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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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U.S. defense chief lays ground for Obama meeting with Gulf allies

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Saudi King Salman at Erga Palace upon his arrival for a summit meeting in Riyadh
By Yeganeh Torbati RIYADH (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his Gulf Arab counterparts met in Riyadh on Wednesday to discuss ways to counter Iranian influence and fight the Islamic State group, hours before President Barack Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia. Obama will meet Saudi King Salman before a summit with all the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), also in Riyadh, on Thursday, with shared security and defense issues likely to dominate the agenda.

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Nissim Dahan's Blog
A steady stream of consciousness and thought provoking comments on the possibility of lasting peace in the Middle East and the world as a whole.
file under: Middle East PeaceFreedomArab Spring 25 Sep 2011 3:42 PM
So It's Freedom You Want? Posted by Nissim Dahan
 

People the world over cry out for "freedom," but how often do we sit down and think about what it really means to be free?

 

Over the years, different people the world over embraced different interpretations of "freedom."

 

Janice Joplin used to sing of freedom as "...nothing left to lose." Is that what it means to be free? Or is that the state of mind that is needed to put everything on the line, and to venture forth in search of freedom?

 

The framers of the U.S. Constitution thought of freedom as conferring certain inalienable rights to the citizenry, such as freedom of religion, speech, a free press, free assembly, and free association.

 

On January 6, 1941, President Roosevelt spoke of the four fundamental freedoms that people "everywhere in the world" are entitled to: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

 

However you define it, the notion of freedom has captured hearts and minds of people in all four corners of the world. And still somehow, it is often difficult to define what exactly it means to be free. Yet we realize, as we fight for freedom, that it is important to understand what it is to be free, so that at the end of the day, we know what it is we're looking for, and recognize what it is when we finally find it.

 

Certainly there is a role for government to play in assuring to their people the basic right of freedom. Liberty is enhanced to the extent that governments undo the shackles of oppressive rule, external control, interference, regulation, etc. Freedom also grows as a person comes to believe that he is the master of his destiny and that he can make the decisions to chart his course in life, without excessive and unreasonable interference from government. And of course, freedom connotes a fundamental respect for human life, and the protection of a person's right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

 

However, just as government can play its role, the individual himself has a role to play as well, in fighting for and sustaining a sense of personal freedom. It could well be argued that the greatest freedom of all is the freedom to think. Rene Descartes famously said, "I think, therefore I am." Inherent in the human condition, and our existence as free human beings, is our ability to think, and I would add, our ability to think clearly, with common sense and personal dignity, unhampered by the biases, suspicions, prejudices and superstitions which are thrust upon us, at an early age, by the societies we find ourselves.

 

As we search for freedom in such diverse places as the Middle East, or the Far East, or the West, or wherever the need arises; if it is really freedom we're after, and if we dare to be true to ourselves, then we have no choice but to let go of past prejudices and wrong-headed thinking, in favor of what makes sense, and what promises hope for the future.

 

Our challenge, as freedom fighters, is not an easy one. All too often, we are called upon to put everything on the line, in hope of finding something that may never be found. But perhaps the greatest challenge of all, as we seek our freedom, and the freedom of others, is to break the chains that bind us to the thinking of the past, and that keep us imprisoned in the psychological cages that we have built for ourselves. If we find the courage and the wisdom to break these chains of the mind, then, and only then, will we shine the light on the path to freedom.

file under: Arab Springa new model for the Middle East911 11 Sep 2011 3:45 PM
9/11 and The Arab Spring Posted by Nissim Dahan
 

In this ambiguous world of ours it is often difficult to find moral clarity, even when it comes to seemingly black and white issues like 9/11 and the Arab Spring. And the question arises therefore: How do we bring moral clarity to a world that is mired in confusion and chaos?

 

The Taliban were not exactly a friendly bunch when they ran things in Afghanistan. They made life difficult for the people with their distorted version of Islam. They kept women covered up and hidden away in the shadows. And they allowed al Qaeda to recruit and train in preparation for 9/11.

 

The consequences of the terror attack ran deep and have changed the course of human destiny forever. Three-thousand innocent civilians were murdered, and things would never be the same. A War On Terror was launched. Regime change was undertaken in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in recent months, perhaps as an indirect consequence, the Arab Spring has taken hold in the Middle East, bringing with it the prospect of regime change throughout the region, in response to a call by the people for freedom and jobs.

 

Yet still somehow there is little that has been resolved in the Middle East, even ten years since the towers of the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And there are few prospects, at this point in time, that the hopes and aspirations of the Arab Spring will bear fruit. We can see, lurking in the shadows, all sorts of shady characters who remain poised to pounce on the opportunity to assume the reins of power, and to impose on the people their lopsided versions of right and wrong.

