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Update – 19 August 2011

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Posted by Emily Gian and Jack Chrapot on 19 August 2011 at 11:04am (EST):

A note from Emily Gian (Yehud-Monoson, Israel):

On Thursday morning I received a draft article by email from my father who promised to cover for me while I was in Israel. He wrote about the social protests in Israel and their connection with the aims of peace as embodied in the Peace Team that is currently in Australia. Sitting there in a serene cafe in Tel Aviv it seemed easy to envisage a day when peace would come to the region.

An hour later, the news started to come in of an incident just outside of Eilat in the South. Throughout the day, more information came through about the terrorist gunmen who opened fire on two Israeli buses and a private vehicle that was attacked by an anti-tank missile. In an instant a whole family was killed. The death toll currently stands at eight and dozens have been injured (see more).

We are all fully aware of the many obstacles to the attainment of peace in this region. The protests might have taken centre stage for a brief moment but, as yesterday’s terrorist attacks showed, the country’s security situation is never far removed from the news.

And, as we have seen so often, the news headlines can be misleading and deceptive.

Today’s on line Age carries what must be the year’s most appalling and callously titled article – Eight dead in Israel ‘terrorist wave’ describing the work of the terrorists who apparently entered Israel from the Sinai Peninsula.

I write this from Rothschild Boulevard where the housing protests began. Life continues as normal at two oclock in the morning but it feels like eight in the evening. Everyone is burdened by a sense of sadness at what has happened in the south and yet life continues both in Eilat and Tel Aviv although the housing protests have become silent in solidarity with the victims of today’s events.

The perpetrators of these horrific attacks must not be allowed a victory by putting an end to the hopes of peace and social justice in Israel and our guest writer this week explains why…

Tent Cities, Football and The Road to Peace

By Jack Chrapot

On the streets of Israel, hundreds of thousands of Israelis including those from the nations minority Arab and other groups are rallying under the catch cry of HaAm doresh tzedek chevrati – the nation is demanding social justice.

From small beginnings in which people raised tents in swanky Tel Aviv neighbourhoods to air concerns at the cost of living and high rents, the protests are now sweeping the country with the aim of creating a more equitable society; one that deals not only with living costs and rents but with major issues that have been swept under the carpet for years while the nation has been preoccupied with defence and security. They cover diverse issues such as curbs on social freedoms, health care, the environment, AIDS, public schools, refugees from Darfur as well as globalisation and, of course, relations with the Palestinians.

In essence, the protests are reinforcing the vision of Israel set out in the Jerusalem Program as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and shaping it as an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character, marked by mutual respect for the multi-faceted Jewish people, rooted in the vision of the prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world.

To this end, the grass roots movement that has sprung up so quickly in Israels summer of discontent can also be a prelude to a future of hope and not just for achieving a better society internally but also in enabling the fulfilment of peace with its neighbours.

After years of an ongoing peace process stretching back to before Oslo, the politicians on both sides have been unsuccessful in bringing about a final peace agreement and lately, they have been unable to even gather together to discuss peace at all. At this level, the peace process has ground slowly to a halt.

True peace cannot be achieved by boycotts, unilateralism or deligitimisation of the other. It will only be achieved when the constituencies on both side of the Green Line tell their leaderships that they desire a decent and peaceful life.

In this regard, and in spite of the violence and the terror in the region, there is an uplifting story now being played out here in this country of how the tiny seed of an idea might play its own small part in turning around the minds and the hearts of people at a different level in order to achieve a peaceful outcome to this decades long conflict.

A group of young men from the region who come from divergent backgrounds are here participating in the AFL International Cup 2011 under the banner of The Peace Team. I wrote about them on this site in February and the team is now here and competing.

The Peace Team comprises of 13 Israeli and 13 Palestinian sportsmen who train together and play football together and by doing so in a public arena far away from their homes, they are demonstrating to the world that sport has the power to unite youth from different sides of the divide. By participating together in sporting teams these young people can only learn more about each other and when they do so, the values of peace and mutual understanding are imparted, cultural differences are accepted and negative stereotypes are broken down. In this way, at the grass roots level, the foundations for peace can be laid without any chest beating or politics.

Martin Flanagan, one of Australias leading sports journalists recently wrote in Peace is more than just a word,”I realise, to some people, peace is an empty word. Perhaps it is best understood by considering its opposite – war, particularly as it is fought nowadays, with lots of civilian casualties. Children with limbs blown off, that sort of thing. I think war is hell. I’m not a pacifist, but do think there are people who carry peace with them through the world and they have my undying respect”.

The Peace Team is a joint initiative of the Peres Centre for Peace based in Jaffa and The Al-Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue in Ramallah. These organisations work at a number of levels from the grass roots upward to develop peace-building projects. I visited the amazing Peres Centre in March and was impressed to discover the work it is doing in partnership and co-operation with Palestinian counterparts in agriculture, business and economics, civil society dialogue and cooperation, medicine and healthcare, peace education and culture as well as in sport.

The Centre itself is situated in the Ajami district of Jaffa, which was the location of the opening film bearing that name in last years Israel Film Festival. In an area where crime is rife and life is so harsh and difficult, it was an uplifting experience to visit the Peres Centre sitting serenely on the Mediterranean beside an ancient graveyard and to witness the fact that Israelis and Palestinians are working together for one common goal  peace.

My guide at the Peres Centre was an Australian girl and I know her uncle. A day earlier, I had been to a night time Peace Team training session and was surprised to discover that one of the coaches was an expatriate Aussie, Arik, who was once a star player in my sons junior footy team at Ajax. Both boys share the same birthdate with the great Gary Ablett Senior. The players were amazed that I remembered this piece of trivia. Even more amazed when I suggested that when they trained they should use their voices more and that they should be loud enough to wake up residents in the nearby apartment block. Im not sure if I was making a contribution to peace in Jaffa by giving that advice but it makes sense if youre playing in a footy team.

You too can play a part in the Peace Team phenomenon by supporting the lads on the footy fields next week. For details – The peace team website is www.peaceteam.com.au and for those who do Facebook:  http://facebook.com/AFLPeaceTeam. The team plays against not so traditional rivals, France, on Wednesday 24 August at a time and venue to be confirmed.

You can also support the Peace Team by coming along on Wednesday evening to the Classic Cinema to view the award winning documentary “Talking Peace” followed by what promises to be a riveting panel discussion featuring Martin Flanagan and the inspirational Tanya Oziel who conceived the Peace Team and whose untiring work has now made it happen twice.

Jack Chrapot is a Melbourne lawyer and a member of the ZCV Executive.

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