You’ve Got To Be The Change You Want To See!

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Ulrike Reinhard:
It always seems that even though there is a “WE” among the people on a political level there is no “WE” at all. So, couldn’t your example be something like a role model for politicians?

Ismael Khatib: In the Israeli community, the people themselves, they don’t play any big role in making peace because the Israeli community is controlled by the military. The military, they don’t believe in “WE”, they believe much more in “I”. If they weren’t controlled and steered by the military, if WE the people would have a say – WE would have solved the problem a long time ago. We would live in peace!
We need people in Israel who believe in peace, who believe in WE. Who believe in WE as human beings. Then peace would be an easy step to make.
The Palestinians support my decision. President Mahmud Abbas personally called me and supports me everywhere I go. So do the other ministers and ambassadors of Palestine. Most Palestinians are pacific people – we love peace and we love the idea  of a free sovereign Palestinian state – with Israel as a fair neighbor. Even Zacharias Sbadi, the former chief of the Al Aqsa Brigade who figured at the top of the Israeli military’s liquidation list believed in WE and supported my decision. He wrote several letters to me that I am not going to donate to the Israelis, I will donate them to people, to humanity.
What I see is that all of us are humans and WE are the sons of Abraham, we and the Israelis. WE feel the same – but the politicians are always trying to separate us, to provoke us and they always keep the fire burning. They don’t see us as “equals”. But WE are.
And this is what I am living for now.
This has nothing to do with what the politicians and military people want and do.
It’s the very reverse of that …

Ulrike Reinhard:
Ismael, when you now see what’s going on in Tunisia, in Egypt, and to some extent in Jordan, that people really go into the streets and drive change – can this be a role model for your own activities? Could you think about starting something even bigger? Do you see anything in Palestine like this? The people standing up together against politicians?

Ismael Khatib: This is what I am trying to do everywhere I go. I talk to people. I am an ambassador of this WE. WE as people have to walk together and put pressure on the politicians to change the situation. Israelis and Palestinians but also the international community. Peace can only come from those people who aren’t in high places, people who are down at the grassroots level. It can’t come from those in high places.

Ulrike Reinhard:
What does it take to get such a movement started? What does it really take before the people stand up, go onto the streets and really demand it?

Ismael Khatib: I believe we still need a lot of effort. Our movement – if I can call it a movement at all – is still in its infancy. There is a long way to go. And it needs a lot of energy and strength. Many people from all over the world need to participate and get involved. 10 years ago there were only a few hundred people engaged in the peace process. Today there are thousands … and hopefully in a few years there will be millions.
Today in Germany maybe one million people are aware of our conflict. Maybe a few more. But this is not enough. We need more. Many more people have to believe in peace and act to bring it about! Freedom needs a lot of strength and persistence. Many people still don’t know much or anything at all about Palestine and our conflict. I’ve met people all over Europe who thought Palestine was Afghanistan! With my engagement and with my initiative I spread the word and raised awareness. On my tours I tell the world about the occupation and about my solution – and in doing so the movie “Heart of Jenin” helps me a lot. So I do think I’m making an impact and helping achieve a solution. Even though the Israelis don’t always like it and sometimes make it difficult for me to travel.
But I am sure that the number of people who want peace will grow. I’ll give you an example. Peace Now, which is an Israeli peace movement, started with less than one hundred followers. Now they are thousands. And it’s like that everywhere. Revolutions are happening everywhere. So the fact that there are peaceful revolutions in the Arabic world will show the world that the Arab peoples want peace! We need a lot of people to contribute and this takes time. It’s a process. We need everyone who is interested in peace to participate in some kind of peace initiative.

Ulrike Reinhard:
In the beginning you said that the kids are the leaders of our future. I think education is crucial to this whole process. The kids on both sides seem to grow up in an environment where they get told that the other side is the enemy. They are raised in hate. How can they ever become peaceful leaders?
If we numb them by hammering hatred and fear into their minds, if governments and media build up a world of distrust and anxiety … how can we ever convince these kids that they have a chance to make change happen?

Ismael Khatib: I agree with you one hundred percent. The last sixty years of teaching and educating kids – and even adults – about the very worst aspects of the enemy on the other side, this will not lead to anything. It will just keep this conflict running and running and running.
I believe that there need to be schools and peace centers in Palestine and Israel which teach something we could call a “peace culture”. If we start this now – and I already started my cultural institution two years ago – we need maybe ten more years before we can roll out a real peace process. This is what I am doing. I can’t influence the politicians – at least not all of them – to build schools which teach a culture of peace … That’s why I started my centre and that’s why I am still involved in the Cinema Jenin project. I want people to live and breathe a culture of peace.
It all needs time though. It’s a very slow process. We have to change people’s minds and their behavior. We can now see the very first positive results from our work. The cinema brought together two families who used to consider themselves enemies. Yael from Haifa who lost her husband in a suicide bombing and the family of the suicide bomber became friends. They came together and now they are good friends. And this is part of the peace culture which we are teaching.

Ulrike Reinhard:
Do you think there are many people out there who share this kind of understanding?

Ismael Khatib: No, not yet. To be very honest, even here in Jenin – where all this happened – they don’t. We are facing a lot of difficulties from those still in power, from the authorities. In all kinds of ways they prevent us from going forward in teaching peace culture. They are fighting us.
We had to stop some programs with the Israelis. We didn’t want to lose the community so we stopped them. There are still many among us who are NOT interested in peace, who have the power to suppress initiatives like ours, people who are simply corrupt. They are very influential, much more influential than we are.

Ulrike Reinhard:
Ismael, thank you so very much!

A Wake-up Call For Despots (Lee Bryant)
Leadership In A Flat Organization (J.P. Rangaswami)
Political Leadership Goes WE! (Sabine Donner)

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