by Khadrah Jean Jaser AbuZant
December 27, 2008, is a day that will be remembered by Palestinians as the beginning of the massacre in Gaza. Of course, to many Israelis it will be considered the day when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began defending its citizens against Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza. Whatever your view of the situation, I believe everyone can agree that it was the day when what little ground had been gained on the road to peace was not only lost, but taken back a few steps as well. How Can We Move Forward?
Now that most of the violence has stopped in Gaza, itís time to think about how we can regain the ground that was lost and, hopefully, move a few steps forward on the path to peace. This will take foresight and planning, meticulous timing and precise execution in order to be successful. In my view, the respective goals should be as follows: allow time for healing, engage in compassionate dialogue, reconcile through support of rebuilding efforts, reach mutual understanding and apply new policies and agreements. Time to Heal
First, although many of us are fed up and frustrated with this sixty-year conflict, time must be set aside for a healing phase before re-embarking on the peace process once again. This is important in order to ensure that this time, all the efforts put into a solution will lead to a lasting peace. People must be ready and willing for the process to continue; it cannot be pushed into motion, nor can people be coerced into involvement.
This healing process will not happen quickly. Many of the victims in Gaza, having had their emotions suspended while dealing with immediate threats to their safety, are only now beginning the long grieving process. These people need emotional, psychological and in many cases, financial support to get through it.
Even after the initial period of grief has subsided, there will be longterm psychological repercussions within the population, such as Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and Survivorís Guilt that will need to be dealt with, especially in children. Thus, children will need extra special care and attention to encourage their emotional stability in the future. After all, as the next generation of Palestinian leaders, itís they who will be trusted to keep whatever agreements are made, insure stability in the government and build a strong infrastructure that can sustain the people and policies. From Dialogue to Reconciliation
Although the complete healing process will take many years, there needs to be engagement of the victims through compassionate dialogue, as soon as they are far enough into the initial healing phase as to be receptive to it. At first, this should be done with fellow Palestinians or concerned third parties and, only later, with the other side. This engagement will allow for accountability, analysis of causation, acceptance of the right to feelings of anger and hostility, exploration of future preventative measures and identification of the appeasements and reparations needed for reconciliation.
Having identified the needed measures for reconciliation, itís time to implement them. First and foremost among those measures must be the rebuilding of the infrastructure and economy of Gaza. This should be an international effort, of course, but wouldnít it enhance the process of reconciliation if Israelis, of all ages, were on the forefront? Even if they canít be hands-on on the ground, they can at least show public support for the effort, allowing the Palestinians to disassociate the actions of the Israeli military and government from the perceptions of its sympathetic citizens. Towards a Mutual Accord
When healing, engagement and reconciliation have taken place, the next step would be to reach mutual understanding. If governments cannot agree on the road map to peace, then itís up to the individuals to press the issue with their votes or simply take matters into their own hands.
This has been done in the past through various peace groups, both grassroots and international, but none with more diligence or intensity than youth peace groups. They have held bi-national and multi-national camps, seminars, workshops and congresses. They have come together in these living quarters, playing sports and games together, learning empowerment techniques, holding mock UN sessions and participating in serious dialogue. They learned how to listen compassionately, speak frankly, respect one anotherís rights to exist without fear, occupation or oppression and be receptive to the other sideís point of view on the conflict, even if they didnít agree with it. They have been able to put their differences aside, identify their commonalities and make peace with the individuals they once considered their enemy.
Now, the logical move would be to implement these same concepts on a much broader scale. After all, accords cannot be reached if the two sides never meet, and never have open dialogue to help understand one another, in order to move towards agreeing to respect each other's basic rights.
After both sides have moved closer to mutual understanding and acceptance, the next step is to apply this accord to government policy, public opinion and action on the ground. Pre-Existing Peace Groups
The youth peace groups, which, over the last few decades have been striving to encourage co-existence and build a foundation for peace, would be a prime source for furthering the next steps towards full reconciliation. They should be united, empowered and practically utilized in the political peace process, each offering it own unique set of skills and aptitudes.
For example, the inspired alumni of youth of programs like Seeds of Peace could bring their vast experience and innovation to the table. The female participants in such programs as "Creativity for Peace" would be the nurturers of healing and understanding. The members of organizations like Combatants for Peace who, despite losing things most precious to them, such as a loved one or their freedom, can bring the strength and stamina needed to get through the toughest of times ahead. Finally, the multitude of young people who have participated in cross-border, cross-cultural or religious tolerance programs like the Sulha Peace Project can show us how to apply the power of solidarity to the process, the sustenance that co-existence needs to survive.
We need to openly allow these courageous young adults to lobby for governmental policy changes, expose human rights violations and encourage their respective citizens to cross the barrier and reach out to the other side. They need international and local approval, financial support and community involvement. It will be these individuals who have worked alone, for many years in the darkness of violence and conflict and with fear of ostracism, ridicule, exile, deportation, interrogation, imprisonment and accusation of treachery, who are best qualified to bring the light of cooperation and coexistence to the region. Strengthening Network Ties
Even now, during this time of transition, these groups, these dedicated young peace seekers, use their networking skills to make a difference. For example, I learned that Shetha, one of my sisters in Creativity for Peace, living in Gaza, had been critically wounded and her sisters and cousins killed in a missile attack on their house. I felt it was my duty to visit her in the Israeli hospital she was taken to, so I contacted Israelis in my peace-friendsí network for help. I found that Eyal Ronder, the managing director of Seeds of Peace in Tel Aviv, was willing, trusting and able to get me an emergency travel permit. During the visit to her bedside, I believe I managed to cheer her up, just a little, as well as ease my own sorrow and sense of outrage on behalf of Shetha and so many like her.
These same people in my peace-friendsí network, mostly teens and young adults, after hearing her tragic story, visited her themselves, even though they didnít know her. They also took part and encouraged other Israelis to so as well, in a candlelight vigil at the hospital, dedicated to her and her slain family members.
In conclusion, the sixty-year conflict and, especially the recent tragedy in Gaza, have robbed children of their innocent view on life and their hope for a better future, but, worst of all, they have stolen the humanity of young and old alike, on both sides. The oppressor has become the oppressed, the jailer the prisoner and the violator the violated. Although youthful innocence can never be regained, hope and humanity have a chance for restoration by allowing time for healing, engaging in compassionate dialogue, reconciling through support of rebuilding efforts, reaching mutual accord and applying new policies and agreements. They must be ventured for and won, with determination and, above all, speed. After all, worse can always follow even the worst we have seen. Therefore, there is no time to lose.