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AEI-Open Windows, affiliated to Pax Christi International, is the local Palestinian representative of PFN. AEI fosters educational opportunities for Palestinian communities and youth to share and communicate to others the reality of daily life of Palestine, including its rich diversity of cultural and religious identities.
AEI became excited about cooperation with PFN because this website is a creative educational response to the fragmentation imposed upon the Palestinians. By linking up to this site it becomes possible for different communities of the Palestinian people, presently often unable to even meet each other, to share their community histories and cultural experiences and by doing so, to contribute to the national Palestinian history and cultural identity. AEI feels that learning about one's history and culture is essential to create a common future vision and perspective for the Palestinian people. For more Information about AEI-Open Windows, see http://www.aeicenter.org
The current Palestinian generation is the quintessential “generation at risk.” Palestinian youth in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have known nothing but violence, conflict and the absence of peace; many already have lost or are facing the daily threat of losing their freedom of movement, land, homes, families, jobs, and chances of education. The traumas caused by these experiences have led to a dangerous crisis in values and identity.
AEI-Open Windows is part of a Palestinian movement of youth, women and educators who are developing a considered and strategic response to this emergency situation.
In contributing to this response, AEI has decided to ground its work in four activity areas, organized into programs with the following specifics:
The youth activation and leadership program in AEI’s Open Windows Youth House targets Palestinian youths from 15 years on in the Bethlehem-Hebron region to build management leadership skills and to encourage youth to take responsibility and gain experience in setting up socio-cultural activities, and to exchange experiences and cooperate with other youth groups in Palestine.
Education in values, culture and identity . This program takes values, especially the value of peace, as based upon an understanding of one’s own culture, religion and identity as well as those of others. It aims at building a cadre of Palestinian youths (including children, teenagers and older youths), women, and educators (teachers and parents) who are aware of their sources of inspiration and are able to develop a strong value-based message.
Communications and media . AEI’s Open Windows School of Communication provides training, resources, technical support and networks to Palestinian youth, women and educators in order to develop skills in the communication of Palestinian reality, rights and identity.
Capacity building program . This program strengthens the inner components of the organization by building up a strong internal network, organizational structure, fund-raising capacity, and management systems. It will also give support in expanding outwards by publicity, teacher networks, partnerships and alliances. A fifth program, which will incorporate the training of Palestinian teachers, is considered to be developed after three years.
The connections between the first three programs can be best illustrated by a chain of images.
The first program supports youth in opening up their senses, wakening them up out of the suffocating atmosphere of confinement to which Palestine is presently subjected, and out of the deadening daily routine.
Being awake, the youth – as well as women and educators - are encouraged by the second program to explore themselves and their culture, religions and heritage reflexively, and jointly search for the positive values of their community and come out of this search with a sense of public mission and participation. The identity is not explored in isolation but with a window open to others’ identities and values, and with an orientation to find common human ground. In exploring the Palestinian identity, AEI makes special use of the social and socializing stories that exist within communities and across generations.
In the third program, the youth and other participants, empowered and more self-confident of their identity and message, actively reach out towards others. They engage in dialogue, become an ambassador, and conduct advocacy. The skills, values and attitudes practiced on the community level are now practiced at a higher, international level.
What AEI is doing in these three programs is to establish a house with a firm foundation but also with many doors and windows.
What is AEI’s vision for the future? AEI’s projects stand out and raise international attention because of a unique combination of value-orientation, cultural contents, technological resources, communicative skills, and public participation of youth and educators. This combination of a ‘soft’, cultural orientation on the one hand and training in the ‘hard’ skills of communication on the other is further augmented by a focus upon quality. AEI is at the forefront of innovative projects which link up a journey inwards into Palestinian culture, history, religions and heritage, with a journey outwards directed towards sharing experiences with other nations and communities.
In all its activities AEI, part of the international peace movement, endorses a concept of ‘peace’ based upon intrinsic values of justice, non-violence and reconciliation. The development of peace requires the building up of a strong inner-spiritual and community-based sense of peace. It is a peace established upon a strong but open-minded identity needed for good communication. In addition to the suffering under occupation, hostile or biases portrayals of Palestinians in the media cause them sometimes to take refuge in a ‘siege’ mentality or to accentuate their role as victims. The feeling that their concerns, values and identity are recognized in exchanges with sympathetic foreigners gives Palestinian youth the necessary reassurance to be more open to outside viewpoints. Interaction with such sympathetic outsiders provide a non-threatening forum in which Palestinians can gain a better understanding of the religious, social and cultural trends in the wider world which affect how they and their cause are perceived. This can create a dynamic which will contribute to creating a more favorable climate for peace. In addition, the development of a strong identity as well as knowledge of the self and the other is pertinent to meaningful exchanges between Palestinians and Israelis. The exploration of identity and heritage helps Palestinian students to understand what is essential and cannot be compromised, and what is not, for the sake of peace. Finally, their effective communication with foreign audiences helps to rectify false stereotypes. The students show themselves as flesh and blood human beings trying to go about the normal business of life – just like every other people – but under unimaginable (because seldom-described) conditions. New technologies such as computer and Internet not only allow young people new ways of studying their values and identity but also to skirt traditional media and the stereotypes it promotes, by reaching out to the world directly. The communicative efforts help to create a grassroots dynamic which serves the interests of peace.
In AEI’s educational approach to peace building, it wishes to emphatically mention the role of Palestinian women as ‘connectors’. After all, they are caretakers of new generations, peace makers, and culture bearers. It is they who usually tell the stories of identity further. AEI desires to lend them a stronger role in the communication of Palestine.
While grassroots education for peace will be intrinsic to AEI’s work, there is no escape from the larger political context which is presently characterized by an unbearable imbalance in power and a fundamental lack of respect for Palestinian collective and human rights. In AEI’s view, peace cannot be just and lasting if it is based on coercion of one side on the other, if only one side’s identity, history, humanity, suffering and rights are expressed to the detriment of the other. Yet every step taken towards peace by the Palestinians has been accompanied by a demand to silence the Palestinian narrative and in some sense adopt the views of their adversary, in effect causing them to shoulder a disproportionate part of the blame for the difficult situation they are now living. The compromises made – in the Palestinian curriculum, for instance – added to the fact that most Palestinians learn their history informally at the knees of a rapidly disappearing older generation, increase the risk that Palestinians will know less and less of their history and culture and may even internalize the view of themselves and their people as reflected in the biased international media. Such a ‘peace’ will cause severe damage to both the individual and collective psyche. Redressing this tendency by strengthening self-confidence and an open identity is essential in order for Palestinian youth to become on equal terms with others, including their adversary. Only the quiet pride that comes with self-knowledge can give the confidence to meet the other side as equals, and only by meeting on equal terms can there ever be a real peace.
Considering that a political peace should be firmly based in international law, AEI will keep calling for an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine, an end to the separation Wall, and the realization of the national rights of the Palestinian people. AEI will conduct a strong advocacy effort especially in the international educational field and will call for the international community and Israel to directly and unconditionally fulfill its legal obligations.