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WCRP Peace Education Standing Commission
Research Report 1999

Research area 2: Education towards Violence-free Communication and Conflict Resolution

2.2 Peace Projects in Israel and Palestine

Dr. Yahya Hassan Bajwa

2.2.1 Summary

To live in peace is the ultimate goal for Israelis and Palestinians. Both groups have seen that there is no other option if they want to survive. The activities of all NGO’s show the importance and the will to achieve peace. Religion has become the identity of the Jewish nation, and this applies also to the Christian and Muslim Palestinians even if they would say that they are not religious. Religion is part of the problem and therefore, it has also to be part of the solution. The paper shows the complexity of the peace finding process but also the hopes and the willingess of a majority to work hand in hand for peace. WCRP can lend a hand and offer their help in this process.

2.2.2 "Peace is not an intellectual matter, but it is a basic demand" (Abu Sway)

"Shalom" and "Salam" means both "peace". Although Jews and Palestinians use these greetings several times daily, still we have no peace in the Middle East. Do the people not take anymore this expression serious or has "peace" become an empty word? In other areas of crisis there is either war or peace. But in the Middle East one "peace process" takes the place of the next. Jews and Palestinians live in Israel on a very limited area and still they don’t meet each other. Contacts with Palestinians from outside the Israeli borders, from Gaza or the West Bank, do almost not exist. How is it possible to overcome this unfavourable atmosphere, how can people meet one another and fight together for peace? This summer the "World Conference on Religion and Peace" has analyzed peace projects in Israel and Palestine. The conference in November in Amman intends to give the different organizations a chance to come together and to discuss this matter, to exchange views and to tighten the contacts for the united struggle for peace. 

In this paper, I would like to dicuss four points which I have formed into four hypothesis. With the help of the answer, I got during the interviews I have taken, I would try to justify or falsify these hypothesis.

1. Hypothesis: 

1.a Jews and Palestinians in Israel do not live with each other but only side by side.

1.b There are practically no contacts between Jews and Palestinians from the autonomous area which is under the control of the Palestinian National Authority.

2. Hypothesis:

We need a new generation which is ready for a dialogue.

3. Hypothesis:

Peace projects in Israel and Palestine can bring together both nations.

4. Hypothesis:

The different religions do play an important role in the peace process.

2.2.3 Hypothesis Jews and Palestinians in Israel do not live with each other but only side by side.

In the state of Israel, Jews and Palestinians live their own lives. There are physical as well as psychological barriers between the two groups. The state is trying to overcome the physical separation by building Jewish settlements in areas where an Arab majority exists. According to the information of the member of the Knesset and the first Arab candidate for the seat of the Israeli Primeminister, Azmi Bishara, land has been annected in Gallilea for this purpose. Also, if one travels from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem one sees in a very impressiv way the settlements which are built all around on the mountains of the Holy City, of which Jews and Palestinians both claim to be their capital. 

Approximately 17% of the israeli population are Palestinians – Muslims and Christians. Sarah Lazar, director of the Jewish-Arab Center at Givat Hiviva and staff member of the Institute for Peace Research, said by the very concept of Israel, the Arabs are second-class citizen, because it is a state of the Jews. "The status of the Arab minority in the Jewish-Zionist state has been discussed on various levels since the stablishment of the state to this day... The State of Israel, which proclaimed in its Declaration of Independence that it will grant all its inhabitants full equality of civil rights, declared that it considers the Arabs who had remained under its sovereignity citizen like any others." [1]  Seen in this way it is not hard to understand that for schooling a Jewish child almost three times more money is granted than for a Palestinian. Mohammed Badarni, Chairman of the Arab Children Friends Association in Haifa, points out that "the low level of Arab schools in Israel, the density of pupils per class, and the shortage of different educational materials, specialists, and employees in the schools proves that our children are victims of racial discriminiation... Official tests sponsered by the Ministery of Education three years ago showed that 25% of nine year-old Jewish children failed the exam called ‘Testing What You Understand Out of What You Read’, while 75% of Arab children of the same age failed the exam." [2]  According to Lazar we face big problems through the mistrust and the alienation which has been created during all these years between the two groups, and Bishara, chairman of the liberal Arab party "Tajam al Watana al Democratia" feels sometimes that he is a stranger in his own country. The contact between Jews and Palestinians within Israel is limited to a minimum. There are practically no contacts between Jews and Palestinians from the autonomous area which is under the control of the Palestinian National Authority.

