On November 27, 1999, the Palestine-Israel Journal held a
round-table discussion, moderated by Dr. Edy Kaufman who
teaches human rights in the Department of International Relations
at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Avi Levi, youth
organizer of Peace Now. The participants on the Israeli side were
Deganit Avital, Amichai Man and Rachel Cohen; and on
the Palestinian side were Jamal Nusseibeh, Samer Obeid and
Taleb Barakat, young people in their twenties, either
students, graduates or working in the service sector.
Edy Kaufman: How much do you think the representative of
your people in the present peace negotiations - Barak for the
Israeli government, Arafat for the Palestinian Authority - really
represents your viewpoints and your feelings?
Rachel Cohen: I feel Barak's direction is good. More than
that is difficult for me to say because, in general, I do not feel
that any of the politicians or government people or Knesset members
really reflect my feelings.
Samer Obeid: I think Barak always makes promises. When he
was trying to be elected, he promised to finish the peace process
in one month. Now that he's prime minister, he has started delaying
and delaying. I don't think he wants to deliver what he
Edy Kaufman: How about Arafat? Do you feel confident that he
is doing his best for peace?
Samer Obeid: Of course he is. He should.
Jamal Nusseibeh: It's impossible for someone to represent
you completely on everything. On the other hand, Arafat and others
have represented us for a long time. In general, they have the best
interests of the Palestinians at heart. Therefore, they are people
one can theoretically trust to do what they can to make the
situation better. Now, if one has different ideas or viewpoints
that's part of a democracy and that's fine. Who else would you have
represent us? Arafat has earned this position.
Amichai Man: About Arafat, Arafat has earned it. He's the
head of the Palestinians. In the Israeli state, Barak is the prime
minister of the state, and although you have certain small groups
that oppose the government, Barak acts as prime minister of the
entire state. But among the Palestinian people, in my opinion,
there are more than a few groups that are moving in a direction
other than Arafat's. This is a big problem.
Jamal Nusseibeh: The question was how you feel about your
side, not how you feel about the other side.
Because for Palestinians things seem to be going so badly on the
ground, people find it very hard to believe that the peace process
will get anywhere, or that it will last. But Arafat was also
elected by Palestinians. The reason there are divergent opinions is
because there are people who don't believe in the institutions
created by Oslo and the agreements after that.
Amichai Man: I never voted for Barak, but his goal is my
goal. I want peace. It should take time. The more time the peace
process takes, the more stable it will be. Sometimes you have
peace, but not real peace, like the peace we have now with Egypt.
Twenty years after the agreement, we see this is not enough for
Jamal Nusseibeh: You cannot expect anyone, not even the
Egyptians, to take you at your word about peace when you're still
occupying the land of another people. It just doesn't make sense.
In this situation, you cannot be taken seriously as a mature and
developed country and a normal people that wants to live at peace
in the region in which it's located.
Amichai Man: When I was a little child, I was sure that I
would not go to the army at the age of 18. I was sure that there
would be peace by then. Whatever Barak is doing, I am behind him,
even if it will take ten years to make peace.
Samer Obeid: From my point of view, the peace process
between Israelis and Palestinians so far is like a game of cat and
mouse. Each one is leaving open an escape route.
Edy Kaufman: Do you think that youth nowadays are more
preoccupied with personal stands and interests than in the past,
and why? Do you find your parents to be more idealistic in terms of
what to give to the country for peace than the younger generation?
Do you share the same values and opinions, or does the younger
generation have a different way of looking at this question of
Addressing the Israelis with regard to the State of Israel - and
there is a mirror question for the Palestinians about parents and
grandparents - do you see a change in commitment to Zionism over
time? Does it have the same meaning for you as it did for your
parents or grandparents?
Deganit Avital: I have a similar outlook to my parents,
although we are called the X generation, youth without feelings and
so on. When you talk with the youth of today, there is a sense that
many of them place less importance on what happens in the country,
but there are still many who do care. I know we are looking at our
history in an Ashkenazi [European-Jewish] way. We learned how the
Jews came and developed the country. We, Jews, did everything. We
were very Zionist. That's the way we learn history at school.
Edy Kaufman: But the reality?
