Sunday, August 19, 2007

I have just returned from a three day coexistence gathering with over 1200 Israelis and Palestinians held in the Olive Groves of the Latrun Monastery. Sponsored the grassroots organization Sulha Peace Project, the encounter aimed to use the indigenous process of mediation (Sulha), to rebuild trust and restore dignity between the two historic nations of this land.

It was inspiring and hopeful as it was sad and confronting. On presentation that particularly grabbed my attentionsentation of a movie from the Bereaved Families Forum called Encounter Point
After the film, there was a discussion facilitated by the two brave protagonists.

Ali Abu Awwad was shot by an Israeli settler in 2001. Whilst in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment his brother, Yusef was killed by an Israeli soldier. Ali had spent years in Israeli prisons for actions like demonstrating against the occupation, throwing stones, and being a member of a political party. When Yusef was killed, Ali joined the Bereaved Families Forum to work with Palestinians and Israelis who together advocate nonviolence and reconciliation.
Robi Damelin is an Israeli mother whose son David was shot dead in 2002 by a Palestinian sniper whilst he was manning a checkpoint. Robi is haunted by the loss of her son, and the knowledge that he was posted to defend an Israeli settlement in occupied Palestinian territory to which he was politically opposed. After David was killed, Robi also joined the Bereaved Families Forum.

They stood together after the film and had a very clear message. For many years both Israeli’s and Palestinians have been fed two myths by their respective media.

On the Palestinian side, there is a perceptions that all Israelis don’t want peace. They all serve in the army which inflicts a brutal occupation on the Palestinians. They have never offered to completely withdraw from the occupied territories.

On the Israeli side, the mantra being heard all too often is that the Palestinians don’t want peace and are only interested in driving us into the sea. Even this week, whilst Olmert is trying to restart negotiations, the leader of the Labour Party(which calls itself a leftist party) Ehud Barak repeated this mantra. Why? Meron Benvenisti writes in yesterdays Haaretz:

With the Camp David failure and the outbreak of the second intifada, the Israeli public needed a narrative that would unite its parts, justify its deeds and allow it to deal with a difficult situation while describing the situation as a war for survival. The narrative presented by Barak, in which he offered the late PA chairman Yasser Arafat the moon and Arafat chose violence instead, has become resistant to any contradicting argument, fact or evidence. Barak and his disciples have succeeded in convincing the Israelis that the Palestinian rejection of the generous and unprecedented offers led to the wave of violence, and that the Palestinians are not ready to end the conflict, which is not territorial but stems from their refusal to accept Israel's very existence.

The "there is no partner" formula is what led to the peace camp's destruction. Anyone who dared present a more complex picture was accused of supporting the enemy.

But the pundits' decree is unequivocal: Barak's motives are personal; he is undermining the process out of fear that someone will succeed where he failed.

Hearing Robi and Ali speak about how they have chosen the path of nonviolence was truly inspirational. They travel around the country visiting both Palestinians and Israeli schools sharing their stories and those of the others in the Bereaved Families Forum. Their message of non violence includes an admonition of Palestinian terrorist activities parallel to an equal condemnation of the Israeli occupation and soldiers who, when obliged to do serve in the IDF, act in a way for more brutal than is necessary.

For the path of non violence to work, we need to let go of a number of dreams.
1. That military force alone will eradicate the threat from the other side
2. That the occupation, in any form, can continue indefinitely
3. That Jerusalem can remain undivided

I know many Israelis and Palestinians who will never let go of these dreams. They say the dream of the left is a fantasy. Hamas and Islamic Jihad will always want to kill innocent Israelis. The Israeli government will never dismantle all the settlements. But what’s the alternative? Perpetual war? Continued UN resolutions and Quartet mediated peace conferences were neither side budges from their “red lines?” Unending occupation corrupts Israeli society as much as it harms Palestinian dignity.

Each morning of the sulha, there were sharing circles where we listed to each other’s stories. The pain and anguish was evident. In the evenings both Jewish and Arab musicians including David Broza, Yair Dalal and a Palestinian dance troupe performed and I witnessed something I had never seen before. Israelis and Palestinians dancing wildly together until 2 in the morning. It was like a wedding.

During the closing ceremony, many Palestinians, especially the teenagers, cried. Knowing that this island of peace and mutual respect was going to end the moment they stepped of their busses in Hebron, Ramallah and Jenin behind the wall and humiliating checkpoints.

I left feeling hopeful that such a gathering actually exists. Many of the Israelis present would be considered members of the extreme left , the Palestinians present would be considered traitors. As I mentioned at the start of this blog, Sulha is a grassroots movement. Most people present left convinced that the method I have just described is the best way to achieve peace between our two nations. We are but small minorities, the majority in both countries remain unconvinced.

From little things, big things grow…..


Ittay said...

You can see an ABC news story about the Sulha by clicking on this link:

iman said...

my Jalal
how wonderfull & honest you are