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People make peace, not politicians….

February 20, 2010

“When are you coming to see me in Karachi?” asked one of the Pakistani journalists as we said our formal farewells at the conference on Press Freedom in the Digital Age in Egypt.

“Karachi?!” I responded.  “I don’t think I will ever make it to Karachi… not on my Israeli passport anyway and my British one was issued in Tel Aviv, so it’s is not looking likely.”

Despite my protesting and the obvious barriers, the journalist was insistent that our new found friendship could survive, even flourish, and that one day, at least, I would make it to her home town.

No Common Ground

Before the conference in Alexandria the idea of meeting Pakistani nationals was daunting. Perhaps it was ignorance or being realistic that Israel could have no common ground with this majority Muslim country. But, after spending three days with a group of eight journalists from Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi, my belief that the political stance of leaders is not necessarily the way the people think, rang true from conference’s opening session.

From the minute they met me Monday morning until we said our goodbyes on Wednesday evening the Pakistani journalists were warm, friendly and wanted to know everything about me as a Jew and an Israeli.

They also shared with me stories about their lives and struggles — the frustration of living in a male dominated society, the high rate of illiteracy and poverty in their country, and, of course, their limited press freedom. Our exchanges were fascinating and we even agreed to explore the opportunity of writing stories together.

Friends on Facebook

One of the journalists, a TV presenter, she said she would befriend me on Facebook because she wanted to “learn from me” as a female journalist.

After agreeing to look me up on that famous social networking site as soon as she got back to Pakistan, I smiled at her and said hopefully: “If I can’t come to Karachi, perhaps you could come to Jerusalem?”

“I doubt that will happen,” she smiled. “Pakistani passport lists all the countries we can go to and Israel is the only one that is banned to us.”

“Oh, well, maybe one day things will change,” we both said almost simultaneously and hugged goodbye.

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2010 10:50 am

    nice piece Ruth

  2. February 20, 2010 11:05 am

    Thanks for the post Ruth! Journalists are journalists . . . They think differently than public as well as politicians . . . Writing stories together is very much possible and simply reflects upon the fact that media is much more open in Pakistan than perceived from abroad . . . Our curiosity knows no bounds, so is yours, I am sure . . . Regarding traveling to Karachi or Jerusalem, Israel’s persistent Gaza siege hurts every Pakistani and Muslim, journalists or otherwise . . . Bridging the information (read exposure) gap can surely help the people look beyond their hard stances . . . I am sure that there are many Israelis in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv who worry for their children growing up in an intolerant and closed society with people of only one faith . . .

  3. February 20, 2010 12:39 pm

    Interesting observations, and of course there is no doubt that a cross cultural dialogue clears misunderstandings of ‘the other’. As human beings we are always afraid of ‘the other’ and what ‘the other’ would say but interaction obviously clears the misconceptions, which was the purpose of this workshop as well.
    Journalists have the ability to see a different point of view which is what makes them such colourful characters in any part of the world………….

  4. Hani permalink
    February 20, 2010 2:42 pm

    I like what you wrote Ruth and I agree with you 100%… people definitely would love to live and coexist in peace.. Am sure no religion calls for violence its only in the practices of individuals… I don’t mind who is living next door to me.. I don’t mind who is facing me on the other side of the table as long as we have mutual respect… why should people be judged for what their governments do……I have been to Israel…through my seven-day visit I never felt offended not for a second.. on the contrary.. people there were very friendly and welcoming especially when they knew that I was a Jordanian…its not east to judge anything until you experience first….

  5. February 20, 2010 3:05 pm

    Beautiful sentiments, Ruth and all commenters 🙂 I especially love the photo.

    -Dawn

  6. February 20, 2010 3:41 pm

    Hani you are absolutely right about the fact that people would love to co-exist in peace, and the governments and their policies should not affect the way people think and react. But the harsh reality is that people are usually ‘fed’ information about other cultures and environments in a way that shapes their perceptions, and that is done through media. Therefore, in a way media is a huge contributor to what people think and how they react, and then it becomes the responsibilty of media people to break the stereo-typical images, which I believe was achieved through this workshop. The fact that we are exchanging our points of view on Ruth’s excellent blog goes on to show how important a simple dialogue can be in understanding each other better and I really hope it continues.
    Otherwise, Ruth and I are definately meeting in New York………..:) for some serious shopping!