Deganit Avital: The reality was rather different. There were
a lot of difficulties, and I don't know enough to say how it really
Rachel Cohen: Zionism means nothing to me now. The values
that Zionism represented for my parents or my grandparents are not
relevant because it's a totally different situation today. The
problems we are dealing with are completely different. Previous
generations looked at Zionism, particularly after the Second World
War, as coming here and creating a home for the Jewish people. But
I am not concerned with building Israel. We already have Israel.
Now we have to see how to deal with other problems, social
problems, relations with another people living in the same land.
This is "Zionism." I don't call it Zionism, but this is what has
replaced Zionism for me.
Deganit Avital: I agree with what Rachel said. Education is
Zionism for me today, both as regards Israelis and
Edy Kaufman: Let's switch now to our Palestinian friends and
see how you feel about comparing your values with your parents and
grandparents. Have you come too late to make history? Is it already
done? Where are you now compared to your parents' political
Jamal Nusseibeh: It's a strange way to ask the question. To
me, my commitment to Palestine is my commitment to liberty and
freedom and democracy and dignity as a person; it is my whole
existence. I cannot abstract this from "Palestine." That does not
mean that I necessarily believe in Palestine, in the whole of what
used to be Palestine. The whole idea of Palestine is, for me, this
feeling I can belong here and that my children can belong here and
live here in peace. This is what my commitment to Palestine
Edy Kaufman: I can see there is asymmetry. On the Israeli
side there is already a state and you can have other central aims.
But for the Palestinians, the national issue is existential.
Jamal Nusseibeh: You cannot separate your being from
Palestinians living under occupation. Even the Palestinian
Legislative Council, where I was working, is not a free democratic
body. It's not a parliament. It has no sovereignty. It's still
subject to what the Israeli government agrees or doesn't agree to.
We still have no say in our lives. We still have to contend with
roadblocks, or in Jerusalem with getting a permit from the Israeli
Ministry of the Interior. Plus, we come from a generation - all of
us - which actually, in a great sense, made history with the
Intifada. We were not a generation that sat down and watched things
happen. Who else if not us? All of us.
Edy Kaufman: Comparing yourself to your parents and
grandparents, do you see any particular change in attitudes?
Samer Obeid: Compared to my parents and grandparents, people
are now becoming more educated. They know what's happening. They
know how to think and what to do in order to bring about change,
and that's the difference.
Edy Kaufman: You touched upon the Intifada. It seems that
for the Palestinians, especially for the younger generation, that
was a watershed. What does the Intifada mean to you? Do you
Deganit Avital: We were young at the time, but we were not
in the same situation as the Palestinians, since, as was said, they
were in the middle of the action. I think our grandparents or
parents who built this country maybe had something closer to that
feeling because they were in the center of the action. We don't
have that feeling.
Jamal Nusseibeh: I think we are all making history. This may
be contentious, but I think the Palestinians ultimately fighting
for liberty, freedom, peace, dignity - this is what the Israelis
ought to desire - it's basically the same things. We now have an
amazing opportunity. Oslo has a lot of flaws and problems and gaps,
but at least people are talking and it's given us this opening to
do something, to take things in hand. It's a challenge and an
Rachel Cohen: It's difficult for me to say this, but I think
the Intifada is one of the best things that could have happened,
not just for Palestinians, but also for Israel. I can easily see
how the previous situation could have lasted another 20 years had
it not been for the Intifada. Sometimes this is the only way to
achieve something. In this case, but for the Intifada, I could see
Israel controlling the Palestinian people for many more
Jamal Nusseibeh: As they still are.
Rachel Cohen: As they still are, yes. But now I really
believe it will change.
Jamal Nusseibeh: Why?
Rachel Cohen: Because it has begun to change. We are in the
process of changing. Maybe it's going to take more than two years,
but we are doing it, and deliberately.
Jamal Nusseibeh: Why are you doing it?
Rachel Cohen: Because I don't see any other way. I don't see
any other possibility. For me, it's like breathing or taking a
shower or eating or women's rights or ecology. It cannot be
Edy Kaufman: Because it will make you feel better if the
Palestinians are free? Or is it because you sympathize with their
wishes and their will?