 

9/11 was a defining moment in American history, but what did it mean? The Arab Spring is a defining moment in Middle East history, but where will it lead? Will the hopes and aspirations of the people be realized? Or will the War On Terror and the Arab Spring be footnotes in the annals of history; cast aside as missed opportunities to bring about real change?

In order for 9/11 and the Arab Spring to achieve the measure of meaning they deserve, we need to raise the fight on the ground, against terror and against oppression, to a higher moral plane, by giving the fight a moral clarity of purpose. We need to make sense of it all, for it to make a difference in the day to day lives of everyday people.

 

 To bring moral clarity to the confusion of our time, we must embrace a vision that makes sense, and that inspires in people a sense of hope. And then we must find the courage to give substance to the vision and make it real.

 

The vision for our time is, and must be, a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom. It is a vision that makes sense of the wars that we are waging, and that inspires in us the belief that things can get better, if people of good will, people like us, choose to make it so. Positioned in the proper context, our struggles assume a greater sense of purpose. We are not fighting a "War on Terror." We are fighting a war to realize a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom. There's a big difference. We are not fighting to kill Gadhafi, or to execute Mubarak. We are fighting to bless our people with the dignity that comes from decent jobs and personal freedoms.

 

To bring justice to those who lost their lives on 9/11 and in the Arab Spring, build 100 Green Industrial Zones throughout the region, using Arab capital, along with Arab, Israeli and American knowhow. Create jobs that grow our economies, that protect the environment, and that help to weaken the hold of extremist thinking. Use state-of-the-art green technology to address the environmental issues of the region such as clean water, food production, green energy and healthcare. Show that the lives lost, and the battles waged, served a greater purpose, a purpose that inspires a sense of hope in things to come.

 

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is a time to reflect and to remember. As we remember those who lost their lives in such a brutal fashion, let us also reflect on how best to do justice to the sanctity of those precious lives, by embracing a Vision of Hope, and giving substance to that vision with changes which will inspire in people a sense of hope for the future, and a belief that their struggles will not have been in vain.

file under: vision of hopeTurkeySyrian SpringMiddle East PeaceHamasArab Spring 11 Aug 2011 3:58 PM
Are Turkey and Israel Kissing Cousins Again? Posted by Nissim Dahan
 

 

Relations between Turkey and Israel have been strained to the breaking point, ever since nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara tried to run Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, and were killed by Israeli naval commandos in May of last year. In the years preceding this incident, relations between the two countries were relatively good, including strategic cooperation, tourism, economic cooperation, and the like. But since the Mavi Marmara affair, any attempt at rapprochement by Israel was met with; "apologize first," by Prime Minister Erdogan.

 

In light of this recent and contentious history, rumors that Turkey may be willing to help mediate the prisoner exchange by which IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, now being held by Hamas militants, would be released, seemed too good to be true. Why, in the face of such strong positions taken by Turkey, would Prime Minister Erdogan even consider helping Israel secure the release of her soldier, Gilad Shalit?

 

The answer may well be the "Arab Spring," or more specifically the "Syrian Spring." The turmoil in the Arab world is plain to see, and is most vividly brought home by the relentless killing of demonstrators in both Libya and Syria. Particularly in Syria, the killing spree by the government seems to know no bounds, and is affecting Turkey directly by the swell of refugees crossing over the border.

 

There is little doubt that Turkish attitudes have changed, as the current harsh realities of the Arab street are factored in. And in fact, as Turkey searches for some measure of stability in the region, is it a wonder that she may look to Israeli in that regard? The ups and downs of Israeli/Turkish relations may well pale by comparison, as compared to the existential threats posed by the "Syrian Spring," with its widespread and far reaching implications for the region as a whole. In short, a strategic partnership with Israel may be a bitter pill to swallow, but may also be the right medicine at the right time.

 

Rumors have it that we will soon see: the appointment of new ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Ankara, a renewal of a strategic partnership between the two countries, an Israeli apology for last year's flotilla fiasco, and official confirmation of the Turkish mediation efforts in the Shalit affair. Much of the progress in this regard has been fostered and encouraged by President Obama and his administration, which is trying to bridge the divide between Washington and Ankara, and which sees a rapprochement between Israel and Turkey as indispensable in this regard.

 

If it is true that the "Syrian Spring" has played a significant role in bringing Turkey and Israel closer together, then this has widespread implications for the region as a whole. There is no doubt that the history of the Middle East is replete with enmity between Israel and much of the Arab world. Rightly or wrongly, and I believe wrongly, Israel and the U.S. have been blamed for much that has gone wrong in that troubled region.