  7. Hani permalink
    February 20, 2010 5:18 pm

    of course Beena… this is why we should focus our in our work and be unbiased, objective and balanced when we write… we the power of changing the public’s opinion… either we used in a right way or we use it against us… and in that case we would be all losers… its our choice… and count me in when you go shopping 🙂

  8. February 21, 2010 5:38 am

    Absolutely right………………factual and positive reporting will bring about a change, of course it wont be overnight, but no change is sudden…………………and you can control my impulse to shop till I drop, when we go shopping……….:)

  9. February 21, 2010 7:25 am

    Ruth should be happy to stimulate this healthy debate here . . . There is hardly anyone disagreeing with the theory of media bridging the information gap. We need to see as to how many times we have tried to speak against the popular idiom to include the excluded voices and point of views. Like a surgeon and a judge, the work of a journalist is the best expression of his/her professionalism, fairness and accuracy; and it is upto the others to evaluate. Not only we need to work against the establishment but also try to reach out to the excluded parties and bring all sides as part of mainstream dialogue. Monologue only serves religious clerics. Lets keep testing the limits of our politicians as well as our editor/news directors to include what is left out. In Ms Beena’s words, ‘the others’.

  10. February 21, 2010 7:35 am

    It is indeed refreshing to be part of such a refreshing dialogue, especially coming from such distinguished journalists. You are absolutely correct in pointing out that it is ‘the others’ that we need to work on. I am very hopeful that dialogues like this one actually not only stir up a debate but bring about a positive change …………… as I said earlier, I am very hopeful………………….

    • February 21, 2010 10:17 am

      Hi guys, I am so happy that my blog post has stirred such a debate and I want to put this to you… when we write it is not only a choice of words and expressions or what we include and what we exclude but also the stories that we chose to focus on and those we define as not “newsworthy.”

      All too often in my part of the world, stories about co-existence and people living side by side in harmony are ignored in favor of conflict and violence. Believe me, for every disagreement here there are those who see eye to eye. There are Israelis and Arabs, Jews and Muslims together in every area of life from schools to malls, hospitals and restaurants. These aspects just never gets reported in either the local or international media.

      We are the journalists, we are the ones who control the flow of information and while we still need to find those stories that will increase ratings or sell papers, we also need to sneak in positive stories from time to time. There is no shortage of them and if you are a great writer or presenter, you can make these stories just as compelling as the hate stories, I am sure of it.

      Lets keep the debate going, dialog is the key (and I am so up for a shopping trip to NY Beena, I am sure that shopping can bridge all cultural boundaries, especially for those with a shoe fetish)

      R

  11. February 21, 2010 12:31 pm

    Thank you Ruth, you are absolutely right……………shopping does bridge all gaps, it just makes holes in your pockets………….:) You are also right that it is up to us to make compelling positive stories, and make sure that our bosses know that they can generate revenue………………..and that is a win win…………

  12. Aroosa Masroor permalink
    February 22, 2010 4:14 am

    Hi Ruth,
    Loved your piece. You know what I found most interesting about you? The way you phrased your question about FB. Most of the journos we were hanging out with simply asked each other “Are you on Facebook?….great! I’ll add you” whereas you said to me “Is it ok if I add you on FB?” and that is what made me turn around and ask you why you’d say that until you reminded me that you were a “Jew” and some Muslims preferred not to have you on their friends list. I was in for a shock initially until I realised that is possibly how most would react. It’s just sad how this world works, but glad I’m a journalist and got to meet you.

  13. fransisca romana permalink
    February 22, 2010 4:34 am

    fransiscaromana likes this…!!

  14. February 22, 2010 5:21 pm

    Re. shopping and interfaith relations — I spent a very happy afternoon last summer in a small boutique in Tel Aviv with a Palestinian friend who was purchasing shirts. There we were, in perfect harmony — Jew, Muslim, Christian — with my friend trying on shirts and me and the salesman giving the thumbs-up or down to his selections. Afterward, when I pointed this out, my friend — an economist — remarked that so much of this comes down to economics. If people in Gaza were able to trade freely and make a decent living, perhaps they’d be in Tel Aviv shopping and cracking jokes about menswear too.

  15. February 22, 2010 11:59 pm

    Thanks Lucy for sharing this interesting anecdote . . . I wish inse cure and extremist ultar-religious and ultra-nationalists leaders could understand that not only in Gaza but elsewhere in the world . . . If the idea of aid could be replaced with trade, extremism and terrorism which take birth from womb of poverty can also be gradually eliminated . . . [What about Beena, Ruth and Lucy traveling around the world on a fellowship for peace thru shopping . . .] 🙂

  16. February 23, 2010 12:00 am

    Thanks Lucy for sharing this interesting anecdote . . . I wish insecure and extremist ultar-religious and ultra-nationalists leaders could understand that not only in Gaza but elsewhere in the world . . . If the idea of aid could be replaced with trade, extremism and terrorism which take birth from womb of poverty can also be gradually eliminated . . . [What about Beena, Ruth and Lucy traveling around the world on a fellowship for peace thru shopping . . .] 🙂

