“Peace-Washing” Oppression: Why Does Wishing for Peace in The Middle Barely Hush a Bullet?

By Sarah Dajani ’26

Opinion Editor

Western leaders have been talking about a humanitarian pause in Gaza. The Onion captured the failure of these insidious attempts in a brilliant satirical headline: “Humanitarian Pause, Missile Quiet Time, And Bullet Hush: How to Call For Peace In The Middle East Without Actually Meaning It.” There is no need for an expert to assert that wishing for peace in the Middle East while maintaining supplies of arms to regimes and states that turn the “Middle East’s” buildings into rubble, its children into dead corpses and make its flour bloody is pure bogus. I could present some insight on how “peace discourse” not only sounds more pleasant than reality but could be beneficial in maintaining the wars of the Middle East from my experience at Kids4Peace.

K4P Jerusalem is a United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded organization that characterizes itself as “an interfaith youth movement that brings together children from east and west Jerusalem.” As a former member of K4P, I have had my fair share of dialogue, finding similarities and bridging gaps in perspective with the “other.” I joined K4P in 2017. Since then, the political situation changed from annexation, ethnic cleansing and apartheid to genocide. Given the horrors currently broadcasted from Gaza, it feels like having several generations of K4P graduates serve has not made the Israeli army any less vicious. After all, the same system that supplies the bombs dropped on Gaza designs and funds programs to achieve peace in the Middle East.

“To nineteen-year-old me, it is ridiculous to have years-long discussions about peace without addressing why we have to strive towards peace in the first place.”

These feelings were not developed in a vacuum. They arise from observations of the design and the financiers of the program, which prevent kids from making any progress within K4P, thereby obscuring reality under occupation behind a whitewashed facade of peace and friendship. Firstly, “peace building” programs target kids and youth at a malleable age. This is presented as an advantage since the goal is to influence participants’ thinking by providing them with the opportunity to humanize “the other,” which has a higher likelihood of happening at a younger age. However, considering the organization’s ambiguous language, objectives and approach to “peace,” Palestinian kids like myself struggle to participate in the conversation when words such as “occupation,” “apartheid” or wishing for a free Palestine are received with so much hostility from Zionist Israelis, program directors and instructors. Secondly, K4P fails to recognize the reality of apartheid and military occupation by the Zionist Jewish Israeli Government. A system that influences a Palestinian’s daily activities, like the hours you need to spend at a checkpoint, the books you are allowed to carry to school or applying for a permit to attend your relative’s wedding behind the checkpoint. To nineteen-year-old me, it is ridiculous to have years-long discussions about peace without addressing why we have to strive towards peace in the first place. 

With the presented reasons, there is no surprise that our meetings prove ineffectual toward nurturing peace, especially when we lack a definition of what that might look like. In Palestine and elsewhere, lacking the intention to change the status quo or acknowledge the political reality, the experience of the oppressed will be neglected while the oppressors will be praised for simply showing a willingness to engage in “dialogue.” This failure is exacerbated when considering the knowledge each “side” has of Israel’s hegemonic rule from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Program developers’ awareness of the disparity in knowledge and experience of oppression between Palestinian and Israeli kids results in deluding participants of symmetry rather than addressing a system that subjugates Palestinians. A good example of this is the conversation we had after watching “Coco,” a movie in which young Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician despite his family’s generations-old ban on music. At the end of the movie we were asked about our potential to change the status quo just like Miguel does. Once again, this fails to acknowledge the limitations faced by Palestinians that hinder us from pursuing our daily activities, let alone changing the status quo. Israelis, on the other hand, are obligated to serve in the army, putting them in a position of direct impact on the occupation. Additionally, showing teenagers a cartoon designed for toddlers at a place where we are meant to believe in our ability to make change erodes our belief in the organization’s mission. The idea that movies addressing the political reality are not suitable for teenagers is not only simply false, it is also brutally insensitive to the Palestinian participants whose reality is mildly captured in such movies. There are many movies such as “Tantura,” “Stories from the Intifada,” “Checkpoint,” “Gaza” and “Slingshot Hip Hop” that are designed for a teenage audience. With this in mind, it is unsurprising that Palestinians eventually grow skeptical of how attending summer camps all the way in the United States, playing sports and celebrating religious holidays together brings peace to the Middle East. 

This piece is not to say that I wasted my time at K4P, that Palestinians and Israelis cannot reach a political solution, or that organizations involving Israelis are not trusted in the Palestinian community. Examples of trusted Israeli organizations include Peace Now, B’tselem, and Breaking the Silence. However, I think that building peace will remain a fantasy that serves its financiers’ agenda as long as “peace-building” programs that do not address the root cause of the instability (why we strive towards peace), for what reasons participants meet and how meeting contributes to how the organization envisions peace. I recognize that these suggestions will crush American funding of such programs due to putting an end to the propaganda peace-building programs spread in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Nonetheless, these steps are necessary to achieve impact in a region that suffers from systematic oppression.

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