How to change her mind?
March 10, 2008 11:55 PM   Subscribe

Other ways to help Palestine? [Life-risking girlfriend inside]

My girlfriend is young(teens), but very political; she feels very strongly for the Palestinians in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. She wants to join the International Solidarity Movement, and feels risking her life for a good cause like Rachel Corrie is something she wants to do in her teens/early 20's.

Of course for me, it's a mixed feeling. I'm very glad that she feels so strongly and wants to make a difference, but I don't want her to get hurt. I'm not sure if she is just young and idealistic, or sincerely wants to do this. Either way, I need help thinking of ideas to give her that would help solve this conflict countries away, without putting her life in danger. I want ideas that would be leaning towards the "Go to school, live life a little, mature more, and help out" spectrum. Thanks!
posted by lain to Law & Government (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, I think going to school and a) learning to understand the situation better, b) learning more about conflict resolution and peace studies in general, and c) learning how to get in a position of power or in a position to influence those in power over the situation has a far, far, far better chance of success than going over there and risking becoming a martyr (that really, only a few people hear about, and fewer still actually care about).

I know there is a "University for Peace" in Costa Rica with English language graduate programs on how to solve conflicts and end wars, and there are probably "Peace Studies" or similarly named programs in many domestic universities. The political science or international studies departments of universities are probably good places to begin looking, or find intelligent books on the topic and read the author bio to see if he/she is a professor somewhere.

Now is the time for her to get the education, skills, and contacts necessary for a career as a diplomat, peace movement organizer, or other person working to end conflicts, which will give her the opportunity to help so many more people throughout her lifetime than she could help by throwing herself physically at the problem right now, risking death and the end of all her potential.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:23 AM on March 11, 2008

What about getting her involved with an organization such as Seeds for Peace or Neve Shalom? If she wants to be political, she can become an activist for a group such as the American Task Force on Palestine, or she can work with a pro-peace microfinance organization like the Shurush Initiative.

My sense from talking to people in the region (on both sides of the conflict) is that the ISM often creates more problems than they solve, since they tend to seek out confrontation. Going to an area as volatile as Gaza Strip is unwise for anyone, let alone a young, single American woman.

On another note, she should absolutely read more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I consider myself very well-informed on the subject, and constantly come across new books, articles, and viewpoints--from all sides. But that's for another thread, another day...
posted by j1950 at 12:25 AM on March 11, 2008

One last thing: if a young, single woman tries to enter Israel with the intention of sowing havoc in the West Bank or Gaza Strip, the chances are very high that she will be denied entry and sent on the next flight home. Israeli immigration officials do not screw around with this type of thing.
posted by j1950 at 12:28 AM on March 11, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you for your quick responses. I'm not as aware or informed as she is about the conflict, and any help I receive is highly appreciated.
posted by lain at 12:48 AM on March 11, 2008

More generally, here is something I Learned The Hard Way as a young, idealistic activist:

1. Take care of yourself first, so you are well enough (in every way) to take care of others. You need to take care of yourself and your own needs (education, finances, physical and emotional health, supportive family, general stability) before you can be truly effective in taking care of others. If you begin major activism when you're too young or otherwise unprepared you will very quickly burn through your resources (financial, mental, physical, social, parental support, etc.) and reach a point where you not only can't help others, but need help yourself.

2. Educate yourself (either formally or informally) about the issues you are concerned about so you are capable of understanding and analyzing both the current problem and the repercussions of the proposed solutions. You will feel really bad later in life if you realize that you were working for the wrong cause, or using strategies and tactics that gave you results that were the opposite of what you were expecting.

3. Develop one or more of these types of skills:
a. Vision, leadership, organizational skills, so you can excite others about your goals to acquire and effectively use the resources you need for your cause.
b. Persuasive communication skills, so you can successfully spread your ideologies and policy proposals.
c. Skilled labor (doctor, engineer, lawyer, teacher, etc.) because they are needed around the world but the "brain drain" leads to a dearth of these skills in many of the places they are needed most.
d. Money-making ability, because someone has to fund the cause! (For example, do you think Bill Gates and Warren Buffet would have been more effective in improving the health of poor countries if they'd left the US as teenagers to spend their lives handing out bednets around Africa instead of staying here, making a ton of money, and then donating hundreds of millions of dollars for research for a malaria vaccine?)
posted by Jacqueline at 12:50 AM on March 11, 2008 [17 favorites]

Best answer: I went to Palestine in 2003 after Rachel Corrie died. That was the last straw for me - that was a "holy shit, that could have been me or someone at my school." Had to go.

