Ten Young Greens from Germany travelled to Israel in May. They met with people from both sides of a conflict. People who are yearning for peace. However, many of them remain sceptical towards each other. After all, it seems to be a long way until peace and equality for everyone will be established.
When we think back to our days in Israel, beautiful pictures come to our minds: walking up the streets of Haifa, a beautifull hill by the Mediterranean. Hiking through a wadi next to the Dead Sea with Jordan in sight. Strolling over the Arab market in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The other side of the story: Lots of armed people, roadblocks, security checks, “the fence” and “the wall”.
After ten days in Israel, it is hard for us to put in order all the different impressions we had. An Israeli peace activist told us we would be more confused about Israel leaving the country than before we got there. Maybe she was right. But this is not a bad thing as we are still processing our experiences, trying to understand what we saw and heard.
On our journey, we focused on the living conditions and relations of Jews and Palestinians living in Israel. Being invited by the Heinrich Boell Foundation of Tel Aviv, an offi ce working only in Israel, we did not travel to the territories of the Palestinian Authority.
Still, the confl ict between the Palestinian Authority and Israel was very present and often talked about.
During the ten days we spent in Israel, we met both Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. Yet we hardly spent any time with both at the same time. Jews and Palestinians, also within Israel, are divided in many ways. Today, about 5 million Jews and 1.3 million Arab-Palestinians live in Israel.
“We are not given the same rights as the Jews”, says Labiba, a Palestinian Israeli student who is a member of Cegas (www.cegas.info). The Haifa seated NGO promotes rights for Palestinian Israeli college students and hosted us for the fi rst half of the trip. Cegas showed us Palestinian life in Israel. Labiba mentioned worse conditions of Palestinian Israelis in many fields such as employment, housing, education and discrimination in daily life.
Um el Fahem is a very densely populated Palestinian Israeli village close to the West Bank. Even if there may be Jewish villages in Israel with difficult living conditions as well, Um el Fahem still shows how hard it is for Palestinian Israeli communities to gain the same rights and standards as cities with a majority of Jewish population. There is very little space available, little money and the city suffers from high pollution. People in Um el Fahem pay the same price for water but only receive 60 percent of what their Jewish neighbours get.
Almost every Palestinian Israeli gets emotional and sentimental, when she or he talks of the many Palestinians who had to leave Israel in the late 1940’s. The story of Jews arriving to Palestine/Israel and Palestinians leaving it is a controversial one: Palestinians claim millions of them were violently expelled from their country by the Jews. About one hour drive east from Haifa, we visit a field where once stood a Palestinian village.
According to the Palestinians, the Jews raided many villages, destroyed them and forced its inhabitants out of the country. Jewish Israelis reply that it was the surrounding Arab nations that attacked fi rst when more and more Jews arrived after World War II. They say it was very exceptional that Jews destroyed Palestinian villages and that most Palestinians left of their own will. We felt torn between these different opinions – a feeling we had several times during the trip.
Is it a fence or a wall?
What the Israelis call “security fence” is in fact most of the time a fence. In places like Abu Dis though, it is a very scary looking seven meter high concrete wall. Right in the middle of the street in East Jerusalem it splits one Palestinian neighborhood into two. We can see people crawling through holes which are still in existance in some parts.
Our guide is Ron, an activist of the Geneva Initiative. He is a leftist but still supports the fence, as long as it is built on the borders drawn by the United Nations. Here in Abu Dis, of course, it is not. Most Israelis feel that the fence has made a difference. In 2005, there were almost no suicide attacks in cities like Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Even leftist Israelis believe it is the fence that made this reduction happen. However, the activists of the Geneva Initiative want a fence only if it is not taking away Palestinian territory or if land is given to the Palestinians in return.
The most important thing we learned during the trip was to refrain from quick judgements on the conflict and to always listen to both sides. On one hand, we hear stories of racist discrimination by Jews towards Palestinians. On the other, stories of raids by the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza. On one hand stories of how relatives can hardly meet each other because they live close to each other but on different sides of the fence. On the other we hear Jewish people our age talk about the friends they lost in suicide attacks. One night, we sit at a Tel Aviv beach bar where in 2003 a man blew himself up. It feels weird to now be in this place with all the people and loud music.
Jewish Israelis tell us about their views about the conlict. According to them, Israel reached out the hand to the Palestinians many times and still experienced violence and terror attacks. Because of this, it needs to take unilateral action and build the fence.
A lack of trust seems to be the problem in this confl ict. A lack of trust between people who really want to talk with each other but still remain sceptical: Labiba of Cegas does not believe in a good future for herself and her neighbours in the Palestinian territories. She doubts the Israeli government will make her situation easier and withdraw its army from Gaza and the West Bank. Ron of the Geneva Initiative still wants a fence because he does not believe terror attacks can be prevented in another way at present.
Is it really two worlds we visited in May? A Jewish and a Palestinian one? Two worlds that will never understand each other and will fail to establish peace with one another? Hopefully not! We also experienced moments that made us hope: An art exhibition of both a Jewish and a Palestinian artist in Um al Fahem. Jewish women who go out to the checkpoints to watch how Israeli soldiers treat Palestinians.
A Jewish and a Palestinian Israeli overlooking their country, shaking hands and agreeing that there can only be a future of both nations living together. If those people talk to those who are sceptical and those who are violent, true peace might be possible.
Picture gallery of the trip: www.gruene-jugend.de/galerie/931 (German)
Day by day information: www.gruene-jugend.de/artikel/71820.html (German)