by David Lloyd Webber
Having arrived in Jerusalem for an internship with the Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ), I feel as though I have travelled from one end of the telescope to the other. I hope that here, up close, I will be able to see, hear and experience many of the smaller details of the situation that are overlooked from Europe. It is perhaps no surprise that the whole world has its eyes fixed upon the Middle East, attempting to decipher what is going on whilst simultaneously sprinkling in a significant dose of speculation and assumption. Although the Internet allows for an unparalleled diversity of opinions and sources, much of the predominant analysis in the UK, where I am based, continues to focus on the issue of migration amidst an overarching theme of a ‘clash of values’.
Isolationist reactions in Europe
What seems to be occurring in Europe as a result is a general hardening of identities, with values such as internationalism increasingly dismissed as utopian. There is an increasing assumption that different ways of life, practices and beliefs are – contrary to centuries of multiculturalism – incompatible. The isolationist reaction to close the door and turn one’s back on the other seems to be gaining a foothold in public opinion. I do not believe that closing our communities can ever be the way forward. Instead, a culture of dialogue, mutual tolerance and the airing of grievances – however difficult – must be significant components of a peaceful and harmonious co-existence. My work in London with the Next Century Foundation is focused on ‘Track II’ diplomacy, essentially connecting and communicating between groups that do not officially interact. The intrinsic value of dialogue and the role it has to play in peace building has been made clear to me through the positive change I have witnessed.
A genuine sense of equality should be fostered through meaningful inter-societal relationships
With this in mind, it was saddening to read about the culture of fear that has come to dominate Jerusalem, in the latest issue of the PIJ. The edition focused on ‘Young Voices from Jerusalem’, and culminated with two, separate roundtable discussions with young people from the East and West of the city. They described the lack of trust and communication between two societies - the myth of an ‘undivided Jerusalem’ laid bare by the violence and racism that they feared and experienced. It is easy for a Londoner, with no experience of the dynamics of living under occupation, to preach a message of cooperation and dialogue. Of course, the situation here makes this extremely difficult – one that at its heart contains a status quo that is viciously unfair as well as dangerous and dehumanising. However the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians are growing up entirely apart, a process driven by divisive policies and the ‘separation barrier’ – this is certainly no path to peace. An integral task must be to foster a genuine sense of equality through meaningful inter-societal relationships that one hopes shall form a durable and significant component of a long-term peace process. Political transformation and policy change will remain the ultimate goal, but day-to-day interaction should not be overlooked. This is just one of the reasons that the multitude of civil society organisations dedicated to peace across Israel and Palestine are so vital, empowering communities and facilitating the freedom of speech that is so desperately required.
I look forward to hearing a diverse range of voices and opinions during my stay, and know that whilst the myriad of organisations committed to finding a way forward are still here and active, peace will always have a chance.