1) She's going to the west bank almost certainly, not Gaza. Even I wouldn't go to Gaza. The West Bank is safe. Nobody is going to kidnap her in the wb.
2) The ISM has been there for years and is really quite safe, but there are plenty of other groups that go as well. Contact Project Hope or the Alternative Tourism Group.
3) It will be so good for her to go. Absolutely a life changing experience. The utility of it is that you can really tell people what it's like oer there when you come back here. Not the direct action stuff that ism does. Another org, that will give her the chance to stay with a family/travel around a bit will be more useful.
4) ISM groups have a hell of a lot of training, which starts before she goes. She'll not be a single woman going to cause havoc, she's a woman going to join up with lots of other young people who will be thoroughly trained, who will do some pretty safe and well worn civil disobedience type stuff.

Please you or your gf email me or mefimail me if you have any questions. Thank you for supporting Palestine!
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:07 AM on March 11, 2008

Response by poster: Your answer wasn't what my question was looking for, but it was what my heart was looking for.

Thank you =)
posted by lain at 2:43 AM on March 11, 2008

Before your girlfriend buys a ticket to the Middle East full of politics and enthusiasm, tell her to check out what local trade unions and community organisers are doing. Whatever area she's grown up in, she's heir to vast local knowledge that'd be a lot more helpful turned against negative forces in your community than in the West Bank. If you can tell me there's no injustice where you live, then yeah, she ought to go overseas for politics.
Perhaps she won't risk being shot or deported, but there are definitely non-glamorous politically significant activities to be had that will change the lives of real alienated people with messed-up lives.
In your local area. Near where you live. I guarantee you.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:56 AM on March 11, 2008

Jaqueline speaks the truth. Your girlfriend has the essential passion to be an activist, but passion is useless without building up skills, strengths, and wisdom. She really needs to critically think about whether people like Rachel Corrie/ISM help or hinder the cause.

Maybe your girlfriend could start out by taking an organized tour to the region? Here's one example with the Olive Cooperative.
posted by footnote at 5:13 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, probably the best possible thing your girlfriend could do right now is to learn Arabic. Without being able to speak to *regular* (ie, nonpolitical) people on the ground, she'll never be able to come to an authentic understanding of the situation.

Sidenote: I lived in the Basque Country and other parts of Spain for a couple of years. I didn't feel like I really had any sort of understanding of the ETA situation until after I had spent a full two years there. You just can't rush that kind of thing.
posted by footnote at 5:17 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can put you in touch with two young people who volunteered in the West Bank (Ramallah) last year. Email for info.
posted by gsteff at 8:00 AM on March 11, 2008

"The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one."
- Wilhelm Stekel

Not that I'm calling your girlfriend immature, mind you (much less suggesting you do!). And it's important to have people who are willing to die for causes--but that doesn't mean they should rush to put themselves in a position to do so. They're a lot more likely to help create lasting change by learning in-depth, working in cooperation with others, and developing skills. Fortunately, it sounds like everyone above has some great suggestions for ways your girlfriend can do that in Israel-Palestine.
posted by hippugeek at 11:15 AM on March 11, 2008

I'm not sure if she is just young and idealistic, or sincerely wants to do this.

it's not a contradiction. tell her to be careful but don't try to talk her out of it, if she really passionately about it, you'll only alienate her. it's not like she's joining the army or something, if she doesn't like it, she can come back.

and really, it's risky but going to Wendy's for burgers in, like, Indiana, isn't completely risk-free either.
posted by matteo at 11:32 AM on March 11, 2008

On a more philosophical level, and directed more at championing education over activism, read C.S. Lewis' essay "On Learning in Wartime". He delivered the speech to (if I recall correctly) Oxford undergrads who questioned the utility of studying while their friends were dying on the front lines.

I asked similar questions and the essay became one of many small forces that helped me decide against activism and for peace, leadership, rhetoric and philosophical studies. I'm in a class on negotiation right now. The essay may have a similar effect on your girlfriend, justifying to her slow and steady over quick and weary.

Perhaps Palestine needs both negotiators and martyrs, but I question whether what we really want is peace for Palestinians, or a cause for ourselves.
posted by Galen at 11:59 AM on March 11, 2008

Let her do whatever she wants. You can't control her life. People who join things like the International Solidarity Movement (whose members include members of terrorist organizations) are usually headstrong and not really in a very logical-kind of mindset when it comes to safety and other issues.

Who are you to deny her the opportunity to participate in mass protests, accompanied by stone-throwing, against Israeli soldiers and settlers? With your luck, she'll get arrested and deported and return to you in one piece.
posted by bondgirl53001 at 12:00 PM on March 11, 2008

Has she ever seen anyone die?
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:23 PM on March 14, 2008

« Older Should I leave Los Angeles?   |   20 Half-day Outings in Kansai Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.