The hardest part of building peace for the future is freeing oneself from the wounds of war, the mutual recriminations of the present, the painful memories of a lost past, and the unreasonable fantasies of a world where one’s enemies magically disappear. Sometimes the way forward is to free the mind to build a different world, a world of practical possibilities should peace be achieved.
Let’s imagine the following: a full peace treaty between Israel and Palestine, official creation of a state of Palestine on the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, a shared civil regime for the quarter mile of the Holy Basin in the Old City of Jerusalem that is overseen by Israeli and Palestinian Jews, Muslims and Christians, and a way for every Palestinian refugee camp’s residents to be awarded citizenship and compensation in a variety of countries including Palestine itself.
The first thing to occur would be a massive explosion of religious tourism, a venturing beyond boundaries to forbidden and exotic lands, places only grandparents saw with their own eyes. This would be true of Jews, Christians and Muslims. There would be pilgrimages to the holiest and most ancient places in Syria, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, and many other countries. Muslims from all over the world will converge on the Haram al Sharif in Jerusalem. Dozens of companies will provide routes from all over the world for Muslims to travel from places as far as Malaysia and China to Jerusalem and Mecca. This will result in an explosion of Asian and Middle Eastern new joint business ventures.
Highways and hotels will multiply dramatically on the roads between Cairo, Gaza, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beirut and Damascus. The few brave souls who have tried recently to connect all these routes to Mesopotamia and the birthplace of Abraham in Iraq even in wartime will be followed by millions more people in a time of peace. Tourism is the most democratic of all wealth producing industries, and millions of jobs will be created in many sectors across religious worlds.
Without the severe contest of Jewish and Palestinian identities, the search for the ancient Middle East beneath ground will reach new and more sophisticated levels of collaboration leading to a vast expansion of archeological and academic research, also translating into many more jobs. There will also be an explosion of inter-religious and inter-ethnic business. We will begin to see business partnerships emerge overnight between the Gulf States and Israelis. Some of this infrastructure already exists, but quietly. But it will emerge in the full light of day.
Corrupt and unfair businesses will no doubt increase, as they always do, but the absence of inter-religious conflict over Palestine and Israel will encourage Jews, Muslims and Christians to cooperate at a deeper level of cultural values. Let me explain.
To cite an example of emerging patterns of cooperation, I am a co-founder of a Palestinian/Jewish business partnership called MEJDI, Middle East Justice and Development Initiative (www.mejdi.net). It is a social enterprise, meaning that we are for-profit, but our profits are made only in cooperation with clients who pay their workers fair wages, and everything we do is geared toward supporting peace and social justice. We are pioneering both tours and academic seminars to the Middle East, and beyond, where most dollars spent support and patronize businesses with a clear reputation for fair wages. Profits are also re-invested in lecturers and tour guides who are reputable activists for positive social change. We thus offer a good product, tours and seminars, but with direct investment in change makers and honest businesses.
This is just one example of the intersection of small business empowerment and social change that cuts across the lines of Muslim, Jew, and Christian. I have learned after 27 years of peace activism in the Middle East that ignoring inequality and poverty is disastrous, and it violates every tenet of the region’s religious traditions and values. Serious attention to fair wages, however, and financial support for social change activists will be a game changer in the region. Imagine how many of these cooperative venture would flower if peace comes.
Generations, even centuries, of Arabs, Muslims, Christians, and Jews, built mutually prosperous relationships; it is time to recover their legacy. The key to the future is imagination with a conscience. Then all obstacles seem smaller, more of a nuisance. But without imagination, all one ever sees are roadblocks. I prefer the view of an open road.
Originally posted at: http://www.muslimsdebate.com/n.php?nid=4984© Marc Gopin