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First Steps to Peace - A Middle East Peace Activism Proposal

11/22/2004

Jed Graham, an American, offers a new and timely initiative to help build support for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Just a few short weeks ago, hopes for peace were completely off the radar. Now, with the passing of Yasser Arafat, political leaders in Israel and the U.S. have begun talking about ways to cooperate with his political successors.

Much has changed in the past few weeks, but for those who wish to see peace in the Middle East, it makes more sense to focus on all that hasn't changed.

The enmity fueled by four years of violence hasn't dissipated. Palestinians and Israelis continue to view each other with bitterness, distrust and contempt. There are still people who believe it's in their interest to torpedo any chances for reconciliation.

As long as bitterness and distrust are prevalent, neither people will believe the other is willing to be a true partner in peace. If Palestinians and Israelis harbor deep doubts that progress is possible, neither side will be able to build a critical mass of support for doing what is necessary to work for peace.

With no clear public mandate to take steps for peace, political leaders will find it difficult to seize any opportunity for progress and those who seek to stand in the way of progress will feel emboldened.

For those who want to help create the conditions for progress in the Middle East, the first question is how to get the Palestinian and Israeli people to believe that progress is possible. How can we break through the bitterness and distrust and make it clear that the vast majority of Palestinians and Israelis would choose a future of hope over a future of hatred? How can both sides begin to build a public mandate for peaceful engagement?

Since neither side is prepared to reach out to the other unilaterally, the answer is that both sides must take the first steps to a better future together. Because the U.S. also has a critical role in the peace process, Americans should join with Palestinians and Israelis in taking those initial steps.

How can we all take those first steps together? We are just beginning an effort at www.FirstStepsToPeace.org to organize simultaneous marches in the U.S., Israel and Palestinian territory. Our goal is to mobilize a massive display of support for nonviolent engagement and deliver a clear and powerful message that progress is possible.

The marches will give all sides a platform to say that they share a responsibility to resolve the conflict and wish to do so without more bloodshed. All sides will be expressing a readiness to engage in dialogue and to take constructive steps for peace if the message of non-violence is heeded. All will be saying that they're willing to do their part to work together for peace.

The effort won't advocate any specific agreement. It will carry only a positive message that Palestinians, Israelis and Americans are ready to take the first steps to a better future
together. People won't be pointing blame at any group or protesting any specific government policy or official. They'll be marching for a future of hope and progress, not hatred and violence.

The marches will be, in essence, a show of hearts on all sides that will help start the process of healing from the past years of violence. Palestinians and Israelis will see clear evidence that the other side can move beyond hatred and be a partner in peace. The marches will give all sides reason to believe that progress toward a better future is possible and help set in motion the kind of political changes necessary for peaceful engagement to move forward.

Changing hearts and marshaling broad support isn't likely to happen overnight. That's why all sides need to demonstrate a commitment to peaceful engagement over a period of weeks, and perhaps months. As marches continue in Israel and the Palestinian territory for a second weekend, two different U.S. cities will also hold marches. Three other U.S. cities will hold marches on the third weekend, and so on, until perhaps dozens of U.S. cities have taken part.

The effect of simultaneous marches will be self-reinforcing. As the number of marchers on all sides grows, more people will start to believe that progress is possible and join the effort. As more people are convinced to choose hope over hatred, the momentum toward peace will grow.

We can't leave progress up to politicians alone. If we wait, we risk letting an opportunity slip away. Progress depends on the Palestinian and Israeli people deciding to choose nonviolent engagement over violence and hope over hatred. Simultaneous marches will give the people a forum and a reason to make their voices heard.

This effort will do more than anything else to energize a discussion in the Middle East over the merits of nonviolent engagement. We can show that non-violence can yield results in the most bitter of conflicts. Nothing would do more to marginalize those who embrace terrorism as a strategy for achieving political aims.

Please visit the First Steps To Peace Web site to offer your help and advice, and please tell others about the site.

Jed Graham
Washington DC

Please contact Jed Graham with your suggestions through the form at http://www.firststepstopeace.org/ChangeTheWorld.html OR write to contact @ firststepstopeace.org (remove the spaces that have been added to protect against SPAM spiders).

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000314.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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