Thursday, September 13, 2007

Common Ground News Service features, 9/13/07

Title: Measures of confidence
Author: Mark L. Cohen
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007
Word Count: 709

Title: My first Jewish wedding
Author: Rami Assali
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007
Word Count: 735

Title: Soccer unites children
Author: Deborah Clifford
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007
Word Count: 657

Each article is available in Arabic, English and Hebrew; I’d be happy to send
you any translation. Please feel free to republish the article(s) and let me know
by sending an email to:
Common Ground News Service

Measures of confidence
Mark L. Cohen
PARIS - Success in bringing about real Middle East peace will depend on more
than marginalizing Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank and a political
settlement with the Palestinian Authority alone. Crucially, other Arab nations
in the region must also accept the future Palestine as a full-fledged
neighbouring state, as well as Palestinian nationals themselves as entitled
members of the Middle East community. Concrete steps in this direction-with
Palestinians no longer treated by Arab neighbour states as outcasts or frontline
soldiers in the war against Israel-will in turn provide Israelis and their
government the confidence needed to make concessions in the peace process.
Both Palestinians and Israelis need to be convinced that the political process
can lead to constructive change in their respective conditions. Progress on the
outstanding issues-such as the relocation of West Bank settlers, Jerusalem,
the right of return, and the PLO’s obligation to crack down on terrorists and
their organizations-is obviously vital. But none of this will produce real change
unless the nations in the region (Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and countries
in the Persian Gulf) acknowledge that Palestinians, inside and outside a future
Palestinian state, must have the right to travel, work, and attend universities
throughout the area-rights which have been denied by Israel and Arab nations
Only if an end is put to the isolation of Palestinians from their Arab neighbours
will viable economic, social as well as political solutions emerge. And only if the
two-state solution is formulated in that context will the parties make the
necessary political concessions for a viable, long-term peace to take hold. Why?
Because despite its economic strengths, Israel alone cannot produce
meaningful change in the lives of the 3.5 million Palestinians living inside the
new state, nor in the lives of the 2.4 million refugees in Jordan, Syria and
Yet despite this, there is at least an implicit expectation among Arabs and also
Europeans that it somehow falls mostly on Israel to create the conditions
needed to satisfy the aspirations and rectify the suffering of the Palestinian
people. While both unfair and unrealistic, this expectation goes far back in
history. Indeed, having more or less openly decided at the time of the 1948 war
to isolate Palestinian refugees in camps and to prevent their integration in the
Arab world, Arab states have continued ever since to claim that Israel was and
is the sole party responsible for the Palestinian condition. To this day,
neighbouring states have been at best ambiguous about allowing Palestinians
to travel or work in their territories, and for more than 20 years, following the
partition of Palestine in 1947, opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state
on the West Bank. This refusal to recognize a Palestinian identity is further
reflected in UN Resolutions designating Palestinians not as such but as Arab
Be that as it may, this expectation has had two counterproductive
consequences. On the Israeli side, it has led to the lingering suspicion that
Arab countries are disingenuous in their avowed passionate defence of
Palestinian rights. On the Palestinian side, it has led to the assumption of a
front line combatant mission to retrieve the lost honour of the Arab world. This
has blinded many Palestinians to the prospect of any future outlook to the
East, North or South, and has produced a perhaps excessive fixation on the
right of return and other political rights, at the expense of focusing on the right
to better lives.
Despite the outstanding issues between the two principal parties, it is now
obvious that what is good for the Palestinians is good for Israel. The
interdependence of both parties was addressed by Marwan Muasher, a
Jordanian Foreign Minister, when he said that progress for the Palestinian
people can only be achieved by allowing the Israelis to have "a real sense of
security." This position is also being highlighted by the present Palestinian
prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who said that peace efforts can only be
successful if we address the issues of job creation, training, improved internal
security and a strong way forward toward building a viable economy. In clear
terms, Israelis will only make concessions to the Palestinians when they are
convinced that a two-state solution is something sustainable-not just a short-
term interruption in the conflict.
* Mark Cohen is an international lawyer and counsel for the law firm White &
Case in Paris. He also teaches courses on the history of the US legal system.
This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and
can be accessed at
Source: Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007,
Copyright permission is granted for republication.

