Monday, September 23, 2019

Sustaining hope in turbulent times


By F.F. Dawkins - August 19, 2019
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Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [peace]

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is passing through troubled times. The continuing vitriolic rhetoric of Israeli right-wing politicians, regarding the annexation of settlements in the West Bank, and the announcement of the Palestinian Authority to cancel the Palestinian cooperation with Israel in all respects is shattering the hope for a resumption of the peace process.

Additionally, a recent survey unveiled scepticism from a majority of Israelis and Palestinians of the highly controversial “peace to prosperity” plan from the Trump administration.

Against the backdrop of this ostensibly deteriorating reconciliation process, the preconditions for constructive Palestinian-Israeli cooperation on the civil society level seem, to put it mildly, difficult.

Despite the adverse circumstances, there are several Palestinian-Israeli civil society organisations, which are, strengthened by the principle of non-violent, peaceful solutions, advocating for a better understanding of each other.

One of these organisations is the Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture (PIJ). Founded in 1994 amid the Oslo peace process by Israeli and Palestinian journalists Victor Cygielman and Ziad AbuZayyad, respectively. PIJ aims to improve the dialogue between civil societies and provide a platform, where different perspectives and opinions can be expressed.

Since its foundation, the journal places great importance on the equal representation of Israeli and Palestinian points of view. Hillel Schenker, the co-editor of PIJ, emphasises, that notwithstanding, the up and downs and the declining peace process, PIJ has stuck to this value over time.

“Despite the second Intifada, the Israel Gaza wars, the Lebanon war, the PIJ has continued as a joint venture; everything is done one a totally equal basis. The aspiration is that every issue should have an equal number of articles written by Israelis and Palestinians,” Schenker reaffirmed.

Past issues have featured prominent Israeli and Palestinian guest writers such as the Israeli Journalist Gideon Levy, former Israeli President Shimon Peres and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“We here at the PIJ, the Palestinians and Israelis, believe that we are allies in struggling for the same goal, the end of the occupation, the establishment of a Palestinian state with East-Jerusalem as its capital alongside a state of Israel with West-Jerusalem as its capital,” Schenker explained. 

“We will continue to be connected; we don’t want to be connected as the occupier and occupied. As neighbours who are intertwined, we will always be next to each other.”

Out of conviction, the journal intends to display a wide variety of points of views on each side. Given the inclusive nature of the journal, it also encompasses articles of writers from the right-wing political spectrum, provided they are not settlers. However, Schenker asserts that all of the opinions are based on mutual respect of each other. “We welcome reasonable opinions, but if there is a rejection of the right of Israel to exist or the rejection of the possibility of a Palestinian state; we don’t accept that.”

Israelis engaging in Palestinian-Israeli joint-activities are often accused of being non-patriotic. 

“The criticism that I receive is that from right-wing politicians, that I am supposedly more concerned about the Palestinian right than that of the Israelis. However, we are the ultimate of patriotism,” Schenker said. “Because it is the essential Israeli need to end the occupation and to live in peace with our neighbours.”

Creating a new discourse - Friends of Roots

Israeli settlers advocating for a better understanding between Palestinians and Israelis and for a change of the status quo, are rare. Rabbi Shaul Judelman is an Israeli settler from the Tekoa settlement, who insists on the necessity to create a better understanding, to create a constructive framework for a new discourse towards peace.

Judelman is alongside others engaged in support of both Israeli and Palestinian national rights, which makes his support a minority among the settlers. Through his engagements, Judelman assists Palestinians with obtaining buildings permits and creating water infrastructure.

However, long before engaging in joint Palestinian-Israeli activities, such as Friends of Roots, Judelman’s hopes for reconciliation were exhausted by the failure of the Oslo accords and the Second Intifada.

“Back then, I hoped that Oslo would create peace. But then my cousin got killed, a friend of mine got stabbed, and a boy in my town got killed with an axe,” Judelman said. “My hopes got shattered, and that’s when the anger and fear started to rise inside me. For a while, I thought there is no peace and partnership.”

Judelman continued by explaining that the work of Rabbi Menachem Froman, a prominent peace activist who elaborated a ceasefire agreement between Gaza and Israel, inspired him to start believing again in a possible peace process. 

“I understood that peace would come from my Jewish identity. Because of my love for this land, I need to make peace,” Judelman said.

Nevertheless, according to Judelman, necessary changes will only appear, when both sides stop perceiving each other as illegitimate. “We need to create the ability to understand that the land of Palestine is also the Land of Israeli and vice versa.”

Judelman concluded that the political process has come to a halt. ”There is an occupation, and there is violence on both sides, which should be condemned. The political system, and especially the Area system is stuck, and it is not going anywhere, that’s why we need to find a new discourse to find a solution”.

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