Courtesy: All voices
Israel – Tel Aviv : As a Pakistani-American, I was initially hesitant to visit Israel in this political climate, but when an invitation from Tel Aviv University beckoned to explore prospects for ecological peace-building in the region, I felt obliged to accept. One of Israel’s most liberal universities was organizing a conference on the prospects for an environmental “peace park” with Syria in the Golan Heights and they wanted me to be the keynote speaker, given my previous research on such efforts worldwide. Some “Realists” might roll their eyes on such a prospect but the concept of “peace parks” is more than an idealist’s ramblings and has shown promise in resolving territorial disputes. Warring parties can be made to realize quite pragmatically that joint conservation is economically beneficial and also a politically viable exit strategy from a conflict. The US used such a strategy in the mid 1990s to resolve a decades-old armed conflict between Ecuador and Peru in the Cordillera del Condor region. The Obama administration’s deputy envoy to the Middle East, Fred Hof, has proposed the Golan peace park effort as a means of a peace-building with Syria as well in a formal paper written for the US Institute of Peace in 2008. So the idea is one which policy-makers are considering seriously and there are even detailed maps and plans that have been prepared to consider such a solution.
Nevertheless, the trip was risky in two ways: first in Pakistan, I would be immediately marginalized for visiting a country that is still perceived by many to be illegitimate. Second, as a Muslim of Pakistani lineage traveling to the region, I would be considered with suspicion in Israel as well as back in the United States. Thus I arrived with conflicting emotions and a protracted security screening at Ben Gurion airport, only to find the country in its latest conflagration in Gaza. An early January air attack on the beleaguered region had left four Palestinians dead and an aid convoy from the UK on Gaza’s border with Egypt was being stopped by Egyptians who claimed that they were under treaty obligations with Israel to ensure proper security measures. An Egyptian soldier was also killed in the frenzied fury of the waiting game for desperately needed aid.