Queen Rania's Interview with Al Jazeera's Riz Khan

February 02, 2010
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Riz Khan (RK): Welcome back. Even one year after Israel’s attacks on Gaza the lives of young Palestinians remains severely disrupted, with a lack infrastructure and importantly proper schooling. It’s an issue that’s touched one of the leading figures in the region, a woman who’s a staunch advocate for children’s rights, I spoke with Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan about her concerns for the region’s youth in the shadow or a stalled Israeli Palestinian peace process.

HMQ: Well if you really look at the Middle East issue, the Palestinian Israeli issue over the past period, it’s really been flare ups and bouts of violence coming up, with brief interludes of diplomacy, but the deadly stalemate still continues. And one year after the invasion of Gaza the people are still living in an atmosphere of aggression and dispossession, with conflict and occupation being the major themes of their lives. So if you look at a place like Gaza two thirds of the population live under the poverty line, unable to provide for the basics of food, shelter or clothing. And what concerns me the most is the children, because they’re living in the shadow of an occupation, and being scarred by conflict with no ability to have any sense of normalcy in their lives. And one of the best ways to give kids a sense of stability and normalcy is through schools. And that’s why education is so important. Today in Palestine there are one hundred and eight thousand children that are out of school, that figure is up from four thousand ten years ago. So you can see an exponential rise in that. And what are these children being exposed? How can they have a normal childhood and grow up to be healthy citizens? So this really underlines the importance of us really trying to solve this issue. Incremental steps and process for the sake of process only feeds anger, frustration and a loss of hope. So we really need to move faster than this and try to really resolve some of those outstanding issues

RK: Apart from the harm it does to that generation left hanging as you describe, there is a knock on effect on where it leaves that generation in terms of their own decisions, what they feel in terms of what their lives are worth. And the idea of radicalism and so on perhaps is something that also will be more of a concern.

HMQ: I believe that you know in order to really rid our world of radicalisation we need to deal with the main issue that drives radicalisation and for me that’s just summarised in one word - injustice. And injustice can come from a sense of, a feeling that there’s no hope, that you don’t have a hope for your future. There’s no chance for you making anything out of your life, that you’ve been deprived of your basic rights to be able to make the most out of your own life. Or injustice can come from a sense of unfairness, and persecution, humiliation of a population. So on the one hand to deal with the first type of injustice we need to give people an education, because education gives people the ability and the skills to make the most of the opportunities that are presented to them, to create opportunities if they don’t exist, to really see themselves climbing out of their situation. And the second thing we have to do is resolve some of the injustices regarding human rights etc that are taking place.

RK: You and your husband His Majesty have both been very active in trying to move things in Jordan. Tell me what you’ve done in recent years when it comes to empowering the youth and the educational aspect of life in Jordan, and how, and the results you’ve seen from that?

HMQ: Well you know in Jordan we’ve decided to make education a priority and to really tackle it from all angles. And that means that sometimes you have to be bold, entrepreneurial and creative. You can’t just use the traditional methods. It’s not just, you know The Ministry of Education’s full of good intentions, but it doesn’t have the resources to really make the changes that we aspire to. So we realised that we have to think in a non-traditional kind of way and bring in different partners. One of the programmes that I started is called Madasati which means ‘My School’, and in that programme we’ve identified the five hundred worst run public schools, we’ve done a needs assessment on those schools, and we’ve brought in partners from the private sector. So we have seventy private sector companies that have joined us, a lot of NGOs, and we’ve together tried to fix those schools. And it’s incredible how there’s been a shift in mentality, and I think that’s been the greatest achievement of this programme. That the education in Jordan’s not just a government responsibility but it’s everyone’s responsibility because everyone has a stake. And the private sector realise that there’s a direct correlation between the quality of our education and the quality of their future employees. So they have a lot to gain by being full partners in the process.

RK: When you look at the situation, and we touched at the beginning on how the peace process remains stagnant, that the children are left hanging, a lot of work is needed. Do you remain optimistic and if so how?

HMQ: You know I just don’t think that we have a choice not to resolve the Israeli Palestinian issue. And if anybody claims that this is not the real core issue in our region, and in fact in our world, that this is not the cancer in our region, then they’re either evading the issue or they’re in denial you know. It is the central issue. And it is the issue that has been the underlying cause behind many of the social ailments that we face. So I just hope that the political leaders could have the will to really make the decisions. I mean the peace is so close yet so far away.

RK: You don’t have a lot of faith in the politicians do you?

HMQ: Well you know they haven’t given me much cause to be hopeful on all sides you know. There have been a lot of words, a lot of promises, but you know talk is cheap. Where is the progress on the ground? When are we going to see a significant change in people’s lives for the better. When are the road blocks going to be removed? When are the people going to have access to services? You know it’s about human dignity you know. You have to humanise . Both sides have to humanise the other side. You have to realise that the person on the other side is like you, cares about his family, cares about the future of his children, wants to be respected, wants a decent future. And once we can just put ourselves in the other person’s shoes then we can hope to make progress. At the moment it is just bickering between politicians. What we have to do is talk to the public on both sides and make sure that they are on board and they want to take a chance on peace and on reconciliation. Only then can we really start to see a change in our region. But I will never give up hope because giving up hope means writing off on the future of thousands of people and we really cannot afford to do that. And Israel must realise that ultimate its security rests in its acceptance in the region. It’s not going to achieve security through barrier walls, through road blocks, through armed checkpoints. It’s only through acceptance that you get the real peace. And so it’s incumbent for all of us to really make sure that Palestinians do achieve their right to their aspired statehood, to self determination, to ownership of their own future. Once that happens then we can start to move forward.

RK: Your Majesty it’s a pleasure to talk with you again. Thank you.

HMQ: Thank you very much Riz.