The contact between both groups across the Israeli border is almost not existing. Only a very few organizations deal with this fact. Peri, director of Beit Hagefen in Haifa, told that during their carnival festival also groups from the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) took part. The Arab Children Friends Association, Haifa, organizes each year an youth exchange program between Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank and Israel where 20-30 youngsters participate in a summer camp. Peri and also Badarni point out that the contact is limited due to security restriction imposed by Israel and also often because of financial problems. Another Arab organization is "Tawasul bila Hudud" (Contacts without borders) which arranges once a year a summer camp in which 250-300 children from class 7-12 participate. This camp is financed by Israeli and non-Israeli Palestinians who live outside the country. The Friends of Givat Haviva in Switzerland arranged a summer camp for young adults from Israel and Palestine in the Pestalozzi village in Trogen, Switzerland. The young people found out during their discussions that a lot of wrong information was forwarded about the others. A Jewish representative admitted that both, Jews and Palestinians, do have a right to the same land. another said that he recognized that also Jews could be mistaken. For the Jews it was amazing to have first time contacts with Palestinians as well as with Israeli Arabs, although 1/2 Million of them live in Israel. There are more activities between Palestinians from Israel and the PNA than between Jewish organizations and PNA. We need a new generation, which is ready for a dialogue.

The representative of Givat Haviva, one of the oldest institutions in Israel dealing with the peace question wrote: "Yet, for many years, Israeli governments took controlling and surveillance steps over the Arab citizens, regarding them as a security risk, and did not include them within "the nation" on account of their not being Jews."  [3]  Only when Arabs come into the working area there is a direct contact between Jews and Palestinians. And again, because most of the Arabs are doing unqualified and low-income jobs they again are by themselves. How can this blockade be broken? One possibility is shown by the Arab-Jewish Center Beit Hagefen founded 1963 in Haifa. Peri said that people are living in the same quarter and nobody knows each other. In December "The ‘Holiya of the Holidays’ – Chanukka, Christmas, Ramadan [are celebrated]. In the frame of the festival, an exhibition of Jewish and Arab artists takes place in the streets of ‘Wadi Nissnass’ including guided tours through the artist’s works and, as well, concerts in churches, an assembly of religious leaders, an international meeting of journalists"  [4]  takes place. This festival which is celebrated one month brings hundered thousands of people together, people from all over Israel visit this occasion. 

We have another attempt by the liberal Jewish privat school Leo Baeck Education Center in Haifa. During the coexistence program Jewish and Palestinian children are brought together. This is done in a playful way during the summer camp where 60 children from each group take part. The comment of one was that you can’t recognize anymore who is a Jew or Arab and that next year hopefuly the Arab children will sign up for a normal summer camp. Of course, here one has to ask if the aim is to integrate and then to assimilate the Arabs into the Jewish society? Should the Arab become a good Jew? In the curriculum the students of Leo Baeck are obliged to meet during one year an Arab or an orthodox Jew each week. These meetings count one third of the grade for political science. Also trips are arranged for them to settlements of Bedouins, or films are shown of Arab villages where still no water, no electricity or phone connections is awailable where as just one kilometer afare a Jewish settlement everything is to be found. Jona Katzer, Vice-director of the Leo Baeck High School said that there are two reactions to this kind of confrontation: Either the students think that they should help, or that they are better than the Arabs. Interesting was also the remark that prejudice against orthodox Jews are far stronger than against Palestinians.

During the summer camp of the Arab organization "Tawasul bila Hudud", 300 children discussed politics, and the Palestinian identity, they made music and participated in sport events. Important personalities were invited for speeches. Sadique Odeh told that two years ago the children had to vote for a president. A girl from Haifa won the election with a few votes more against a boy from Jerusalem. The result is interesting because 250 children were from Israel and only 50 from Palestine. Odeh, who worked as a cook said, that he was astonished when, he served first time spaghetti. Many children from Gaza or the West Bank simply didn’t know how to eat it because it was first time they saw it. He also narrated that the Israeli Palestinians never came to help in the kitchen and got quickly angry if they didn’t like the food, while the others would also accept a water melon with cheese. The children from Israel had quite a lot of poket-money. Also here there was a big difference between the children. Although both are Palestinians, the mentality has changed over the years. 

A group of Israeli and Palestinian researchers and teachers came together three years ago by an initiative of the Peace Research Institute & the Goethe University, Frankfurt a. M. and started to work on a textbook project. Today Adwan and Bar-On are the co-directors of PRIME (Peace Research Institute in The Middle East) in Bait Jala, PNA. They started to analyze school books and want to develop such in which the understanding for each other is created. PRIME had its first conference in June in which 40 NGO’s participated and discussed "The Role of Non-Governmental Organizations in Peace Building between Plestinians and Israelis". They agreed to work together and to that the projects should be peace orientated. One future project – which is still to risky – would be to connect the Holocaust trauma and the loss of the Palestinians of their land in 1947 (the trauma of the Arabs). For Abu Sway, lecturer of Islamic philosophy and Islam at the Al Quds University, these kind of projects are good but these steps are meant for a time after the peace process is completed. It’s the governments have to vote and make decisions for peace and not the NGO’s or other organizations. As long as this is not the case, all these efforts are void. 