  17. February 23, 2010 12:00 am

    Thanks Lucy for sharing this interesting anecdote . . . I wish insecure and extremist ultra-religious and ultra-nationalists leaders could understand that not only in Gaza but elsewhere in the world . . . If the idea of aid could be replaced with trade, extremism and terrorism which take birth from womb of poverty can also be gradually eliminated . . . [What about Beena, Ruth and Lucy traveling around the world on a fellowship for peace thru shopping . . .] 🙂

  18. February 23, 2010 3:30 am

    Naveed has come up with an excellent suggestion, a fellowship for peace through shopping would be the best way to get some peace…………………I would like to pitch this idea, to Ruth and Lucy and Hani…………what do you say?
    Where economics play a vital role in any society, people are also brought together by similarities, or sometimes differences, but usually similarities in the way they think, or their circumstances.
    And as Lucy mentioned, it does not matter what religion or geographical location you are from, when you share a common interest, then you look beyond your obvious prejudices!

  19. February 23, 2010 4:51 am

    Shopping for peace!

    I love this idea! I tell you guys … there is nothing like a good day out shopping to make differences melt away…. I spent my childhood shopping with my best friends in London — a hindu and a Catholic and we never felt the slightest difference between us.

    Lucy, your point is well-taken and I know alot of people here are pained by what is happening in Gaza too but the million dollar question is how do we stop extremists from blowing up malls and shopping areas without punishing the masses? Or is it a catch-22? Sometimes I feel that we are going round and round in circles in the Middle East.

    Then I go to the mall near my house and buy my cheese of a lovely Muslim woman who has become my friend or I clothes shop alongside Arab-Israelis from Abu Gosh or I discuss child-raising techniques with my daughter’s Arab-Israeli kindergarten teacher and all these religious and nationalist differences that people have created seem so insignificant……

    Lets find a solution guys…… anyone?

  20. February 23, 2010 10:44 am

    I think it all comes back to the notion of equality in addition to mutual respect. Financial equality through equal access to opportunity. Political equality through self-determination. So the underlying relationship (occupied, occupier) has to change in some cases.

    Say that Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters took her on a shopping trip. Sure it would be more fun than sweeping ashes and soot out of the fireplace, but at the end of the day, they would return to their home and her status would be unchanged — she’d go back to being a servant. It is easier — and healthier — to form friendships among equals. Cinderella gets respect when she finally becomes a princess. But all that’s really necessary in this story is for her to become a person.

    As journalists we can’t change the political reality (though we may be able to influence it). But we can look across the borders politicians have created and see that there are, in fact, real-life princesses on the other side. Ones that love shoes and beautiful things! And we can remember the golden rule of all religions: Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

  21. February 23, 2010 12:46 pm

    Your fairy tale sounds lovely in an ideal world but when we talk about the situation here there is a sadly a long, long history of mistrust, pain, murder and hate for both sides — a deep history that people cling too.

    It would be wonderful to clear everybody’s memories, both collective and individual, and start off again by giving everyone an equal chance but that will unfortunately never happen, extremists on both sides will see to that.

    For the sake of humanity, however, we have to start somewhere even if equality does not exist (say in the case of occupied, occupier — terms that only incite more hatred by the way) because when people have the opportunity to meet each other face to face and realize the other is a human being first and foremost, only then will things improve for everyone.

    Lately I have been thinking that we have left peace negotiations to our leaders for far too long and nothing has changed but if we allow the voices of the people to come through, people who just want to live and put food on their tables. And if we strengthen the desires of the moderates who don’t accuse the other or assigning blame (cos both sides are to blame) then perhaps there is a chance to start building a future for our children….

    I have to be hopeful, I have no choice.

    • February 23, 2010 2:05 pm

      I agree that both sides have to constantly strive to be the “bigger person” and forgive as there is unfortunately a very deep well of blame to go around. Things cannot improve unless the focus is shifted from blaming the other to looking at what IS possible. (But wouldn’t it be great to start fresh!)

      During the presentation of the Geneva Accord, especially, much was made of the statistic that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peace, and have accepted the inevitability of co-existance of some kind. So absolutely, the politicians are not doing their jobs here and are not accomplishing what the majority of people want them to do, so it is down to the people to insist that they want peace.

      I am interested in your comment that the terms occupier/occupied incite more hatred and wonder what terms you would use to describe the current situation. My princess analogy was intended to show not so much an ideal world but how inherently unequal the current situation is. The ultimate solution is to change the political reality, I believe, but in the meantime, there are ways to reach out with friendship and grace and begin to build bridges. And I believe you are doing a great job of that.

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