PESC Logo
PESC-2: Education towards violence free communication and conflict solution 
Dr Yahya Hassan Bajwa: Peace Projects / Organisations in Israel and Palestine 2002

 
The new” situation in Israel and Palestine
The situation in Israel and Palestine has worsened over the last 18 months. During our World Conference at Amman/Jordan in 1999 the participants were full of enthusiasm and many were sure that now after long time constructive networking and building confidence in each other would lead to Peace for all in the Middle East – the Jews and the Palestinians. This hope once more faded away. Again war and killing on both sides became daily routine. Israelis and Palestinians were unable to find a solution to their problems which could be accepted by both sides. Once again an Intifada broke out – in September 2000 the Al Aqsa-Intifada. 
This research paper is not trying to point with the finger to one of the sides which might be the culprit or to answer the question who is more responsible for the deterioration of the situation to day. This analysis is trying to show the worries and problems on both sides of those who are striving for a better and peaceful life in Israel and Palestine – whose voices are hardly heard in the mass media! In a situation where almost all ways of communication are shut down, moving around becomes a risk of life and it is very difficult to work for Shalom, for Salaam, for Peace.
During my preparations for the journey to Israel and Palestine late in 2001 I felt that this time it was going to be harder to contact organisations or people who are doing their best for peace. In the news each day pictures of bombs exploding in market places and shopping areas became routine. Shooting of Palestinian children by the Israeli army showed the other side of “every day life”. Understanding the situation I decided to start my work already in Switzerland and not to wait till I am in the Middle East. I prepared a questionnaire which I faxed and e-mailed to several organisations which I contacted during my last visit in 2001. To get addresses I also used the reader on Peace Organisations in the Middle East which I still had. Some e-mails came back – their address had changed and some fax numbers were wrong. Still, I managed to find out through my contact person in Haifa most of the new numbers. With some organisations in Palestine there was no contact - not by e-mail, nor by fax. For some I assume the situation in which they were didn’t allow them to think about peace except in their dreams. In the middle of war fear for the life of their children and their own life is stronger then anything else. Daud Nassar sent an e-mail from Bethlehem telling that in front of the house of his brother an Israeli tank is standing. No one can get out and everyone is afraid that they might get hit. How important it was to start with the work in Switzerland was the situation in which I arrived in the Middle East. It was not possible for me to visit Bethlehem during Christmas and shortly after my return from Jerusalem a bomb exploded killing several people at the Jaffa Road where I was walking around some days before! 
Dan Bar-On writes in the introduction of their research paper “Victimhood and Beyond – the Bethlehem Encounter October 1999”: “In October 1999 the TRT [To Reflect and Trust] group met at Talitha Kumi in Beit Jala at the Nativity Hotel in Bethlehem, both in the territory of the Palestinian National Authority. We went to the Dehaishe refugee camp and some of us visited Rachel’s Tomb. In the evening we walked and had ice cream at Balloons, a café in Bethlehem. We travelled on the Hebron Road to Beer-Sheva for our final evening at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Today it all sounds like a dream – or a nightmare. Israeli law no longer allows Israelis to visit the Palestinian territories. Beit Jala has been bombarded several times during the last several months. I cannot go to Talitha Kumi and, although we live just an hour’s drive from each other, Sami [Adwan] and I have to be very innovative to maintain personal contact. The peace process that seemed irreversible collapsed. Ariel Sharon, who initiated the provocation at Al-Aqsa Mosque in September 2000, has since become the prime minister of Israel”. [1] Bar-On writes that he was twice supposed to held joint lectures with Adwan in Bremen and Berlin during the year 2000 but Adwan was not able to take part because he did not receive an exit permit from the Israeli authorities. Sami Adwan, who is responsible for PRIME [2] mentioned under the title “A Moment of Peace”:
“Killing has become a daily practice. Even worse than the destruction of peoples’ homes, farms and the environment is the destruction of hope; dreams for a better future seem impossible and far from realisation. […] Many Palestinian schools have been closed for periods of time. Students are often unable to reach their schools or universities. … Often I cannot even visit friends or relatives who live just a few kilometres away. Workers cannot go to their jobs, resulting in an unemployment rate that is bringing many to the verge of starvation. Most Palestinian-Israeli joint projects and research activities have ended. Meeting each other has become difficult, dangerous, or downright impossible.” [3] 
The situation has changed on both sides. Children are effected most. A Jewish father, whose son Arik was killed by the Hamas while serving in the army told in the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families’ Forum: “Arik who was killed was very well known among his friends as a peaceful person. In his school when he was 15 years old, after an attack in which Israelis were killed, the children shouted at him saying: ‘Death to the Arabs.’ Then Arik stood up on front of his class and shouted: ‘Heil Hitler!’ The children were amazed and Arik said to them: ‘That’s exactly how things were in Germany. If you do not stop now, the same thing will appen in Israel.’“[4]

The Questionnaire
The Questionnaire had 14 questions starting with the name of the project or organisation in Israel/Palestine; the responsible person who filled up the questionnaire and his/her function. The answers to these questions can be seen as annex in the full internet report. The description of the project/organisation can be obtained at the web-sites of each of the projects or organisations. 
