Peace building in Israel needs to come from individuals, not governments


There is a widespread sentiment among Palestinian civilians that they are only the victims, not the perpetrators, and you will increasingly hear them claim to be under occupation while no Israeli soldier can be seen

If there is one truth about the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is that things aren’t as black and white as some would like them to be.

Both Israelis and Palestinians have an equal claim to a land that was successively dominated by Jews, Christians and Arabs throughout history. Groups on all sides put forward alternative arguments to justify their right to different parts of the territory. At the end of the day, it all depends at what point you decide that history begins, which means no agreement can ever be found unless you put aside your beliefs and try and leave emotional attachments and experiences out of it. Easier said than done in a conflict that has resulted in so many casualties that everyone would have lost a close relative or been involved in some way. The point is, peace building starts on an individual level, and any government’s decision or behaviour should never be interpreted as the will of the entire population it represents. No example is more telling than the Palestinian Authority.

What we today call Palestinian territory is formed of two main blocks of land, the West Bank alongside the Dead Sea and the Gaza strip on the border with Egypt. Populations in these disconnected bits of land have been badly affected by the consequences of a conflict that has been going on for over half a century and are now craving for peace. Families want an end to the suffering and the loss of lives and children dream of going to school without being used as bait by extremists. Additionally, entrepreneurs need the stability to build an economy and travellers are tired of spending hours at a check point to simply cross the border.

These are the majority of Palestinians, not Islamic fanatics or Hamas supporters but just the average individual hoping for a better life. One of them is tech entrepreneur Rateb Rabie, who doesn’t hesitate to blame his own government for the bloodshed. Instead he proposes joint Israeli-Palestinian businesses and think tanks as a solution, something that ‘Experience Palestine’ Startup Director Riman Barakat has put in practice by bringing together Israelis and Palestinians at a high level in business and political representation. She explains how some very positive and promising results have come out of these encounters and business partnerships. However, as with most conversations, it drifts back to the war again. An angry Mr Rabie describes the rockets launched by Palestinians as harmless ‘fireworks’. Except these fireworks have  killed on various occasions and from an Israeli perspective, they justify retaliation.

There is a widespread sentiment among Palestinian civilians that they are the only victims, not the perpetrators. You will increasingly hear them claim to be under occupation- while no Israeli soldier can be seen within miles of their location. Their own government, led by Mr Mahmoud Abbas, is now dangerously exploiting this feeling to radicalise individuals instead of creating a much-needed climate of consensus. It openly discourages any form of contact with the other side, banning even football games involving Arab and Israeli children.

According to Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli research institute that analyses the Palestinian Authority through its media and schoolbooks, a lot of their money – that includes EU funding, by the way – goes into early brainwashing of children. They are taught songs directly inciting hate towards the Jews and the PA even produces television programmes explaining that Muslims have a duty to ‘free’ their country or that Israel was behind 9/11 and the Charlie Hebdo attacks.


EU funding contributes to the early brainwashing of Palestinian children through the mainstream media

The results of a survey show that the majority of their population now believes it, and this is something you will not hear about from the BBC. In the same way that the wall often shown on television separating Israel from the West Bank isn’t one for 95% of it, but actually a fence. Finally, terminology is mostly what influences our opinions and shapes our minds to be more biased towards one side or the other. For example, after the second Lebanon war in 1996, the BBC reported that ‘the Palestinians went back to their villages and the Israelis back to their settlements.’ This implies that the Israelis went back to homes that were illegal under international law. In reality, both went back to villages, towns or cities fully recognised as part of their respective countries.

Political parties in the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, all have different views on how to achieve peace. The right-wing Likud, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and currently the largest party in the governing coalition, favors the status quo in order to deal with the refugees as a first step. The left-wing parties such as Meretz prefer a two state solution, which will have to involve land swaps and also implies that they trust Mr Abbas to be truly committed to peace. None of these proposed plans have so far been recognised as a potential path to follow.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, there is hope too: in the West Bank, the first Palestinian planned city of Rawabi is under development. It is the largest private sector project ever carried out in the Palestinian territories and will contain homes, schools, hospitals and a cultural centre.

In any case, we as Europeans should never forget that what we are looking at is a country that shares borders with areas in the hands of terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon or Islamic State and Al Qaeda in Syria. Israel is a Western democracy trying to survive amongst very hostile neighbours. In fact, if you ask an Arab-Israeli whether he would like to move to the Palestinian side, the answer will be no. Arab-Israelis fully appreciate the privilege of living in Israel because it is a free country that promotes equal rights and the rule of law in the same way that we in the United Kingdom do, and we should always protect and defend such precious values that are so easily lost to barbaric regimes and constant oppression of people.

At our own level, we can all help promote dialogue and respect, as it is individual initiatives that will end the war, not governments.  Exchanges and partnerships, joint schools and businesses are the key to a better understanding and ultimately, to peace.

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