BY LITAL SHEMESH / israpundit.com //
I participated in the Dialogue for Peace, a project for young Israelis and Palestinians who are politically involved in various frameworks. The project’s objective was to identify tomorrow’s leaders and bring them closer together with the aim of bringing peace at some future time.
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The Dialogue involved meetings every few weeks and a concluding seminar in Turkey. On the third day of the seminar – after we had become acquainted, removed barriers and split helpings of rahat lokum (known more commonly as “Turkish delight,” a halva-like Arab delicacy of almonds) as though there was never a wall between us – we began to touch upon many subjects which were painful for both sides.
The Palestinians spoke of roadblocks and the IDF soldiers in the territories, while the Israelis spoke of constant fear, murderous terrorist attacks and rockets from Gaza. The Israeli side, which included representatives from the political right and left, tried to understand the Palestinians’ vision of the end of the strife – in short, we said, “let’s talk business.”
We delved into the issues to better understand how we can end the age-old and painful conflict. What red lines are they willing to be flexible on? What resolution will satisfy their aspirations? Where do they envision the future borders of the Palestinian State that they so crave?
We were shocked to discover that not a single one of them spoke of a Palestinian State – or, to be more precise, of a two-state solution. They spoke of one state: their state. They spoke of ruling Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Akko and Haifa and the overall “pain of the Nakba” (literally “the tragedy,” in this case the establishment of the State of Israel).
In other words, there was no future for them. Only the past.
“There is no legitimacy for Jews to live next to us” – that was their main message.
“First, let them pay for what they perpetrated” – that was their demand.
In the course of the “dialogue” – which escalated to shouting – the Palestinians asked us not to refer to suicide bombers as “terrorists” because they don’t consider them so.
“So what do you call someone who dons a vest and blows himself up in a Tel Aviv shopping mall with the stated purpose of killing innocent civilians?” I asked one of the participants.
“I have a 4-year-old at home,” answered Samach from Abu Dis (near Jerusalem). “If G-d forbid something should happen to him, I will go and burn an entire Israeli [part of the] city, if I can.”
All the other Palestinian participants nodded their heads in agreement to his harsh words. From our side, Amichai – a religious student in Jerusalem – weighed in:
“Three weeks ago, we gave birth to a son,” he said. “If G-d forbid something should happen to him, I would find no comfort whatsoever in deaths of more people.”
Israelis from the full gamut of political parties participated in the seminar: Likud, Labor, Kadima, Meretz and Hadash (combined Jewish/Arab socialist party). All of them reached the understanding that the beautiful scenarios of Israeli-Palestinian peace that they had formulated for themselves simply don’t correspond with reality.
It’s just that most Israelis don’t have the opportunity to sit and really converse with Palestinians, to hear what they really think. Our feed of information comes from Abu Mazen’s declarations to the international press – sentiments which he consistently contradicts when he is interviewed by Al Jazeera, through which he paints a completely different picture.
I arrived at the seminar with high hopes, and I return home with difficult feelings and despair. Something about the narrative of the two sides is different from the core. How can we return to the negotiating table when the Israeli side speaks of two states and the Palestinian side speaks of liberating Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea?
How can peace ever take root in a platform which grants legitimacy to terrorism?
Lital Shemesh is a rising star in the Israeli media who openly expresses her political aspirations to reach the Knesset. She worked as editor-in-chief for the Yedioth Youth Magazines, reported for the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Hot CableTV News channel and is CEO and founder of a web-based girls magazine “Pinkish – Everything that Girls Love.” This article translated by Baruch Gordon.