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We Can Learn From Israel's Policies

Understanding religious differences goes a long way towards harmony in a community, Wayne Swan writes.
TWO WEEKS ago, a few days before I visited Israel, I addressed three different groups of graduating high school students in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. At each meeting I was asked if I thought it was safe enough for them to attend schoolies week festivities on the Gold Coast. Many were afraid of a Bali-style terrorist attack.
After September 11, Bali, the Marriott Hotel attack in Jakarta and the recent bombings in Istanbul there is widespread fear in the Australian community of the threat terrorism poses to our physical security.
In Israel, terror is a day-to-day proposition.
There is an ever-present sense of danger, where restaurant diners Arab, Jewish and Christian having a family meal are nano-seconds away from obliteration.
But in Israel there is a much deeper understanding of the nature of the threat.
Israelis understand the problem is not a single Muslim bloc in conflict with Western civilisation.
Many Australians do not yet fully appreciate the threat comes from a small radical group of fundamentalist Islamists such as Osama bin Laden not the Muslim religion.
They are at war with both Islam and the West and they have a worldwide network of people who do not adhere to conventional rules of war. They use bombers, weapons of mass destruction, whatever it takes.
So it was pleasing to see Sheikh Hilali's comments last week denouncing terrorism and his comments that Muslims should love the country or leave it.
Those who are surprised by this kind of language don’t fully understand the extent to which the terrorist threat is as much directed toward moderate Islamic states such as Indonesia and Turkey as it is against Israel and Australia.
I hadn’t fully appreciated the long-term nature of the threat until I saw music videos and other propaganda encouraging young people to give their lives in order to kill Jews and those who stand with them.
In effect, the next generation of terrorists is being trained and our children will live in the shadow of this threat for many years.
The Israeli-Palestine conflict is unlikely to be resolved quickly but there is an encouraging amount of community effort being devoted to building bridges between Jewish and Arab Israelis.
People realise social cohesion is the key to fighting the transfer of fundamentalist terror from one generation to another and that more must be done to reduce deprivation in the region.
In the Negev Desert, for example, there are programs that generate opportunities for the local Bedouin community.
Young people receive scholarships and housing assistance to complete school education. There is affirmative action to ensure many can enter university and family-support programs for Bedouin children run by Bedouins.
Conventional wisdom suggests disadvantaged communities such as the Negev Bedouins will not attain social or economic parity with other Israelis for generations.
In providing intensive family support and access to education and training, however, the Israelis aim to accelerate the economic development.
The long-term aim is, of course, security and stability.
There are clear lessons for Australia here.
We can do more to educate our communities about the nature of the threat.
In Israel, information kits about terrorism are being developed for high school students with the assistance of the Pratt Foundation in Australia. We could do the same to ensure our children understand the difference between Islam and fundamental Islamists.
There are strong parallels between the experience of the Bedouins in Israel and our indigenous community.
If we are serious about our long-term security, we should not accept current levels of poverty and inequality in the indigenous community or more broadly.
In the long run, we will struggle if we do not engage at a community level to increase interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims and close the gaps between rich and poor.
Social security is our best long-term defence against the terrorist threat.
Wayne Swan, Federal Opposition Spokesman on Family and Community Services, Travelled to Israel on a National Australia Bank Yachad Scholarship.

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