by Yukie Saruta
As a result of the long, continuing conflict between Israel and Palestine, it has become difficult for both Israelis and Palestinians to know about the other side's situation. Even worse, it is almost impossible for both to imagine how the other side thinks about them and about the conflict. In such a situation, nobody can view the conflict from a broad perspective because they don't even know how the other side views the conflict, and how different are the other side’s thoughts about the conflict. In order to try to overcome this difficulty, Japan-Israel-Palestine Student Conference (JIPSC) invites both Israeli and Palestinian university students to Japan every summer. This program allows participants from Israel, Palestine, and Japan to discuss the core issues of the conflict while living together for two weeks.
Media, the Separation Wall and One or Two State Solution
This year, we invited six Israeli participants (three of them Israeli-Arab), and two Palestinians. There were about twenty Japanese participants; some of them were organizers for the conference – including myself, as I undertook the role of the conference vice-president this year. The organizers decide where to hold the summer conference, organize a selection process for choosing the conference participants, and arrange the schedule for the program. It takes about a year to organize the summer conference. This year, we decided that the goal for the conference should be: to cultivate a relationship among the participants which enables them to discuss about the conflict even after the conference itself is finished and every participant knows about both sides’ opinions. In order to achieve the goal, we make criteria for selection, and hold a selection process. After deciding upon the participants, we choose the discussion topics along with Israeli and Palestinian participants, and prepare for each of the topics.
After finishing the preparations, we held this year's conference in August, 2013, in Tokyo. The discussion topics were Identity, Media, Water Problems, Education, the Separation Wall, and the One State or Two States solution. In each of the topics, several participants make a presentation about the topic, and after finishing it, we hold a discussion and do role-playing (e.g. making a video on the topic of Media).
Overcoming Tears and Frustration
One day, in the middle of the conference, I talked with an Israeli participant. She looked depressed, and started talking about the day's discussion topic, Education. In the topic of Education, participants consider about "How to teach this conflict to outsiders?" And this discussion and activity is connected to a later part of the conference, a class event for high school children, in which both Israeli and Palestinian teach about one issue of the conflict to Japanese students. She discussed the topic with another participant. However she was frustrated while deciding which contents to teach. She shed tears, and I calmed down her. After she calmed down, she said "It is the very first time for me to talk with Palestinians. I am happy to be friends with them, however, at the same time, I am thinking too much about the conflict... I mean, it is the first time for me. Sometimes, I wonder about the Israeli position toward the conflict in my daily life, but this is the first time that I am thinking and questioning about the conflict seriously."
Israeli and Palestinian students with their Japanese hosts in Tokyo
The Japanese have a “listening” role
During the program, almost all of participants consider the conflict again and again. Japanese participants play a role of "listening" to them, because it is difficult for both Israeli and Palestinian participants to talk about such an emotional thing in public. In this way, all participants continue discussing and looking at each issue of the conflict from both points of view.
After the conference is finished, participants go back to their homeland. Even after finishing the conference, they can contact each other on the Internet, and some of them try to hold a reunion, as best as they can. For example, this year, Israeli-Jews and Israeli-Arabs participants met again where they live. They keep in touch each other. And some of the participants continue talking about some current issues related to the conflict. There was a TV show in which an Israeli person goes to Ramallah, and goes around a little bit inside the city. One of the participants wondered about how the other side thought about the TV show, so she sent a message to the participants from the other side, and they discussed the issue through chat.
Meeting and Mutual Understanding is Essential
Mutual understanding is an essential factor for solving the conflict. And it is impossible to create a mutual understanding without knowing how differently each side thinks about the issues, because without knowing the differences, they cannot consider how to overcome the differences. The Japanese organizers of the project have different approaches to the importance of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. I believe the JPISC program is definitely worth holding, and the best way is to meet.