Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bridge Unbuilt: A Turkish Peace Plan For Israel and Palestine Fails to Materialize

I found this article, from the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz (the Country) upsetting. In a nutshell, a Turkish philanthropist proposed the construction of what he called a peace complex within Israel but on the 1967 border with the West Bank. This complex was to contain a 200 bed children's hospital which would serve Israeli and Palestinian children. It would be staffed by people from both sides of the border as well who would live within the peace complex. The complex would also contain schools and a hotel for the families of Palestinians being treated in Israel. It was expected to create hundreds of jobs, and be fully funded by the Turks including any expenses incurred for additional security. The project received high level support from Israeli politicians (including the Prime Minister,) and the Turkish government. Unfortunately, this project is at a standstill and may never see the light of day because of security concerns expressed by Israeli defense and security agencies.

Would this complex have all of a sudden brought peace to the Middle East? Of course not. It would, however, build bridges between peoples who simply don't know one another. Imagine the children who grew up in such a community: children who knew the "other." Who knew that the people living on the other side of the line were not scary, who would have talked with them, played with them. Children who knew that their parents worked together with "the other" and who realized that they were able to live a good life as a result of this coexistence and cooperation. Imagine the leaders that could come from such a community.

I cannot find another example in Israel or Palestine of a project such as this one where the intention was not only to provide health care, but to actually create a community of both Israelis and Palestinians. There are, however, other projects with similar goals, such as those listed by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the initiatives supported by the Peres Centre for Peace not only in the field of health, but sport, culture and other initiatives as well as programs to increase accessibility of medical care for Palestinians in Israel, described here. It’s these brief contacts, these step-by-step building of relationships that will eventually create an interconnectivity and a relationship between people on each side of the divide. One is far less likely to support the harming of someone they know, than a total stranger; someone who is one of “them.”

Unfortunately, as I imagine the case is with all security establishments, Israeli officials who examined this proposal found too much to worry about and so have officially, shut down the planning, this despite the high level political support. What a shame that such a potentially beneficial project should have to die because of the narrow focus on security. Is it not the job of these security forces to identify risks and then solve them? Why do we not see the civilian leadership saying “security services, this is your mission. It is as important as any other. Carry it out.” It’s encouraging to that there are still champions of this project in Israel and in Turkey. I hope someone begins to listen to them
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