Rachel Cohen: Both. The two are so connected that they
cannot be separated. I don't think I could have felt good or safe,
not just as a person but also as a people, if the previous
Edy Kaufman: On the question of a two-state solution or a
one-state solution, what is your feeling? As human beings, as
Palestinians, as Jews, is it better to have a two-state solution or
would you prefer to see Arabs and Jews all living together in one
undivided - maybe secular - state?
Deganit Avital: In dreams, in utopia, I wish we all could
have loved each other and lived together in peace. But given the
reality, there are problems with living in one state. Especially
since Palestine is not yet an independent country, I think, for the
sake of progress, we have to have two separate countries, but with
a joint approach to subjects like the economy. But I am against a
situation where the Palestinians are dependent on our country, as
they are now. They will have their own independence. Maybe later,
when everybody is independent and has achieved equality, and when
the quality of life of the Palestinians has improved, we could
Taleb Barakat: I think there should be a binational
government like in Lebanon, where they decided that the president
should be Christian and the prime minister should be Muslim.
Samer Obeid: I don't think we can have Israelis and
Palestinians living together in one state because we are absolutely
different people, with our own societies and cultures. Our society
and way of life are totally different from that of the
Jamal Nusseibeh: I think that a two-state solution, although
it may be necessary, will just exacerbate the difference in quality
of life and the separateness of our people and the tension between
both sides. It has never been a Palestinian national demand to live
freely only in the West Bank and Gaza. The point is to live in
dignity wherever one feels one belongs and to feel one can belong
there. You have three or four million refugees still living in
refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza who cannot stay there. And
as the jailer is no freer than the prisoner, they are both in the
same prison. I think Israel is kind of shirking a responsibility by
saying, All right, you go live over there and we will monitor you,
but you can basically do whatever you like. This is not recognizing
the moral responsibility Israelis have for what they have been
doing for the last 50 or 30 years.
Deganit Avital: That's why I think the only option is to
give the Palestinians some kind of independence.
Jamal Nusseibeh: One of the reasons I said what I said is
because the South African homeland created for the black Africans
to live and be free in basically led to an explosion. It led to the
whole system crumbling and breaking down. I hope we are more mature
and have had enough experience in other places in the world to be
able now to go beyond these things and build something different,
something where people can have everything they aspire to as
individuals and groups and nations.
Avi Levi: Do you have something to say about the issue of
separation or living together? Do you think it would be better for
the Israelis and Palestinians just to get rid of the other? Like
Barak's election slogan - "Two peoples: you live there and we live
Rachel Cohen: We can achieve real peace only by building
small life-organizations, by talking, by living and working
together, by striving for the same goal, by getting to know each
other. That is the only way to make peace. Somehow we need to find
a balance between living together and separating.
Deganit Avital: That's true. The problem is that reality
conflicts with that. In our present reality, I can't see all
Palestinians coming and working with the Israelis. But I think that
the way to make peace is really to know the other people. If you
don't know the people, you can't really have peace with them. But I
am not diminishing the idea of two countries because there is
something true about your feelings for your own country, for your
being independent. You have to start at the point of feeling equal,
and this feeling of equality can only be achieved when you have
your own country, when you don't feel dependent on the other
Taleb Barakat: The process should start with how it was
before the Intifada, when we used to go to Gaza, to Nablus, and
nobody said you cannot cross the checkpoint. But then we did not
have independence. We should have equal rights to form a
government, an army of our own.
Samer Obeid: When we reach the point that we are equal, then
we can start with two states. But it cannot happen now.
Rachel Cohen: I agree.
Avi Levi: Let us look at the place of the conflict in your
own agenda. How much does the conflict impact on your personal
Samer Obeid: It affects everything in our lives.
Taleb Barakat: Every little part of your life is affected.
Samer has uncles living in Hebron. Most of the time they cannot
come to visit him. I remember that my grandfather used to go to
Ramallah to buy meat. You cannot do so anymore because, at the
checkpoint, if they find a bag of meat in your car, you're fined
8,000 shekels. And these are minor things that I can think
Samer Obeid: I think if we, the younger generation, could
meet with each other, we would have no problem. Our parents and
grandparents are different. Your parents built their country, and
our parents lost their country. But now that we are building a
country here, we have better feelings towards you because you are
now a peaceful people for us.
