The Palestine-Israel Journal is a quarterly of MIDDLE EAST PUBLICATIONS, a registered non-profit organization (No. 58-023862-4).
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Editorial Board

Adnan Abdelrazek

Danny Rubinstein

Sam'an Khoury

Daniel Bar-Tal

Walid Salem

Galia Golan

Gershon Baskin

Hind Khoury

Edy Kaufman

Ata Qaymari

Benjamin Pogrund

Nafez Nazzal

Dan Jacobson

Jumana Jaouni

Moshe Maoz

Munther Dajani

Khuloud Khayyat Dajani

Izhak Schnell

Lucy Nusseibah

Meir Margalit

Menachem Klein

Ali Abu Shahla

Ilan Baruch

Hanna Siniora

Yehudit Oppenheimer

Mossi Raz

Susie Becher

Frances Raday

Cooperation and Alliance-Building between Israelis and Palestinians Today

Avivit Hai
, P2P researcher
Aida Shibli, Bat Shalom
Rabbi Arik Asherman, Rabbis for Human Rights
Zohar Shapira, Combatants for Peace
Bassam Aramin, Combatants for Peace

Amit Leshem

Avivit Hai: The challenges that P2P projects between Israelis and Palestinians meet are many: Both people are in an unequal position one is an established country and the other is just in early stages of development, and hampered by many forces. Additionally, there is the baggage that each side carries to this conflict, each side being historically badly hurt in many ways. Finally, there are the political crises that occur again and again between the two conflicting groups, which keep pushing things backwards. Another difficulty is how much work is needed just in order to make the meeting between people happen, because of the physical mobility barriers put upon the Palestinians.

People should not fall into the trap of having too-high expectations from P2P. Between the start of the Oslo process and the start of the Intifada, it is estimated that some US$25-30 million have been invested in P2P projects, but while that may seem like a lot of money, it is only half of the price of one Merkava 4 Tank.

The panelists at the discussion were, from right: Bassam Aramin and Zohar Shapira (Combatants for Peace), Aida Shibli (Bat Shalom), Amit Leshem (moderator), Rabbi Arik Asherman (Rabbis for Human Rights) and Avivit Hai (P2P researcher -- not in photo).

Lastly, I would like to suggest a kind of an institutionalizing of the P2P projects. We have gained a lot of experience and knowledge, and it is time to gather it together, to have a protocol of what works and what does not work in P2P work in order to make this work more effective.

Amit Leshem: I would like to suggest this perspective about P2P that whoever goes through this process, whoever enters into a dialogue, can no longer pick up arms against the other side. He already knows the other side, and knowing the other side makes it impossible for him to use weapons against them.

Arik Asherman: I was educated on the idea that the most useful cooperation is taking action and not talking. I am not against talking; it can be useful. But taking action is a more useful cooperation.

One of the issues often encountered by Israeli organizations from their Palestinian partners was anger towards the left because of the unequal way in which these cooperations were often run, but also because they were not always successful in changing reality. At the Israeli Coalition against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and in Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), we tried to take on a different approach, to work with Palestinians at eye level. We said that when we come to do an activity in the Occupied Territories, we come as the minor partners. And once we had concrete goals and aims which we were able to implement, people were interested in being involved.

I like to think [that] the first step is to recognize that you cannot go any lower and that something needs to change. Often this is when people understand it is not only those in government to take issue with, but it is about us, about what we can do.

The discussion Cooperation and Alliance-Building Today was held at the Daila Center in Jerusalem, with a diverse audience of about 40 people.

Aida Shibli: In the basis of our work lies the belief in feminist values. In our work, the personal position is central. We deeply believe the personal is the political. As a mother who wants to make peace for her children, it cannot be that as a Palestinian woman I would have conflicting interests with Israeli women. Our reality today is very difficult, and the current crises of the Second Intifada is almost impossible. It makes it very difficult for people to meet.

I work in facilitating groups. When two groups sit together with their different narratives and want to reach cooperation with each other, this can be reached if there are no issues that cannot be discussed. We were able to break the taboo of the Holocaust and the Nakba. We do not blame those we work with.

Leshem: Before Oslo the Palestinian organizations were subordinate to their Israeli counterparts. The Palestinians take themselves much more seriously today, and so do the donors, who sometimes even strengthen them relatively to the Israelis.

Bassam Aramin: My political activities started in the Fatah, against the occupation. When Oslo began, we were excited about building the Palestinian dream constructing the Palestinian civic institutions. When it all came down with the Second Intifada, everything fell into pieces. I got into violent confrontations with Israelis, and we paid a heavy price for this. We all did; we paid with our lives.

I started asking myself where all this is going. I began to look at it from my own personal perspective what about my child? Will he be a martyr? In a way, I grew up; I became a father. I thought about the fathers on the other side. I changed my perspective from a militant to a peaceful one. On the Israeli side we found people who went through the same process. It was easy to connect to people who took part in the violent struggle. We had similar perspectives.

The Palestinians elected Abu Mazen to be their president on the basis of the platform of two states, the dismantling of settlements, Jerusalem as the capital and a solution to the refugee problem. This means that the Palestinian people do want to reach peace and are open for negotiations. By escalating the violence, the only thing the Israelis are achieving is the strengthening of the Hamas. I believe this is in the interests of Israel. Strengthening Hamas weakens Abu Mazen, and this keeps him from achieving the platform for which he was elected. We, on our side, still have a determined decision to work with the Israeli combatants.

Zohar Shapira: In the past I upheld the occupation in my military service. As a reserve soldier, I spent about a month a year doing this work. In Operation Defensive Shield, in all the atrocities I participated in, I understood you cannot believe in one thing and act otherwise. First, I had to talk to the Israeli society, saying I, personally, Zohar Shapira, cannot do this work. This contradicts my morals and personal beliefs. When you go and fight there, you have to believe in it. What will I tell my daughter, I thought. At first, I came to the Palestinians with a perspective of trying to help them. I had my questions do I have a Palestinian partner?

The actual act of sitting together and talking, and not doing what we used to do together [arrests, house demolitions, etc.] that was already a little bit better. Now that we are doing this, the Israelis cannot say there are no Palestinian partners, and the Palestinians likewise cannot claim there is no Israeli partner. Our message is: We have a partner.

We had interesting difficulties with how we each work differently. We had to decide what was the pace in which to work, and who decides things. The difference between us in itself made me sit down and think. The power of our group lies in showing there is a different possibility than a D9 and a Kalashnikov. We are only a few today, but whoever gets to hear or know of us understands that there are other possibilities.

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