The Jerusalem Link is an organization by women for women. "The Jerusalem Center for Women was established in March 1994 as an outhgrowth of an ongoing dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli women... The center is completely autonomous, but was created simultaneously with an Israeli women’s rights center, Bat Shalom. The centers carry out joint programmes through their coordinating body, the Jerusalem Link."  [5]  The main goal of JCW is to promote discussion of women’s issues and to advocate women’s rights within the Palestinian society. Sumaya Farhat-Naser, the director, complained that the Israeli politician are not interested that Palestinian should meet each other and that they have already succeeded in separating the Palestinian nation. It is important to prepare both sides to accept the others and to accept their existance. Farhat is sure that before one can start to make friendship with the other side, there has to be peace, otherwise it would be a betrayal.

As we have seen a dialogue is not only important for children or youth but also for adults. The next question would be how peace can be achieved. Peace projects in Israel and Palestine can bring together both nations.

"My name is Yusuf Darwish." Darwish is a Palestinian who went abroad to study. He completed his studies in Rumania and worked for 10 years as a journalist. After the peace agreement of Oslo it was said that those Palestinians who had left their country could come back. "I decided to go back with my family to Palestine. We entered the country from Syria. But at the border my wife, who was pregnant, was sent back. She had to return to Damascus because the new law didn’t apply for her." The Israeli soldiers arrested Darwish and he was imprisoned for three months. "When I approached the PNA I was told that according to the new Israeli law I can’t get an identity document because I had left the country already 15 years ago. It was very difficult for me to answer my children the question when their mother would come." Darwish’s wife is now living with him. He is building houses in Israel. He has been deported many times from Israel and is still waiting for his identity document but he is sure that this time there will be real peace.

There are many obstacles for a peace agreement said Nahed al Rais, member of the parliament of the PNA. The biggest problem which has to be solved is how to deal with the water resources. He said that the Jews agreed on "Peace for Land" and now they want peace and land. A big problem for the Palestinians is the unemployment. The PNA wanted to build up a light industry but Israel is not allowing them. The airport and the port are not available. Import is restricted. 90% of the goods have to be imported from Israel. Even water has to be bought ("Baraka" mineral water exceptionally is imported from Agypt.) Peace is possible, according Musa Abu Karch, editor of Al-Hayat newspaper, if 1) a Palestinian state is created, 2) Jerusalem becomes its capital, 3) all Palestinians, who had to leave should be allowed to return and 4) the property in the Green Line has to be given back or paid for. For Abu Sway the occupation has to end and justice be installed. Azmi Bishara thinks that the Israelis have another concept of peace then the Palestinians. Important is that also justice is introduced into this concept. 

The situation shows that peace projects are more needed then ever before. Now, one has to act as long as there is a chance for it. Both sides have experienced pain, loss of lives and property. Still there is no other chance than peace for both of them if they want to survive. The different religions do play an important role in the peace process.

Rabbi David Rosen (WCRP) pointed out the importance of religious identity. Religions shouldn’t be left aside from the peace-finding process. In Israel religion forms the national identity. Interestingly this applies not only for Jews but also for Christian Palestinians and Muslim Palestinians. Peri brought it to the point when he said: "Religions are part of the problem and should also be part of the solution". Shleyer, who is working in the Leo Baeck Center, thinks that in the question of religion, usually one has to deal with opinions, not with religious knowledge, and that for the society tradition is impotant not religion even if religion is involved. Also Adwan admitted that most of the NGO’s which participated in their conference were not religiously motivated. Nevertheless, there are some institutions which are motivated by their belife such as Kamil Shehade, director of House of Grace in Haifa. He is Christian and tries to live according to the gospels. Since 1982 ca. 50 people live in this house. They belong to different religions and are mostly drop-outs from the society. As he said "they are the social department of the church". Jews and Palestinians are welcome and also the direct contacts with Arafat and the PNA is important and helps to solve problems. 

An other example is the "Elija School for the Study of the Wisdom of World Religions". The theoretical study is combined with practical meetings with the others. Abu Sway who represented Islam in last year’s course said that it is important to speak about religions and that this brings people more near to peace. The idea is to bring them together on different levels so that fears and prejudice thinking is abolished. 

Religions are for peace but they also are for justice. It is important not to leave out one of the components. There can be no peace without justice and there is no justice without peace. 
  1. 7 Roads: Theoretical Options for the Status of the Arabs in Israel. Research Abstract, The Institute For Peace Research, Givat Haviva, 1999, p.9.

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  3. Hand-out given by Mohammed Badarni, Chairman Arab Children Friends Association, Haifa, 1999.

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  5. 7 Roads, Givat Haviva, 1999, p. 9.

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  7. Hand-out about Beit Hagefen given by Peri/Elfar, 1999. See also:

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  9. Jerusalem Center for Women, 1997 Annual Report, ?, p.6.

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