Overcoming The Wall – Seeking Solutions for Peace

I promised that I would share a transcript of my speech. So, here it is.

This is dedicated to my Peacebuilder friends back at University of California, Irvine, especially to my fellowship supervisor, Dr Paula Garb, who’s a conflict negotiator as well as to the other groups of peacebuilders that I had the opportunity to meet.

I also dedicate this to my Israeli and Palestinian friends who now have some peace in their lives. 

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Introduction

A very good evening fellow Singaporeans. It brings me great pleasure to be standing here, once again, surrounded by many who believe in peace and in making a positive change, not just in Singapore but overseas, in Gaza.

At the last event that we organized, the war or massacre had taken the lives of 800 Gazans. Today, a month after that event, after more than 2000 dead Gazans and 69 IDF soldiers dead according to IDF or 150 IDF soldiers dead according to Hamas, a truce is finally in place.

A truce, that would perhaps be considered a victory in all instances to Gazans. A victory, because several deals critical to restoring normal life were reached in the demands for a truce by Hamas, which signaled a defeat to Israel, in my opinion.

When this event was first planned, there were many concerns. Some of those concerns were:

  1. How many people would turn up, compared to the last event?
  2. Would this event still be relevant if a truce was called?

And we agreed, that while numbers mattered, it was important that this event continued nonetheless because a truce does not mean that the conflict is over and more importantly, the Singapore community also needs to learn and know that civil activism is a long process and change cannot happen overnight.

At the last event, I mentioned that it is important for us to ‘Respond, not React’, in any given situation, to ensure that we are aware, responsible and accountable for the actions that we choose, and not let it be a knee-jerk reaction to a situation.

Purpose

Today, we are to talk about solutions for peace, positive peace that will ensure the walls that separate Israel and Palestine, can be overcome.

This truce we see today, this is negative peace. Peace in a volatile situation whereby conflict can erupt at any time. Peace in a situation where there is still much distrust. Peace in a situation where civilians on both sides, still do not have access to each other.

Steps & Solutions

Step 1

To achieve positive peace, to overcome the wall, the first and most important step is already in place – the truce.

Step 2

The next step, is for both sides, civilians especially, to begin talking to one another, to engage one another in conversations to build trust, to build relationships with one another, to find commonalities with one another, so they know, that at the end of the day, they want the same thing, share the same hopes and dreams.

This, I learnt from my mentor, Eboo Patel, who is on Obama’s Council for Interfaith Relations, who shared that to find peace, conflicting sides must find commonalities that they can work together and agree on.

Putting Theories into Realities

Commonalities, is also something that all of us, not just here in Singapore, but also in many parts of the world, share, when it comes to this conflict.

Most of us believe and agree that the occupation must stop and I also believe that we also agree that violence is never the solution to resolve any conflict.

But a conflict such as this, requires a lot of people power, not just from the people in Palestine, but internationally and a conflict such as this, also requires a lot of support from the international community because this is not just a conflict between two states.

It is a conflict which involves citizens of the world, just like any other conflict in any part of the world. And we, cannot afford to sit comfortably in our homes, as bystanders to this conflict, only sending our prayers in private and messages of goodwill through Facebook, because a conflict such as this, requires a visual, it needs to be seen and it needs to be heard.

It needs to be seen and it needs to be heard, so governments can get involved. It needs to be seen and it needs to be heard, so people involved in the conflict know that they have support from the global community. It needs to be seen and it needs to be heard, because activism requires action to be taken.

Change through activism can happen, but let’s do it through peaceful, nonviolent means.

Example 1

In 1915, Mahatma Gandhi, organized peasants, farmers and urban labourers to protest against excessive land-tax and discrimination. He led several peaceful campaigns nationwide and advocated for others to practice nonviolence and truth in all situations.

He was a man, who lived a peaceful, nonviolent life and was active in civil society. Without him, we may not have India today and the concept of nonviolence would not have been well-known.

Example 2

In 1955, a young pastor and other civil rights activists held demonstrations, drawing attention to racial discrimination, demanding civil rights legislation to protect the rights of African-Americans. The young pastor, was of course, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and his peaceful mass demonstrations attracted more than 250,000 protestors to Washington D.C where he delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech. Through his peaceful demonstrations, positive change was made and African-Americans now have equal rights as any other Americans.

His peaceful demonstrations took close to 10 years of activism before a change was seen.

Importance, Impact & Effects of Actions

And if we, Singaporeans, truly believe in this cause for Palestine, that they deserve to be recognized as a state and that the walls have to be brought down, then we need to continue to be civilly active, to participate in civil activism that is peaceful, to help push for statehood for Palestine.

And being active in civil society is important because change can only happen, when there is enough pressure on the people in power, and the people in power will always listen when there is a large crowd of people who believe in the message that is being delivered.

While it’s true that the internet is a great platform to gather people and to hear opinions, but the internet only gives a number, which could be a number of people internationally or from bots. But when people come together in numbers, in real life, those numbers become a reality and that is what’s most important.

The impact and the effect that the news carries on the number of people who ‘Like’ a certain cause or page is vastly different as compared to the impact and effect when a news outlet covers an event with thousands of people involved.

Newsworthiness counts as well in civil activism.

If a police officer arrests one of the speakers here today because he wasn’t registered to speak and one of you records the incident, and this incident goes viral, it will get picked up by the news outlet because it is newsworthy.

Not only that, the police force will also be put under pressure to answer queries as to why a peaceful gathering with people speaking peaceful things are being arrested in a democratic country, in a space where individuals are supposedly allowed to speak freely without the need for a permit?

Conclusion

So my dear Singaporeans, we can also help to seek solutions for peace to overcome the wall, even though we are far from Palestine.

We can take theories, and turn them into realities by taking action, by remaining active in civil society.

Ask our friends to contribute actively in online discussions, to participate in events such as today and to encourage others to join in as well because the impacts & effects of what we seek for, is the long-term effect beyond the truce we see today – a recognized peaceful statehood relationship between Israel and Palestine, without walls.

This is a journey, a very long journey that we need to carry on because though the conflict may be age old, but the people involved aren’t and while our activism may die out, the people involved in the conflict might die should the truce be breached.

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END NOTE:

The irony of mentioning about the Police because even though I was a registered speaker with NParks, they still came up and approached me because I wasn’t one of the approved 3 speakers under the permit issued (I was informed that permit classified this event as ‘Religious in nature’).

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