a series of international conferences on education, religion and the environment. Take, for example, the program to empower women by financing female entrepreneurs, and promoting women's rights. Who are women? They are the givers of life, and the caretakers of life, and as such are uniquely qualified to reconstitute their societies consistent with a Vision of Hope.

 

5. Fight: If the terrorist wins hearts and minds by launching terror attacks against us, we counter by fighting back, and fighting hard, but we position the fight within a Vision of Hope. We raise the fight on the ground to a higher moral plain by giving the fight a moral clarity of purpose. We give the fight a good measure of credibility. People will fight harder once they know what they're fighting for. We're not fighting a "war against terror." We are fighting a war to realize a Vision of Hope. There's a big difference.

 

To defeat terrorism, or at least to contain it, we have to become at least as smart, and at least as committed, as the terrorists themselves. We owe it to ourselves to know our enemy, and to beat him at his own game. In effect, we have to co-opt his strategy, to do what he does, only better, and thereby marginalize him in the eyes of his own people. We have to put him in the uncomfortable and untenable position of holding his people back from a better life. Even the terrorist will not be able to withstand that kind of pressure. He will become a pariah in his own land, walking out of step with the will of the people. Ultimately, the will of the people will not be deterred.

 

The terrorist derives his power from his ability to inspire his followers, even as he intimidates his enemy. Our path to victory will be to inspire our own people, and even people around the world who may choose to partner with us, because unlike the terrorist, we have something better to sell. We can win the war of ideas by showing that our ideas make more sense, and that we are willing to back our words up with new realities on the ground, realities which speak louder than words, and which point toward the promise that comes with hope. In the final analysis, the ideological extremists will not be able to capture the public's imagination, once people begin to imagine a better life for themselves. It behooves the West to put that option on the table.

 

We, who are often on the receiving end of terror, can certainly coordinate our efforts better, and embolden ourselves with a vision that gives purpose to our cause. But we may also have to resign ourselves to the possibility that even with a better vision, and even with a more comprehensive and effective approach, the lure of extremist thinking will be hard for some to resist. Terrorism is jut too convenient and enticing a weapon for us to be able to eliminate it totally.

 

Therefore, even though we could do a lot better in this regard, we may just have to accept a small measure of terror as an unfortunate aspect of modern life, not unlike how we have come to accept the unfortunate realities of crime on our streets, or accidents on our highways. Selling one another on a Vision of Hope will not cure all our ills, but will help contain them, and will inspire us to realize our potential as a species, and to meet the challenges which lie ahead with vigor and resolve.

file under: terrorismself-defenseethics 21 Nov 2008 11:35 AM
Where does Self-Defense End, and Terrorism Begin? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Almost every legal system recognizes self-defense as a legitimate legal defense. If somebody is coming at you with an ax, and you have a reasonable concern for your life, and you have no means of escape, then you have the right to protect yourself, even if it means shooting the guy in the head. In short, the right to defend oneself is the right to take the life of another.

 

But is it possible that the right to defend oneself is being stretched so thin, that it crosses over into the realm of terrorism? And if that is the case, how do we know where the right to self-defense ends, and terror begins?

 

An example may help. As World War II was drawing to a close, the U.S. fought hard to defeat Japan. There were estimates at the time that victory in Japan, using conventional warfare, would cost millions of lives. President Truman made the painful and momentous decision to drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And indeed, that decision prompted a quick surrender on the part of Japan. But could it be argued that the decision to drop the bomb was an act of terror, and not simply self-defense?

 

What is "terrorism?" The best definition that I've come across is: The intentional use of violence or fear against civilians for the purpose of promoting a political agenda. So there are two criteria for terrorism: the targeting of civilians, and a purpose to promote a political agenda. With Hiroshima and Nagasaki, civilians were clearly targeted. But was the purpose strictly political, or did it contain enough of an element of the right to defend oneself, such that it could be seen as an act of self-defense? Clearly Japan was out to kill as many Americans as she could. And clearly, dropping the bomb saved lives by bringing the war to a quick close. But did the bomb cross the line into the realm of terror?

 

For the claim of self-defense to be legitimate, there needs to be a close and immediate connection between the defensive action taken, and the threat that is perceived by the person defending himself. If that connection is too loose, or tenuous, or indirect, then what is claimed in the name of self-defense, may quickly devolve into the realm of terror. And the distinction between self-defense and terror is an important one because political and military actions are being planned and taken, as we speak, based on this distinction.

 

If Israel and the U.S. decide to take preemptory action against Iran's nuclear facilities, is this self-defense or terror? Clearly, innocent civilians will be put at risk. But is the threat posed by a nuclear Iran strong enough to justify an act of "self-defense?" What do you think?

 

Barack Obama has expressed his view that if we get actionable intelligence as to Bin Laden's whereabouts, that he would take preemptive military action, even if the target was is Pakistan. Would this be self-defense or terror? Suppose that innocent civilians would be put at risk? Would this change the nature of the military action? What is America's aim here; to defend herself, or to send a message to her enemies? Does motivation change the nature of the action taken?

 

A few years ago, scores of innocent children were killed in a face-off in Beslan. A group of militants from Chechnya took over the school, and put the lives of hundred of children at risk. Could anything that was happening in Chechnya have justified this action, so as to make it an act of self-defense? Or are some actions beyond the pale of any sort of moral justification? Would Jews on their way to the death camps have been morally entitled to kill innocent children? Or are such actions beyond the pale of human decency, under any circumstances?

 

My sense is that each case has to be evaluated on its own merits. It is often the case that the line between self-defense and terror is a thin and fuzzy line at best. It is convenient to ascribe to various groups the labels which make it easier for us to evaluate their behavior. We take a certain comfort, for example, in calling this or that group a "terrorist organization." Such a designation makes it easier for to decide what to do. But the moral subtleties which underlie any given situation often undercut the notion that human behavior can be made to fit into nice and neat labels. We often have no choice but to evaluate each and every case on its own merits, even if it means questioning our preconceived notions.