As you all know EMIS consists of 20% Israelis, 20% Palestinians, and 60% Internationals. We all have different political opinions and thoughts on global issues and, of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But even though we disagree on many questions and there are sometimes heated debates, some opinions are not represented in this school. I am talking about the more extreme voices, far left and right opinions which are present in both Israel and Palestine but you do not normally get to hear (It should be mentioned that far left and right is relative and may not be considered the same by every person).
A group of EMIS students and staff got to hear these voices during Borders Week when we travelled to the West Bank. Apart from political opinions, we also heard moving personal stories which made us realize that things appearing in the news are very real.
Combatants for Peace is an organization which claims to work towards a solution of the conflict and to this end provides personal stories of the conflict. In Jerusalem, we met Riad from Palestine and Joni from Israel who told us their stories. Riad’s family was always friends and in contact with Jews which is why he could not understand that during the First Intifada their house was destroyed and his father was arbitrarily arrested…by Jews, Israeli soldiers. When he was 10 years old, people around him started to go a seemingly common path for radicalized Palestinian teenagers. Riad’s friends started covering their faces and throwing rocks; his brother was a leader in the Intifada, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails expressing his anger towards the Israeli occupation. Riad remained peaceful though, welcoming the peace agreements of the Oslo accords in the early 1990s. He recounts that he decided not to be part of the Second Intifada starting in 2000 because he considered violence and its consequences a price too high for him to pay. Shortly after that, an Israeli soldier shot a friend of his, supposedly without any reason, making Riad upset and angry. This resulted into violence coming from his side leading to two weeks in jail. From that point on, it gets harder for Riad to continue his story. He tells us of his brother’s death, shot by what Riad believes were Israeli collaborators when his brother and himself were driving. His brother died and Riad spend 2.5 years in hospital recovering from his wounds. In the end, he mentions good things he heard about and good experiences he had with the Israeli army. He stresses that he understood that violence is the last option and this is the reason why he joined Combatants for Peace. Both him and Joni state that the Israeli occupation is the main reason for all the violence in the conflict.
From the Israeli side, we heard a couple of settlers and settlement supporters which upset quite a lot of us, but, on the other hand, was another interesting perspective to look at.
A main thread of reasoning from their side were the Bible stories and how Jews have lived on these lands since the 10th century before Christ and therefore have the same rights to live in the West Bank as the Palestinians. A lot of the settlers do not stay in their town because of their political opinion, but simply because it is their home. Moving would mean leaving behind all their family, friends, places of childhood memories, and so on.
Regarding the solution of the conflict, we heard a range of opinions – from the organisation Peace Now supporting a two-state-solution to Yehuda Glick, member of the Likud (the leading party in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament), supporting a one-state-solution.
We also heard a personal story from a left leaning Israeli soldier, Nir, who served in the West Bank a couple of years ago. He recounted an incident with a little Palestinian boy who came frequently to where the soldiers were stationed bringing with him his toy gun and playing war with them. On a day like that, the child expressed his attachment to Nir by following him around, hugging him, trying to get his attention. Nir pushing him back carefully made the boy fall anyways which led to multiple cameras pointing at him and reporters circling him, wrongly reporting afterwards in the media that he somehow intentionally hurt the little boy.
Listening to all these experiences and viewpoints from both sides, made us aware of injustices present everywhere in this conflict and got us out of our opinion bubbles.
Written by Anna Schönenbach