My first Jewish wedding
Rami Assali
JERUSALEM - A week ago I was invited to a Jewish wedding. As a Palestinian
from East Jerusalem, this would have been my first, and I was ambivalent
about attending the ceremony. So many questions flooded my mind: how would
they react if they knew that I was a Muslim? Would I be the black sheep?
Would they wonder what the hell I was doing there? My feelings were mixed to
the very last moment. It was not until the day of the wedding that I finally
decided to go. What was the worst that could happen? If I was not welcome
then I would go home.
At the entrance to the wedding, another bombardment of questions attacked
my mind: what should I do? How different are they from us? What do Jews do
at their weddings?
I overcame my hesitation and entered. The ushers gave me my table number
and I was directed to the small reception preceding the ceremony. The bride
and groom’s families were very friendly; one could feel the joy and happiness in
the air.
After thirty minutes, the Rabbi asked that people be seated so the ceremony
could begin. Escorted by their parents, the bride and groom entered the
garden-soft music playing in the background. The couple walked with their
parents to the Chuppah, joining the Rabbi, and signaling the start of the
ceremony. The Rabbi then read the ketubah-a legal marriage document signed
by the bride, groom and their parents before the wedding. (It is the same
document that Muslims sign before their weddings and we call it Katb el Ktab).
When the Rabbi finished reading, he and the family members offered blessings
to the newlyweds.
The ceremony differed from Muslim weddings only in the symbolic breaking of
the glass, an act that reminds the groom, even in the happiest of moments, not
to forget the destruction of the Jewish Temple. And the sounds of music
remind us that the time has come for dancing, celebration and dinner.
I thought Muslims and Jews were different, but witnessing this ceremony
taught me what we share. Just as we all take the same steps in our weddings,
so we take the same steps in our lives. We bond our histories with marriage,
with faith, and with our shared values. The "holy wars" of the Middle East often
cause us to forget that the three religions of Abraham are almost the same.
These faiths teach us deep commitment to peace and brotherhood. It’s our
ignorance that makes us different; we need to know the other side before
passing judgment. We all believe in the same God, though we write it
differently. Even the messages we teach are almost the same. It is like having
the same coat but in different colors. What difference does the color make? The
most important thing is that a coat provides comfort, and keeps us warm in the
Religion is God’s gift, and it should not pave our way to destruction and
misery, but to happiness and joy. All sacred texts of the Abrahamic faiths call
for peace and brotherhood:
From The Quran
8:61 But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards
peace. In Allah: for He is the One that heareth and knoweth (all things).
8:62 Should they intend to deceive thee, verily Allah sufficeth thee: He it is that
hath strengthened thee with his aid and with (company of) The Believers.
8:63 And (moreover) He hath put affection between their hearts: Not if thou
hadst spent all that is in the earth, couldst thou have produced that affection,
but Allah hath done it: for He is mighty, wise.
From The Old Testament
Isaiah 2:4 ... and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears
into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall
they learn war any more.
Psalms 34:14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
From The New Testament
Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children
of God.
Hebrews 12:14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man
shall see the Lord.
James 3:18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make
We need to start listening to the other side. When we learn more about each
other, we’ll discover that we are not that different from each other. We all share
the same values and beliefs.
* Rami Assali works for Search for Common Ground in the Middle East. This
article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can
be accessed at
Source: Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007,
Copyright permission is granted for republication.

Soccer unites children
Deborah Clifford
WADI ARA - On the first day of Camp Coexistence, kids tended to stick with the
friends whom they already knew (Jews with Jews and Arabs with Arabs). But
new friendships were already forming by day two, and the kids began to
interact in mixed groups.
Soccer for Peace (SFP) recently completed its most successful camp to date, the
third annual soccer camp for Arab and Jewish children in Israel: Camp
Coexistence 2007. The camp was a joint undertaking with the Maccabim
Association and the Kibbutz Barka’i Center for Soccer, Peace and Coexistence.
Since 2005, Soccer for Peace has brought Arab and Jewish children together in
Israel through overnight soccer camps. Our innovative program model of
coexistence education offers children the rare opportunity to meet on a regular
basis, on equal footing, to find a common language through activities they all
enjoy. Dialogue, social and educational activities challenge participants to learn
about, understand and respect the differences that exist among the peoples of
Israel. By planting seeds of respect, tolerance and peace within our children,
SFP is able to nurture and sow these seeds throughout a lifetime.
Our model begins with a five-day overnight soccer camp, where 10 and 11-
year-old Arab and Jewish children train together on integrated soccer teams. In
the fall, these teams join a league, and travel through the Wadi Ara region of
Israel. They are one of the only mixed teams. Each summer, participants
return to camp and again participate in the after-school program. Children
may stay in the program for up to seven years, enough time for them to shape
life-long attitudes of mutual acceptance. We plan to expand the program, year
by year, so that SFP participants will be part of each other’s daily lives until the
age of 17.
In addition to soccer, the kids take part in many social and educational
activities, learning about themselves and one another. The educational
activities are run by Kaleidoscope, an Israeli non-profit seeking to foster the
development of social and emotional competencies, reduce aggressive
behaviour and promote acceptance of others. These activities had quite an
impact on the kids. When asked, "What did you learn about yourself?" many
hands shot up in the air. "I learned that I like to learn in this classroom!"
exclaimed one boy. "We are all family," said another excited participant.
Social activities, such as daily swimming, allowed the kids to simply hang out,
and gave their minds a rest from soccer and the Arab Jewish conflict. This is
when friendships truly flourished. We took a day trip to a mosque in Sakhnin,
and a synagogue in Kfar-Piness, which gave participants an opportunity to
learn about each other’s religious and cultural histories. The kids also visited
an authentic Australian zoo, and went rafting in the Jordan River. The lessons
they had learned both on the field and in the classroom provided a platform for
them to enjoy this time as true friends.
When camp ended, the kids were both excited to be going home and sad that it
was over:
"I don’t want camp to end!"
"We really learned a lot about how similar we all are."
"I am glad I got to meet the kids from the other team."
"I got to meet new friends that I normally would never have met."
When asked if they wanted to come back next year, all hands shot up into the
air. Though they were sad to say goodbye, they left camp knowing that they
would again become a team in September when SFP’s after-school program
There is no limit to SFP’s potential. Though conflict exists in every corner of the
world, so too does soccer; the most watched and played sport on earth. United
in their love of the game, SFP participants form organic relationships, implicit
in which are the trust and respect necessary for constructive dialogue. With
this as our guiding principle, SFP believes that sport can serve as both a
metaphor and vehicle for peace in our time.
* Soccer for Peace is a 501©(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to
unite children of war-torn nations in their shared love of soccer. Based in New
York City, Soccer for Peace has no political, religious or racial affiliation. For
more information, please visit This article is
distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be
accessed at
Source: Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007,
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.