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20. January 2009

Edit Schlaffer © L.Kropiunigg

Edit Schlaffer

The Courage to Speak with the Enemies

Guest Commentary by Edit Schlaffer (Die Presse, 16.01.2009)

In today’s worldwide conflicts there are also movements that challenge violence: they are determined to confront the enemies with words, not with weapons.

Living together, but how?” is the critical question for all of us in a world that appears to have become too small for the mass and complexity of the conflicts. Fights over territory, oil, gas, and gemstones are increasingly dealt with in a warlike manner. The intermezzi on the diplomatic parquet flooring no longer earn the name of peace negotiations, but rather are fire-fighting operations that take place in ever-shorter sequences when a window opens through a laboriously negotiated ceasefire.
In this worldwide, highly armed climate there are attempts at counter movements that challenge the legitimacy of violence on both sides of the front: they are determined to confront the enemies with words, not weapons. They are determined to listen to them, to negotiate with them, to understand their boundless, often deadly anger, and to communicate their own despair.

Robi Damelin lives in Tel Aviv, but her thoughts and feelings are also with the mothers and youth on the Palestinian side. She lost her son David in an attack at a checkpoint when he was called to duty as a reservist. He didn’t actually want to serve in the occupied territories, but he and his mother came to the conclusion that it would be better to show the young soldiers that one can treat the Palestinians respectfully, and thus to be a role model.
Today, Robi would do everything to see David again: “But I had to accept that that was not possible. So I was simply forced to find a way to prevent others from having to live through the same endless pain."

Women as the Voice of Civil Society
The test for Robi’s reconciliation work with Palestinian families came the moment she heard that the sniper who had killed David and nine of his colleagues was in jail. She sent a letter to him and his family. She knows that she might never receive an answer. The gist of her letter was: “I know that you did not kill David, but rather David as a symbol of the occupiers.” She is convinced that “if he is ever capable of writing me a letter in which he says that he acted wrongly, he could influence limitless numbers of people who today celebrate him as a hero. He and his friends must realize that killing will not lead to a free and independent Palestinian state.”

These events occurred six years ago, but the date does not play a role. Today the Gaza strip is a killing field; the sense of hopelessness is greater than ever.
A group of women from around the world came together in Vienna at the end of the year to establish the first global female anti-terror platform: SAVE – Sisters Against Violent Extremism. They draw very consciously on women, because they are strategically positioned at the heart of the families. They are the first to recognize resignation and anger in their children and the critical group of adolescents. They could be the central starting point of an early warning system.
The SAVE women are voices of civil society, who seek to strengthen the sense of belonging in the face of a climate of fear and paranoia instead of seeking revenge and collective condemnation. These are long term processes, of course, but there are no short-cuts. The fine net of civilization is always fragile in many places, but if we do not care for it and keep it intact, everything we have will collapse.
Najwa Saadeh also knows this. She met Robi Damelin through Parents Circle, an organization that brings together Israeli and Palestinian parents who have lost loved ones through attacks. Najwa’s 12-year old daughter Christine died when the Israeli army opened fire at the car in which the family was driving. Together and with many others, Najwa and Robi advocate for peace and reconciliation and stand for hope in this long-lasting conflict.

Hadiyah, a young English woman, cannot believe that today she works with peace activists. Only a few years ago she was part of a different movement, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which wants to erect a worldwide caliphate. She was able to get out. In the shadow of the war in Gaza she is calling on her fellow female Muslims to speak out against terror and destruction. “As an Islamist I was convinced that only Muslims were affected by the events in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Today I know better, but this is no question of religion. It is now time to turn to the Islamists and to show them that they do not have to exploit the emotions of the youth and to inflame their anger. Humanity is ready to decisively stand up against terror."

“Better to Argue than to Cry at the Grave”
As a representative of the UK Muslims Women’s Network, Shaista Gohir, from Birmingham, sent a letter to English Prime Minister Brown. She and a group of leading female Muslim representatives caution that if a further escalation of the Gaza crisis occurs, global terrorism will experience a revival. She refers to UN Resolution 1325, which deals with the terrible effects of armed conflicts and wars on women and which demands the inclusion of women in security and peace negotiations. Like many UN activities, Resolution 1325 is also obviously only a worthless piece of paper.
Well-meaning resolutions are not required, but rather the courage and openness to speak with the enemy. An Irish peace activist aptly summed it up” “It is better to sit together at a table and to talk and to argue than to stand at an open grave and cry.”


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