 

However, the "Arab Spring" may have ushered in a new day, a turning point of sorts. Whereas in the past, Israel and the U.S. have served as convenient scapegoats, as a way of diverting attention away from the inadequacy of corrupt and oppressive leadership, today, in light of new realities on the Arab street, Israel and the U.S. may better serve as friends in need, as  partners who may be of help in averting existential threats, and helping to usher in a new age in the Middle East, based on a Vision of Hope for the region, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom.

 

It would be quite ironic indeed if all this came to pass, but no less ironic than some of the other craziness that takes place on a daily basis in this mysterious place we call the Middle East.

file under: vision of hopepeace in the Middle Eastcivil disobiencea new model 28 Jul 2011 12:03 PM
A Day at the Beach Posted by Nissim Dahan
 

A friend of mine brought to my attention a recent article by Ethan Bronner in The New York Times, Where Politics Are Complex, Simple Joys at the Beach. The article describes a group of Israeli women who engage in civil disobedience by sneaking into Israel groups of Palestinian women to enjoy a day at the beach. The Israeli women, who call themselves We Will Not Obey, are willing to break the law to send the message that in their opinion, the occupation, with its attendent legislation, is unjust and should be brought to an end. The Palestinian women are willing to take the heat from their husbands, friends, and families, to enjoy a day at the beach, and to taste a small measure of freedom.

 

While the beach scene may seem idyllic on its face, not everything goes smoothly on such occasions. A Palestinian woman, who has five of her brothers in Israeli prisons, and whose other brother was killed when he entered a settler religious academy armed with a knife, said, "This is all ours," when she first entered Tel Aviv. The Israeli women reminded her, however, that his was their home. Another Palestinian woman admitted that her husband's family did not approve of her visits, "How can you be with the Jews, they ask me, are you a collaborator?"

 

So perhaps the deep seated divide between these two people is still there, only to be temporarily papered over by an occasional act of defiance, an occasional visit to the beach. But something about this story struck me as significant. Perhaps it was the fact that women, and not men, were taking the initiative to defy the law, but in a gentle, and non-violent manner. Women, on the whole, seem to have a keen sense of right and wrong, and are not naturally inclined to obsess over ideological differences. Women have better things to do with their time. They tend to build bridges, not walls.

 

Our daughter gave birth to her fourth child this week. At a moment's notice, my wife and she sprang into action, making the necessary arrangements to bring this child into the world, and to care for her as best they could. For the most part, the men sat back, watched, and marveled at it all.  Who are women, I often ask myself. 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, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom.

 

There are many instances, around the world, of a disconnect between the policies of government and the aspirations of the people. The majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peace, but their leaders seem disinclined to make the effort. In the Arab world, the man on the street wants a decent job and the personal freedom to live his life as he sees fit. And yet, the powers that be remain committed to a model that is repressive and out of step with the will of the people. In the United States, Republicans and Democrats, who are debating a solution to debt crisis, are willing to play a game of chicken with the full faith and credit of the country, which could wreak economic havoc in the U.S. and around the world.

 

Leaders, on all sides of the fence, get caught up in ideological traps, traps which imprison their thinking, traps which make it difficult to find common ground, and traps which make compromise a dirty word. At a time when global problems require global solutions, narrow-minded ideological positions keep us cooped up in our own little worlds. And it's going to take more than a Day at the Beach for us to enjoy the light of day.

 

One of the Israeli women mentioned Rosa Parks, "...I admire her, because she had the courage to break a law that was not right." Yes, but that was not enough. What was needed was a vision, a big vision of hope. Dr. King was a man possessed of such a vision, a vision of civil rights and equal treatment under the law. Ordinarily, Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on the bus, would have been a non-event. But Dr. King was no ordinary man. He was a man possessed of a vision, a big vision of hope. He saw in Rosa Parks an opportunity to give substance to his vision, and soon enough, the reality on the ground grew to fill up the space created by the vision. Such is the dynamic of change in the world, and such is the prescription for change in the Middle East.

 

So let us enjoy our Day at the Beach. Let us continue to push the envelope, just a tad, and without violence, to get our voices heard. But let us, as well, find the courage and the wisdom to give purpose to our passions. Let us embrace a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom, and let us give substance to that vision by changing peoples' lives for the better, with new realities that speak louder than words, and which help to break the walls of ideological divides.

 

 

file under: Middle East Peacelegislationboycottsa new model for the Middle East 17 Jul 2011 3:00 PM
Is the Boycott Law Good for Israel? Posted by Nissim Dahan
 

In the Wild, Wild West, American settlers used to "circle the wagons" when their wagon train came under attack. Some of Israel's lawmakers are doing something similar in our time.