Once I had an Israeli girlfriend. When her parents found out about
it they started calling and threatening. So I had to leave her. So
you can't even choose your girlfriend because of this
Deganit Avital: I don't have to cope with the conflict every
day unless I see it on television or hear about it from someone
involved. I am not in the same situation as you are. It does not
affect my life in the same way. Of course, I think it's one of the
most important things that we have to deal with because it has to
do with thinking about the future, about raising my children in a
peaceful, not so stressful environment. But I don't have to cope
with it as the Palestinians do. Also, here, in this round-table,
all of us support the peace agreement in general, and we're having
a very nice peaceful talk. But I know there are Israeli youth who
are not sitting here and are against it. Many of them. I really
don't know if we are the majority. I hope so.
Samer Obeid: I don't think the Israeli way of life is
affected by this conflict. We are the most affected because you
have the power. You do what is best for you. I can talk about my
uncle who lives in Hebron near the Ibrahimi Mosque. Israelis are
all around. When you hear from him what happens there, it's crazy.
My family can't sleep at night.
Amichai Man: I never gave the conflict much thought. I live
in the center of Israel. I hear about the peace process in the
news, but it's not so close to me. I want peace. I think the peace
process is a good process, but it will take a few more years. I
hope that one day I can cross Ramallah or go freely through Hebron
or go safely to Gaza, and that we can live as good neighbors.
Jamal Nusseibeh: Things have to go both ways. I can't
imagine you going down to Gaza without people coming out from Gaza.
Most of my friends cannot even picture a future for themselves
because the conflict is such an integral part of their lives, even
if they are not necessarily politically active or aware. But if you
don't know if you're going to be living under occupation or in a
free state, how can you conceive of your future? The ordinary
Palestinian doesn't know if he'll be able to go to work tomorrow or
not. People are still being arrested. You still live from day to
day and try to make the best of each day. The political situation
determines your whole existence. You have no choice. Even sitting
at home, in your mind you know you are not free.
Avi Levi: After all has been said and done, are you
optimistic? The next question talks about the history of the
conflict, each side accusing the other of ruthlessness and
demonization in combating the enemy. This hasn't stopped since the
Oslo agreement. In your opinion, can it be stopped?
Taleb Barakat: It will not stop.
Deganit Avital: You are pessimistic then?
Avi Levi: Why? Whom do you blame?
Taleb Barakat: I blame both sides. Who is the prime
minister? Ehud Barak. He used to be a general. He was one of the
guys who planned to invade Lebanon and the West Bank, right? He was
the head of the army. He has been raised on ordering people what to
do. So do you think he is now going to turn everything upside
The same with us. Arafat used to say we have to reconquer our land
by fighting with arms. So if the situation is going to change, then
the leaders should change.
Samer Obeid: Until the peace process finishes, there is
always going to be the accusing of each other and blaming each
other. When we reach a final agreement and everybody knows where
they stand, then all that will end.
Avi Levi: You think it will end? You're optimistic?
Samer Obeid: Yes. Of course.
Deganit Avital: One thing about Barak and Arafat is that
they were military leaders, but I think that during this period
they are working for peace, so there will be give and take, and the
take is the peace. That's why I can be optimistic.
Taleb Barakat: But there is no giving.
Deganit Avital: There will be eventually. I hope. But I
think the main problem is that we are waiting for our governments
to make peace, and what are we ourselves doing? Nothing. So I am
also to blame that it does not happen sooner.
Jamal Nusseibeh: It's very difficult for Palestinians to be
optimistic now because everything that has happened on the ground -
or that seems to have happened in their eyes - has been so much
worse than they expected. New settlements are being built and other
settlements are being expanded on their land. People see the
roadblocks they have to contend with. They realize they are having
a far worse time of it now than before the peace process. Their
standard of living and their income have gone down. They have far
less of a chance of getting a job. There are all sorts of problems
in everyday life now which are caused by the Israeli refusal to
change the status quo. This seems to be a very hypocritical or fake
policy. The negotiations are perceived by most Palestinians to be a
matter of Israel winning time; meanwhile, the settlements are being
expanded so as to give the Israelis a definite hold over the
occupied territories. So if the Palestinian state ever does come
into being, it will never be viable. This is how it seems. Israel
cannot honestly be negotiating on giving back a land to a people if
at the same time it is entrenching itself deeper and deeper in it.
