This document is a working draft of a proposal for "selling" peace to Israelis and Palestinians. Comments are invited and may be published here as well.
Interested readers should contact:
Mideastweb Jonathan Field Dr. Titus Levi
May 10, 2002
SALAAM-SHALOM – A NEW MYTHOLOGY OF PEACE
Jonathan Field and Dr. Titus Levi
Looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, peace has been consistently elusive, especially in the last year. There are a multitude of reasons, but one may be deceptively simple. While peace is usually thought of as an ideal, war is easier to imagine. War is visceral. It’s kinetic. Just imagine bombs falling, bullets flying, people dying. Blood. But in a Middle East composed of co-existing Israeli and Palestinian states, what would be the picture of peace? What form would it take?
Today’s Middle East has some very potent myths and visions. Unfortunately, they are too often visions and mythologies of war. Vicious oppressive Jews on one side. Vicious hostile Arabs on the other. Part of the problem is neither party has articulated lucid day-to-day visions of what peace would mean. What tangible, long-term benefits would it offer both sides? At first, the question may seem ridiculous. Obviously, peace should mean less violence.
But under what condition? Palestinians hiring themselves off as cheap labor to Israeli employers? Israelis stymied regionally, boycotted economically and culturally by neighbors hostile to their existence so their closest trading partners (financially and socially) are across the sea in North America and Europe? Clearly, co-existence needs a more positive vision than what has previously existed, something that serves the long term needs of two ambitious, and gifted populations. Generating and supporting that vision will come from a deeper understanding of peace. An active “myth” that plays out on the ground in daily life. A myth based on practical economic co-existence. And a vision that inspires the creation of day-to-day positive interactions and pollinates structures to sustain them.
There are two disciplines uniquely poised with tools to create myth and vision. The first is branding and advertising professionals, the modern powerbrokers of rhetoric and meaning. The second group consists of economists, the individuals who analyze and manage the structural backbone of any nation, its economy; and the lynchpin of global interactions, trade. Working together, there’s the possibility that these groups could reach out to native Israeli and Palestinian populations, seeking micro-guidance to a macro-question: namely the areas of opportunity and conflict for new visions of cooperation.
To frame it another way, Israelis and Palestinians do not have to love each other to get along. They have to see reasons why it’s in their best interest to do so. The question: How to make this happen? In the last ten years, the world has left this process purely up to the politicians. The end result is a lot of war/power rhetoric from either side leading to a tug-o-war between Arabic and Israeli interests and allies. Saalam/Shalom has been created to seek a different avenue of resolution. Looking to international sources of funding and participation, this project would look to leverage the combined talents of two disciplines, advertising professionals (the modern masters of creating vision and myth) and economists (the crafters of how products get made and who gets to enjoy them).
Enlisting a select group of experienced advertising and economics professionals in America, Israel and Palestine, “Salaam/Shalom” would be created to leverage their combined intellectual capital to develop actual projects to put process into action. Not relying on some “blue sky” peace of the future, but crafting (and improvising) visions and projects that work with the toughest conditions on the ground, they would take their cues from the participants in this violent struggle as to areas of possibility for everyday economic cooperation. These economic engagements will serve as a bridge toward a deeper, broader peace in place of the engagements of hostile rhetoric, suicide bombings, and retaliatory strikes.
Rather than relying purely on economic data, they would use proven branding research techniques to identify cultural obstacles and opportunities for peace. Saalam/Shalom’s end product? It would be a collection of messages and project ideas and products, and cooperative business arrangements of genuine positive resonance within the existing communities of conflict. And ultimately this “mythology of peace” campaign would act as a springboard to help inspire and frame economic projects conducive to encouraging co-existence. Existing as an NGO (Non-governmental body) that would help create and oversea these projects, Saalam/Shalom is now seeking participation and funding from appropriate parties.
Saalam/Shalom came out of conversations between branding professional Jonathan Field and Dr. Titus Levi, an economist and professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication. Based in New York City, Field has over a decade of media experience, and has spent the bulk of his professional life exploring the intersections between culture, business and community. He is also a Jewish New Yorker who has lived in Jerusalem, as well as four other major cities around the world. Having leveraged cultural research to grow brands like Oxygen Media, Nextel, and General Motors, Field wants to give some of his professional focus to something in the social sphere. As someone with friends and contacts in both the Israeli and Palestinian world, Field finds the Middle East as inspiring an area as it is daunting.
Meeting economist Levi during work at the University of Southern California, Field found a kindred spirit, a widely read and traveled professional who is inspired by the economic challenge of creating economic opportunity amid multi-cultural communities. African-American in cultural background, Levi’s academic studies have brought him to explore everything from media policy to the entertainment economy. He is particularly interested in research on broadcast media and the social implications/affects of new technology adoption. Field and Levi initiated dialogue following September 11th, identifying each other each having the passion and networks of professional relationships to put this idea into action. At this point, Field and Levi are recruiting a select group of branding professionals, economists, and associated social scientists (anthropologists, political scientists) to join them in the United States but, ultimately even more important, Israel and Palestine. Once a board of directors is created, Saalam/Shalom will seek funding for projects from private foundations.
Where would we start? By gathering branding/media and economic/business professionals, both in the United States, but also in Israel and Palestine. People who will lend their names and ideas to this effort. Working via e-mail and telephone, we’ll look to generate communication programs that could be powerful while working within the context of this conflict. Whether it’s mass media or guerilla campaigns, or perhaps enlisting pop culture figures like Bono to produce a peace concert in Jerusalem, with our imagination maybe we can contribute something to the larger process that will lead to a positive co-existence.
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