 

Faced with a barrage of international criticisms, and with a concerted campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state, and with mounting calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions, some lawmakers have taken it upon themselves to pass laws which are intended to stem the tide of widespread condemnation of Israel's policies vis a vis the Palestinians.

 

One such law, The Boycott Law, allows for civil suits against Israelis who organize or publicly endorse boycotts against Israel or its institutions, including universities, settlements and businesses in the West Bank. While the law does not call for criminal sanctions, it does allow the victim of boycotts to sue for damages in civil court.

 

Critics of the legislation say that it violates free speech and free expression. Proponents say that free speech, which has its limits, does not give us the right to injure the economic wellbeing of others. They also say something along these lines, "How can we ask the world community to ban boycotts against Israel, if we aren't willing to do so ourselves?"

 

In my opinion, even though I understand the rationale for such laws, and even though I can relate to the pain caused by efforts to delegitimize Israel as the home for the Jewish people, especially given the painful history that brought Israel into existence in the first place, still, I believe that on the whole, such laws do more harm than good.

 

There are several reasons I oppose The Boycott Law: it doesn't work, it helps Israel's enemies, it fundamentally undermines what Israel is all about, and it diverts attention from what needs to be done to restore Israel's standing in the world.

 

The Boycott Law will not work. On the contrary, when people who believe strongly in a cause are told "no," they become even more emboldened to do exactly the opposite. Numerous examples come to mind. The Viet Nam War, for example, was opposed by millions of Americans, some of whom took to the streets, burned their draft cards in the face of criminal prosecutions, and brought the government to its knees in a bid to end the war. The Arab Spring, although the final results are still in play, is a recent example of people taking to the streets and declaring a resounding "yes" to freedom, while assuming incalculable personal risks themselves. Simply put, it is almost impossible, over the long term, to legislate successfully against the idealistic fervor of those who are deeply committed. It doesn't work, and may actually embolden those who have been sitting quietly on the sidelines.

 

Another problem with The Boycott Law is that is gives fodder to Israel's enemies, who are waging a propaganda war against the Jewish state, and who search for any means possible to discredit and delegitimize the state. Therefore, while Israel holds herself out as a "democratic" state, with full freedom bestowed on its citizenry, the Boycott Law can easily be portrayed as an affront to democracy, and as a curtailment to free speech. The enemies of Israel could easily say, "What kind of democracy can Israel be is she sets out to curtail the freedom of expression of her own people?" Even the Anti-Defamation League, not exactly a bastion of liberal thinking, criticized the law saying it could impinge on the "basic democratic right of Israelis to freedom of speech and freedom of expression."

 

The Boycott Law is also dangerous because it can lead to a slippery slope by which Israel loses sight of her identity, her historical legacy, and the moral justification for her existence. Israel came into being, in part, because of 2000 years of oppression of the Jewish people, including forced exile, forced conversion, discrimination, inquisitions, pogroms, etc., ultimately culminating in the Holocaust, which continues to stand as one of the most evil deeds perpetrated by the hand of man.

 

Out of the ashes of the Holocaust, came the birth of a new nation, the nation of Israel, in the land where Jews were historically and religiously connection for over 3000 years. It was fitting, therefore, considering what Jews went through to get a state of their own, that this nation would be democratic and free, and would protect the rights of all minorities, and would serve as a "light unto the nations." In many respects, Israel has lived up to this enormous challenge, and has come to embody much of what is needed to revitalize the Middle East: economic prosperity, job creation, education, democratic rule, personal freedom, the rule of law, protection of minorities, empowerment of women, etc. It would be very wrong indeed to allow the "paranoia" of the moment to undercut Israel's stellar achievements, to discount her ability to do good in the world, and to confuse her sense of identity.

 

My final objection to The Boycott Law is that it diverts attention from what really needs to be done to restore Israel's image in the world. Our goal, as Israelis, should be to consummate a peace deal with the Palestinians, and to bring an end to the occupation, as soon as peace is possible. In the meantime, to facilitate and expedite the peace process, we should be doing things which point to the possibility of peace, such as spearheading an effort to revitalize the Middle East economically with good paying jobs, to put new models in place, and to promote the emergence of personal freedoms throughout the region. The Boycott Law is a short-sighted diversion, an ideological poke in the eye, which diverts attention from constructive action that could be taken, even at this time, to end the diplomatic paralysis, to build neutral pathways to peace, and to move forward on a Vision of Hope for the region, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom.