- Community Empowerment
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Queen Rania's Speech at Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut, United States
Make Peace Come True, For Good
President Levin, Dean Lorimer, faculty, students… thank you so much for making me feel so welcome here at Yale. I’ve wanted to come here for many years, and am so grateful to everyone for the hospitality and kindness you’ve shown to me and my staff.
I’ve really been looking forward to seeing the Yale landmarks that I’ve been hearing about for so long – the Beinecke Library… Harkness Tower… Old Campus… Peter Salovey’s moustache.
Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t make it quite in time for that last one! But everything else is even more impressive than I had imagined. This is a spectacular place.
Indeed, I have to admit, as I was preparing for this visit, I wondered what on earth I could tell you that you don’t already know. Yalies have won 17 Nobel prizes, 6 presidential elections, and even 2 Heisman trophies. You can choose from more than 2,000 courses… browse more than 12 million books in the libraries… make friends from more than 110 countries… and, as far as I can tell from the posters on campus, try out for 3,000 a capella singing groups!
So, rather than try to compete with all that, I thought I’d speak from my own experience.
I thought I’d offer an Arab perspective on my part of the world, and our hopes for peace and progress – especially with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And I’m guessing, since you made the time to be here today, when you could have been doing something really important – like researching a paper, or visiting a professor, or calling your Mom to tell her how much you love her -- that this is an audience that already cares about international relations.
But I realize that foreign policy isn’t typically a top concern for the American public – and especially not in a time of economic hardship at home. A poll earlier this year found that 75 percent of Americans agreed “terrorism” should be one of President Obama’s top priorities… but almost no other foreign policy issues made it to the top 20 list.
So I don’t expect that the Arab-Israeli conflict is foremost on most people’s minds.
Yet, in many ways, that conflict is at the core of U.S.-Arab relations – or, at least, at the core of Arab public opinion of America. When Arabs were asked, in a poll this spring, what two steps by the United States would improve their views of the United States the most, more than 40 percent said a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. The same poll found that 99 percent of people put the conflict in their top 5 priorities… and one in three say the Palestinian issue is their number one concern.
That’s because for us, the occupation is a hurt we feel each day. In Jordan, nearly a third of our population are Palestinian refugees. Look at the people sitting on either side of you. Imagine one was a refugee – forced to seek haven in your country because her family had been driven from their own. In Jordan we have to be concerned with the conflict because we’re living with its consequences. We don’t have the luxury of shifting our focus away.
We know as well that the crisis in Palestine does not exist in a vacuum. What happens in Palestine is related to what happens in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Syria. The longer the conflict in Palestine persists, the weaker the moderate majority becomes… the more extremists gain leverage they can exploit… and the greater the risk of instability throughout our region.
So we appreciated President Obama’s outreach in his Cairo speech. We appreciated his acknowledgement that the conflict remains a major source of tension between us… and his pledge to pursue a two-state solution with patience and dedication.
We appreciated the appointment of Senator George Mitchell as special envoy.
But we are impatient. When it comes to Palestine, time has not been a friend. To the contrary, sometimes Palestine seems like the land that time forgot.
You know, when I started college, back in 1988, Europe was divided. The United States had an existential foe called the USSR. Much of Latin America was ruled by juntas; South Africa by apartheid. Civil conflicts had been raging for decades from Guatemala to Northern Ireland. Nelson Mandela lived in a cell. And Palestine was under occupation.
These were the problems we used to describe as intractable, even insoluble. Yet hatreds have given way to handshakes. Prisoners have become presidents.
But not in Palestine. In Palestine, walls are going up, not coming down…four hundred kilometers to be precise. The decades have brought what feels like an endless parade of starts and stalemates … missed opportunities… shattered hopes… and diminishing returns.
And I’m not here to talk about blame. That doesn’t get us anywhere. It’s like tracing your finger on a Mobius Strip, going round in an infinite loop.
But coming from Jordan, I feel I must speak for those voices that Americans rarely hear… to describe the sense of “identity theft” that Palestinians have endured for over 60 years.
Because their pain is about more than the loss of their land… their olive trees… their livelihoods. Their grief is about more than being kicked out of the homes in which their families have lived for generations. As one scholar put it, land is the “geography of the Palestinian soul.” Their very understanding of who they are is deeply rooted in the context of their environment. So each new claim on their ever-shrinking space feels like a blow to their very existence. Having no place to call their own is like having no identity at all.
Think about it: When you enroll here at Yale, one of the first things you receive is your ID. It allows you access – to residential colleges… dining halls… the library stacks. It opens doors. It gets you in. It shows that you belong. And when you leave Yale, you get a piece of paper to carry with you: a diploma that gives you status before you ever have to say a word.
In the West Bank and Gaza, young people like you are given an ID as well. But this ID is not about access. It is only about limitation. It limits the boundaries of where they can go, what they can do, who they can be. It’s a constant reminder that in others’ eyes, they are less valuable… less important… simply less.
UN sources report that almost 40 percent of the West Bank is now covered by settlement-related Israeli infrastructure – barriers… buffer zones… military bases… barbed wire and barricades.
Parents can’t get to work. Students can’t get to class. Sick people can’t get to hospitals. All traffic is stopped, from people on foot to cars and trucks to ambulances. The wait can be hours, often only to find that passage is refused – relatives detained on their way to a family wedding… schoolchildren searched, their notes ripped from their schoolbooks… grandparents, forced to stand for hours holding packages and heavy bags.