It does not make sense.
Rachel Cohen: I am optimistic, but I think it's going to be
very difficult. This mutual blaming, and maybe even this hatred, is
really deep, really far-reaching, and demonization will exist
forever. I don't think it will ever disappear from the world. But
towards peace I am optimistic all the same.
Amichai Man: I think it is getting better, if Arafat and
Barak can dialogue, and if people who were once fighting each other
can now shake hands. For me, a few years ago Arafat was terrorist
No. 1. Now he's trying to make peace. So I think the majority of
the people are going to stop hating each other.
Samer Obeid: Why not say Arafat was a freedom fighter?
Amichai Man: I'm talking about five or ten years ago. Arafat
and his army hated the State of Israel. I had never given a thought
to the Palestinian people. Maybe I should have, but when the
Intifada started, it was very bad for me, because I was looking at
it from my side. I never met Palestinian people. I never thought
about the problems in the refugee camps. It was bad for me because
I couldn't travel the roads freely.
Samer Obeid: Didn't you think, Why are these people doing
these things to us? Why are they throwing stones? Why do they make
Amichai Man: Now I am thinking about it. Now I see there was
a good purpose. There was progress because of the Intifada. Arafat
has a different face for me now, and I guess Barak has a different
face for you.
Samer Obeid: You can't call Arafat a terrorist because he
had a purpose.
Deganit Avital: That's the way he looked at it then.
Samer Obeid: I know what he means.
Avi Levi: Are you still afraid of each other?
Jamal Nusseibeh: I was never afraid of Israelis. Why should
I be afraid?
Rachel Cohen: I'm afraid in certain situations, yes. For
example, in certain West Bank villages, but not all. But it's not
that in general I feel afraid of Palestinians.
Jamal Nusseibeh: If an Israeli soldier is shooting at me I'm
afraid because he's got a gun and wants to kill me, but not because
he's an Israeli.
Samer Obeid: I think Israelis without guns, without
soldiers' uniforms, are friendly people. But when they're in
uniform and carrying a gun, they're different people. If you go to
Jaffa Road and talk to them and deal with them, they're very
friendly. But at the checkpoint you feel they're different people,
the way they talk to you.
Rachel Cohen: You feel there are different kinds of
Israelis? Or the person on Jaffa Road can be the same person at the
Samer Obeid: When he's a soldier he becomes a different man,
and treats you like you're his enemy. The same man, when he's not a
soldier will be different.
Deganit Avital: When you don't know enough of the other,
then you feel fear. But when you know people, then I don't think
you're afraid of them.
Jamal Nusseibeh: But fear implies you have something to
lose, and most Palestinians feel they have very little to
Avi Levi: Do you have questions to ask each other?
Deganit Avital: Would any one of the Palestinians here marry
a Jewish girl?
Samer Obeid: Two generations ago they used to marry each
other. I met an Israeli girl and went out with her for two weeks,
but her parents -
Deganit Avital: Let's say the parents would accept
Samer Obeid: Yes. If I fell in love with her I would marry
her. There was no objection from my side. Their side made all the
problems. A human being is a human being. Nationality or religion
don't matter. If you love the person there's no problem.
Taleb Barakat: I don't think so. Not because she's an
Israeli, but just because of religious background. If the parents
have different religions, the chidren will really be
Samer Obeid: Would you marry a Palestinian man?
Deganit Avital: I would really think hard about it, not
because of religion, but mainly because of society today. It would
be very hard for my children, if they're Arabic and Jewish, to live
in this society. The same with religion. Which school would they go
to? What holidays would we celebrate? In this country I think it
would be very hard.
Amichai Man: There will be peace. And after peace, there
will be trade. Each nation will be independent. Will the peace
Samer Obeid: If we get our rights, the peace will last. But
we want East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. We need the
settlements out of the West Bank. We need our refugees to come back
from Jordan, from Egypt, from Lebanon.
Rachel Cohen: Do they want to come back?
Jamal Nusseibeh: The existence of the refugees has been
built now, for three generations, on the dream of returning home.
That's the only way they sustain themselves while living in the
worst conditions imaginable: in tents or corrugated sheds, with no
services, no rights, no citizenship, no nothing. Just sitting there
waiting for a magic wand to bring them back home and make things