How has the situation changed during the last year for your Project/organisation in Israel/Palestine?
Dan Bar-On (PRIME) wrote that the situation made their activities much more limited and difficult. They were not able to have their meeting of their committees and general assembly. Members from Gaza were not allowed to come and participate and many members were not able to join the research activities. Still they succeeded to continue their research. [Amit Lehem Interview!]
The director of Bat Shalom in Jerusalem, Terry Greenblatt, pointed out that there were no more public joint events but more consistent and important underground meetings, more focus on protest and political education inside Israel. Also located in Jerusalem is Yakar’s Center for Social Concern. Benjamin Pogrund told that “Because of the Intifada and the hardening of attitudes on both sides, Jewish-Muslim dialogue and Israeli-Palestinian dialogue have become far more difficult to organise”. The Elijah School for the Study of Wisdom in World Religions in Jerusalem is also complaining. Rabbi Joel Berman, administrator of the school, wrote: “Attendance in our programs, which usually draw from international circles, is down”. For the Sixth Annual Summer School Programs in this year’s summer course on the web site it is written: “The Jerusalem program may be relocated due to political and security reasons.”
For Beit Hagefen, the Arab-Jewish Center in Haifa, the crisis has resulted in less visits by school children and in more visits by adults. They have increased their activities. House of Grace of the Greek-Catholic Church in Haifa, is led by the wife of late Mr. Shehade, Mrs. Agnes Shehade. She told that the current situation resulted in less financial support but more requests from people in need. Books for Peace founded and co-ordinated by Prof. Howard Bogot, who has recently shifted from Israel to USA pointed out last December that the last supply of books (Shalom-Salaam-Peace, which was introduced during the WCRP seminar in Amman in 1999) has just been arranged and will be soon distributed. Tent Of Nations is a project in Bethlehem, Palestine. Daoud Nassar, project director, wrote that since one aim of this project is to bring people, especially young people, together, the political situation was so hard that it was impossible during the last year to do so. Another thing is that this area has suffered for one year violence and this affected the people a lot – many lost their hope for peace, trust and reconciliation.
How could religion influence the peace process in Israel/Palestine?
In the report of 1999 the participants of the Amman Seminar made it clear: Religion is a part of the problem, therefore, it has to be also a part of the solution. But how can religions be used as a tool to reach peace? It was said that the current issues should be addressed and supported by the Quran and the Bible. It should be clearly stated and taken from the religious books that each one of us has to focus on the values of tolerance. This can be made by religious leadership through courageous political statements. The ethnical standards of each religion have to be presented and what these should mean in dealing with others. It was believed that a deep confident understanding of our own religion could lead to a serious appreciation of other faiths. Removing politics from this learning is a difficult undertaking, but must stand as a bylaw of our presentation. Religion can give stability, acceptance and tolerance. We can say that religion has a big influence on peace but it can also have a bad influence when religion is misused for achieving political goals. In such a case people loose the real meaning of their belief. The better one knows his / her own religion, the bigger is the chance that one can see similarities between them and their ideas. In this way religion could bring people together and nearer to peace. 
How do you think could WCRP help in the peace process in Israel/Palestine?
There is a chance for WCRP to do something in this field. It was said that WCRP could widen the interest, support the process by forwarding information and by helping joint activities. Not all who filled the questionnaire participated at the Amman Seminar. One, who was present, wrote that this meeting the other provided invaluable contact with people from other religions and countries, and opened up ideas for developing contacts. It was also pointed out that help could be given by fostering an educated, understanding and open religious laity and professional strata in the various religious communities. The author of the book “Shalom – Salaam – Peace” wrote that the PESC’s support of the book project, which was also translated into German, has been wonderful and transformed regional goals into international concepts. 
Conclusion: The need for “meeting the other”
During my meetings and phone calls in Israel and Palestine it was obvious that all were interested in further conferences in the same way as WCRP has organised in Amman/Jordan because everyone is feeling the need to meet the other. There is, as mentioned by different organisations, hardly a chance to meet – neither in Israel nor in Palestine. At the moment the chance for such meetings is not given. There are even no possibilities to conduct such seminars abroad because the Israeli Government is not allowing the Palestinian to leave their country – they can’t even go from one city to the other within Palestine. This would mean that WCRP has to checkout first when there will be a possibility to organise such a meeting so that everyone is able to join it. Also important is the flow of information. Several organisations thought that only little was heard about the Amman Conference and therefore, it should be widely publicised. Now, after contacts, which have been established over the last four years, a broader part of organisations which are involved in the peace work could be contacted and brought together by the WCRP.
1 “Victimhood and Beyond – the Bethlehem Encounter October 1999”, edited by Sami Adwan and Dan Bar-On, September 2001, Peace Research Institute in the Middle East and To Reflect and Trust, page 1-2.
2 Read the interview taken in 1999 and included in the PESC report 1999.
3 Sami Adwan, “Victimhood and Beyond”, page 5.
4 Yizhak Frankenthal in: “Victimhood and Beyond”, page 29.
Back to Report 2001/2002 "A Soul  for Education"