The unpredictability, anxiety, and humiliation are as wearing as the delay.
And so much more than freedom of movement is lost when each day is defined by these checkpoints… with armed soldiers demanding, “Hawiya… ID… Hawiya… ID” Show me proof that you exist.
The degradation is compounded by the sense that no one cares… that the outside world is oblivious to the hardships Palestinians endure.
Especially in Gaza, where for two years, families have faced the collective punishment of blockade… and for three weeks at the start of this year, they were subjected to devastating attack – with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide… not even UN hospitals or schools.
Today, a million people -- almost 70 percent of Gaza’s population -- are refugees. Homes lie in rubble. Hospitals lack power. Sewage pipes threaten to burst. The economy has totally, utterly collapsed. Unemployment is approaching 50 percent.
One resident calls it “a jail where no prisoner knows the length of his sentence.”
And not one penny of the billions of dollars pledged for reconstruction has gotten through.
More than half the population of Gaza is under the age of 18.
Children did not create this conflict… but they are its greatest victims.
Just listen to the words of the four small children who were found by the Red Cross in January… in the shell-battered neighborhood of Zeitoun… clinging to their mothers’ corpses:
They couldn’t speak. They were too weak to stand. They hadn’t eaten for days… while the firefight raged outside the door… and their families died inside.
They were alive… but being alive is not the same as surviving. These children had nothing but their mothers’ love… and now they have lost that too.
And the worst threat of all is the cynicism so many people feel… the sense that Middle East peace is hopeless… that we’ll never find a solution.
Because if we throw up our hands and say, “This problem is too hard,” we’re not just writing off a “process”… or writing off a “road map.” We’re writing off people’s lives.
But let me be clear: it isn’t just the lives of Palestinians at stake. Israelis too need a future of peace and security.
They too need to be free of wailing sirens announcing an attack.
And they too need to grow up without the shadow of walls and watchtowers… for as a columnist for a leading Israeli daily wrote this spring, one of the casualties of occupation may be a healthy state of Israel itself.
So what must be done?
On the political front, we need courage, accountability, and action.
And we see signs of hope, as President Obama and his team invest their time and capital in breathing life into negotiations for two viable, secure, sovereign states.
We see signs of hope, as all 22 members of the Arab League have offered Israel full recognition in exchange for withdrawal to its pre-1967 border.
We see signs of hope, as brave people on both sides say they are ready to give peace a chance – 64 percent of Palestinians, and 40 percent of Israelis, who support the Arab League plan.
Now, all sides must take responsibility for building on this momentum. And let me say clearly: That responsibility includes the Arab world. We decry the actions of Israeli extremists, but must work harder to rein in our own. We look to the West to do more in support of Palestinian needs, but must do our part – and must press the Palestinians toward unity among themselves.
At the same time, as my husband His Majesty King Abdullah has said, it is time for Israel to choose: “To integrate into the region, accepted and accepting, with normal relations with its neighbors. Or to remain fortress Israel, isolated, and holding itself and the entire region a hostage to continuing confrontation.”
And from America, too, we need sustained commitment… creative engagement… and leadership… to keep the parties on the path to peaceful co-existence.
But we need even more.
Because true peace depends not just on new lines on a map. It is not just the walls on the land that must go. We must take down the walls in our hearts. There has been so much pain, so much loss, so much fear, so much hatred and mistrust. True peace depends on reconnecting the bonds of our common humanity.
I was moved by something JK Rowling said in her commencement at Harvard last year. She said that humans have the unique ability to “think themselves into other people’s places”… to learn and understand new things they’ve never actually experienced.
And yet, many “choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.”
Rowling went on to say, “I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do… I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters,” she said. “They are often more afraid.”
She is right. So often, we dread what we do not know. We live in fear of the things we cannot see. But we’ll never move forward by closing ourselves off. The only way to grow is to reach out.
To truly make peace in the Middle East -- or anywhere in the world – we all have to learn to think ourselves into other people’s places. To put ourselves in other people’s shoes. To make room for other people’s hopes and fears. For the more we can appreciate one another’s perspective, the more dimension and depth we add to our own.
And in many respects, that’s what a liberal education is all about. It’s about asking questions without prejudging the answers. Drawing lessons from other peoples’ experiences. Testing and refining our own values and beliefs. Developing the habits of an open mind.
When we shine the light of inquiry… broad-mindedness… and compassion… that is how we find our way to our own best selves. The more open we become, the more we find we can contain. It’s the “lux” that leads the way to “veritas.”
And when it comes to the Middle East, no matter how great the fears, no matter how deep the mistrust, if we shine that light, we are sure to reveal what has always, and will always, be true: There is no difference between the love Palestinians and Israelis feel for their children. No difference between their laughter… or their tears.
We share one humanity. As one of my heroes, Desmond Tutu, likes to say, “We, all of us, have been made for goodness. We have been made for laughter…we have been made for caring, for sharing, for compassion; for we do indeed inhabit a moral universe and; yes, goodness is powerful.”
Yale, as global citizens, we have a responsibility to one another. In our interconnected world, there are no zero sum games. We win or lose together. We all have a stake in peace and justice – for all of us are diminished by their absence. Let us work together, in the Middle East and around the world, to make peace come true, for good.
Thank you very much.