Middle East


  • Get on the Right Side of History

    (A version of this essay was recently published in The Jerusalem Report.)

    Across the world in the last 40 years politically organized religious forces have played an increasingly important role in national politics. From India to Indonesia, from Lebanon to Israel, from the United States to Russia, organized religion has increased its impact on politics.

    We are also aware of the frightening rise of very violent religion, expressed through terror groups. For this reason, it is easy to misunderstand the relationship between religion on the one hand and between states and ethnic groups and their very secular interests, on the other hand.

    Precisely because so many millions of people care about religion, religion has become an essential tool of secular state and ethnic interests. Indeed, what may seem to be a religious issue often turns out to be very secular state interests. Missing this relationship, it becomes easy

  • President Abbas calls for a Palestinian spring in September

    By Dr. Marc Gopin and Aziz Abu Sarah

    In his speech to the Central Council of the PLO in Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced his strategy to end the occupation. The President stressed in his speech that he will not retreat from seeking recognition of the Palestinian state from the United Nations. Abbas had been under enormous pressure to withdraw the request for recognition of a Palestinian State on borders of June 1967. He announced that 122 nations are already in favor of the draft submitted to the UN. Concerning US opposition, he referred to the fact that this has not been communicated in a formal manner.

    President Abbas surprised many of his listeners when he spoke about another element of his strategy. Perhaps for the first time Abbas highlighted clearly his vision of the Palestinian people’s active participation to achieve the dream of a Palestinian state. He called …

  • PEACEFUL POLITICS COMES FROM PEACEFUL PEOPLE: A HARD AND HOPEFUL LOOK AT OURSELVES AND OTHERS

    From the explosion of Osama Bin Laden into our consciousness on that terrible day in 2001, all the way to his death, feels like a frame of existence, a distinct period of our history and fate as an American community. There have been many deadly wars since then that America has participated in or supported. As an American Jew and a veteran peacebuilder in the Middle East, I also feel like this decade has been a whirlwind of violence, from Iraq to Lebanon to Gaza, and now to Arab countries in which I had worked, especially Syria where I put my heart and soul.

    Every war, every massive act of violence, always makes me reflect anew on the origins and nature of human violence, and on its opposites, empathy, compassion, and love. We humans have made so many efforts through the millennia to create one political arrangement after another in …

  • Fatah, Hamas, and the Future of Palestine

    (This article was written in collaboration with Aziz Abu Sarah, Co-Executive Director of The Center for World Religions Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution.)

    Ever since the disastrous split in Palestinian leadership of several years ago into Fatah and Hamas it has become clear that disunity has been a critical factor standing in the way of Palestinian statehood. Many reconciliation efforts, with several third parties, were attempted and aborted. This time it seems that things are different, despite the enormous ideological divisions and outstanding grievances between Fatah and Hamas.

    Why is this happening now? Clearly, the historic impact of the “Arab Spring” on Egypt and Syria, and across the region, is an enormous game changer. The increasing instability of Syria suggests that there is a strong possibility that A) Hamas may no longer have a stable home in Syria, but, on the other hand, Palestinians now have a much more sympathetic …

  • SAVING SYRIA— A STRATEGY FOR PEACEFUL CHANGE

    By Hind Aboud Kabawat (Senior Research Analyst and Expert in Conflict Resolution, CRDC, George Mason University).

    Damascus, Syria

    May 20, 2011

    Can our beloved Syria be saved from the brink of destruction? This is clearly the question on the minds of millions of our fellow countrymen (and countrywomen). And it is truly astonishing how quickly events have transformed the so-called “facts on the ground” in this country. One of the most locked-down societies in the Middle East quite suddenly erupted in rage, anger and frustration after forty years of political repression and economic stagnation. Just think of it: the first demonstration was on March 15, just a mere two months ago. But so much has changed in the minds, hearts and aspirations of the Syrian people that it is impossible to think that we can ever return to the status quo ante—the Syria of March 14th.

    What the …

  • The Arab Spring Awakens in Palestine

    Here are two interviews that I did with Fox News and Russia TV on Tuesday, regarding thousands of Palestinian refugees who attempted to nonviolently cross Israeli borders from the Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian border last weekend, resulting in several deaths and dozens injured.

  • NO WAY OUT: ANCIENT WISDOM ON PUTTING BAD GUYS UP AGAINST A WALL

    NO WAY OUT:

    ANCIENT WISDOM ON PUTTING BAD GUYS

    UP AGAINST A WALL

    Men in Middle Eastern palaces making decisions about their lives, their families, their fortunes, their necks. I think a lot these days about such men because history and the fate of millions of people often comes down to what is going on inside their heads. They are certainly not unique to the Middle East. Think Robespierre, Mussolini, Marcos, Milosevic, think Idi Amin, Charles Taylor, Noriega, Fujimori. The list is endless, the impact of their choices monumental.

    There is an ancient law in the Jewish Torah that forbids combatants from surrounding an enemy on all four sides, requiring instead that there is always an escape route. In the Middle Ages Maimonides, one of the greatest legal decision makers in Jewish history, concluded that this prohibition applies even to a mortal enemy in a defensive war. This sounds bizarre …

  • Qatar Airline, Bombs, and Me

    I recently flew Qatar Airlines round trip for a lovely interfaith conference in Doha. I ended up, back and forth to Washington, spending a total of 27 hours in-flight within four days. Not long after I got back, Qatar Airlines was in the news as having been one of the Gulf passenger carriers that unwittingly transported a mail bomb from Yemen al Qaeda destined for a gay Jewish synagogue in Chicago.

    This caused some strange sensations as a rabbi recently in the complete care of the same airline. I felt one of those moments of absolute contradiction, the contradiction between the way I was treated in the plane and the reality of cargoes headed for murder.

    Before Qatar Airlines, I was going to write a sincere article about my evolution as a human sardine. I have been on planes traversing continents doing interfaith work for what seems like an eternity. …

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Ravaging Our Young War Vets

    He was racing in a Humvee with four other soldiers, having arrived there just days before, 19 years old. The day he got there his best friend was shot in the head, boom, gone in an instant. Now he was racing along this road when a missile directly hit the cab of the vehicle. One guy’s legs were gone and another was killed right away, and the missile flew right by his head, just missing him. He seemed uninjured, but he was, and now he is back in Boston.

    It was a sunny August afternoon in Boston as I leaped into a cab. I had just finished attending a conference of great religious educators at Boston University, and I was feeling very good about my presentation. I thought it was a home run because I really connected with the message and the people.

    The 50-something Irish cab driver, whose presence …

  • Imagining Peace: The Practical Advantages of an Israeli/Palestinian Final Settlement

    Recent sputterings of a peace process between Israel and Palestine, the termination of Israel’s settlement building freeze causing a demise of said peace process — again — has produced a loud, global yawn. What else is new in this endless conflict? Negotiations cannot succeed without a vision, and there is no widely shared vision of peace among these people that could truly spur their politicians forward.

    The hardest part of building peace for the future is freeing oneself from the wounds of the past that create brutal behavior in the present. One way forward may be to suspend skepticism for just a moment, to free the mind to build a world of practical possibilities should peace be achieved. Armed with this imaginative exercise it might become easier to lobby for practical ways forward.

    Let’s imagine the following: official creation of a state of Palestine on the West Bank and Gaza

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