I Do Choose To Run: Conflict and cooperation

March 5, 2012, 12:28 a.m.

This is the third and last in a series of columns by the author dealing with divestment and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


I Do Choose To Run: Conflict and cooperationWhen talking about Israel/Palestine, it’s all too easy to focus on the things we don’t agree about. That is natural and to some extent necessary. Without deeply engaging with, acknowledging and working out compromises on issues of fundamental difference, no long-term solution will ever be possible.


But we also shouldn’t lose sight of things we can all agree on. Here on campus, with the hotly contested issue of divestment so often taking center stage, it’s easy to forget that there are other options out there — options that all sides in this debate should feel safe supporting. Even better, they’re options that can have a concrete and measurable impact on real people, right now.


Two years ago, the Stanford Israel Alliance proposed an initiative called Invest for Peace (IFP), which sought to raise money and support for microfinance and peace-building organizations operating in the occupied territories. Unfortunately, Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel (SCAI), the predecessor to Students for Palestinian Equal Rights (SPER), viewed IFP as an attempt to blunt the momentum of its own drive for divestment, while the inevitable graduation of students involved with the program slowly bled it of drive and energy.


We should bring IFP, or a form of it, back.


A reconstituted cooperative investment board, composed of representatives from both SPER and Stanford Israel Alliance (SIA), would have an encouragingly broad and diverse array of programs from which to select.


It could start by fundraising for Seeds of Peace, a peace-building organization targeted specifically toward children and adolescents. Founded in 1993, the program brings young Israelis and Palestinians together at its international camp in Maine for sessions of constructive, rational, intense dialogue. In doing so, Seeds of Peace tries to reach impressionable young people before the embittering draught of experience permanently makes reconciliation impossible — empowering “seeds” who will one day grow into world leaders committed to finding peaceful solutions to intractable problems.


The board could also consider Lend for Peace, a Kiva-esque microfinance organization doing on-the-ground investment work in the Palestinian territories. Founded by two Jews and two Palestinians, LFP “was created to enable people of all faiths and backgrounds to make a tangible difference in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by cooperatively addressing the often-ignored issue of economic inequality and Palestinian poverty.” Its website connects potential investors directly with aspiring Palestinian small business owners — people like Hadeel, 29, who hopes to start her own photography business, or Lutfia, 45, who is looking for a loan of $1,000 to purchase sheep for her growing agricultural firm.


These are only two of many options, all of which the new Invest for Peace board could and should consider. I could talk about the Peres Center for Peace, the Valley of Peace Initiative, Green Action or dozens of other ventures promoting joint Israeli-Palestinian economic development and cooperative dialogue.


It is sometimes objected that such initiatives merely paint a pleasant-looking gloss over more fundamental structural issues, implicitly authorizing or legitimating Israeli human-rights abuses by offering surface-level solutions to deeper problems. One critic characterized programs like Invest for Peace as “dropping a quarter in someone’s tin cup after you’ve chopped off her hands.”


Believing that would be a mistake. The very real difference such initiatives make is not trivial. Furthermore, cooperative investment need not operate in a vacuum, nor should it be construed as a roadblock to other avenues for peace-building. It is only one element — an absolutely essential one — of a broader human rights framework.


In 2001’s Promises, one of my favorite documentaries, Israeli filmmaker B.Z. Goldberg chronicles the lives of seven Israeli and Palestinian children who, though only a few miles apart, live in what seem like different universes.


The initial stages of the film are chilling. Moishe lives in an Israeli settlement, next to a firing range for Israeli soldiers. The firing range inspires him. “Maybe if they miss,” he muses, “they’ll hit an Arab.” A half-smile lights up his face.


Faraj, meanwhile, lives in the Deheishe refugee camp in the West Bank and is an ardent supporter of Hamas. He lives in a world where schools seem to teach children little but how to hate Jews and Israel, and where hastily scrawled anti-Israel graffiti adorns walls and doorways.


But by the film’s astonishing conclusion, the exceptional Mr. Goldberg has brought the children together in one place, for one day. And despite some initial distrust, they do what all kids do; they play, eat and laugh together.


It might at first seem a sentimental, useless gesture. But like Mr. Goldberg, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of cooperation to effect real and lasting change. Let’s get started.


Miles has truly enjoyed hearing your opinions on this series of columns, and he would like to sincerely thank all of those who emailed him at milesu1 “at” stanford “dot” edu with suggestions and criticism. Thanks for reading.

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