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Visualizing Another Way: Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation through the Lens of Israeli and Palestinian Peace Workers

By Shania Adams
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 If I could have just one wish, it would be to look out at the world through their eyes; to see what they see, to feel what they feel.   Even, if only for a moment. 
- Jane Goodall

 

We live our lives under a constant barrage of images of extremes: extremes of violence as well as extremes of suffering.   The mainstream media of the United States has an overwhelming monopoly on the knowledge that we have on the conflict between Israel and Palestine.   Throughout the second intifada, there were daily stories of Palestinian extremists blowing up buildings, cars, anything that would cause suffering for the Israelis.   Attacks on innocent Israeli civilians and the immense suffering of the Israeli public in general are what filled my mind; they were the images I knew.  

 

Living as an American Jew added another layer to the narratives surrounding my knowledge of Israel and Palestine.   The narrative held that Eretz Israel protects Jews against suffering, forever.   It is the one safe place of refuge.   But, under Palestinian violence, the Jews are no longer safe, so defense is the answer; not only defense of Israeli citizens, but defense and protection of the State of Israel as a nation.   Fear drives the Israeli community toward defense.

 

These are the extremes I knew.   As I studied for courses at Trinity and read about the complexities of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I began to wonder, is there more to these extremes?   I did not deny either of these scenarios as real, and despicable, but I wondered if they were the entire story, or if maybe, another piece of the narrative was missing.   The more I read, the more I learned, and the more I wanted to know.   I learned of the construction of the Wall as a "Separation Barrier" by the Israeli government, I learned Palestinians were living under curfews, I learned that access to water for Palestinians is limited.   I became friends with the Director of Palestinians for Peace and Democracy in San Antonio, and learned from him that Palestinians know something beyond violence.  

 

I was growing, experiencing, and learning, but I needed more.   I needed to see for myself, to "look out at the world through their eyes, to see what they see, to feel what they feel."   I was searching for an opportunity to visit the region, but if I was going on a trip to Palestine and Israel, I wanted to go in such a way that I was a witness to the lives of people, their suffering, their work, and their hopes.   I wanted to talk to people in their homes.   I wanted to hear their stories.   And I wanted a perspective that I have not yet heard, voices that the media does not cover.   This is what I gained from the delegation.

 

Our group is the 15th Interfaith Peace Builders delegation, sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, to travel through Israel and Palestine.   This journey was an opportunity to meet with people on the ground, grassroots activists in Palestine and Israel who believe in the power of peace and non-violence.   And we also heard the stories and voices of others who's lives are directly effected by the conflict: Palestinian and Israeli University students, people living on illegal settlements in the Palestinian Territories, a Palestinian family who allowed us to stay overnight in their home, and Palestinian refugees living in cramped, exasperating conditions.   As members of this delegation, we were witnesses to the destruction, fear, and suffering that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is causing.

 

For our brief time in Israel and Palestine, we learned what daily living is like for Palestinians, what it means to be searched and wait for two hours at a checkpoint, what it feels like to become numb to M-16s and soldiers, what anxiety true anxiety feels like as you are stopped by another barrier, another restriction, another wall.                

             

These horrors of the occupation, these immensely trying situations were an underlying fact of our trip, an unavoidable reality.   Yet, our delegation went further, and pushed our learning process to see these realities through the lens of the peace worker, to know what Israeli and Palestinian advocates are working for, and why they feel their organizations are necessary for peace between Palestine and Israel.   Pope John Paul II said, "If you want peace, work for justice."   This is what the organizations are searching for: justice in the face of suffering, fear, and destruction.   Justice for Israelis.   Justice for Palestinians.   Justice that must be reconciled before peace will ever be a reality.  

 

While I was surrounded with images of extreme suffering, I was always reminded of the power of hope and the persistence of non-violence when meeting with these organizations.   They are the voices that gave me hope that peace can be achieved.   Where I expected to feel fear and see violence, I felt empathy and saw non-violent activism.

             
Each organization we met with varied in their approach to peace, focusing on different aspects of reconciliation, human rights work, and justice.   Several organizations are focusing their work on the militarism surrounding the occupation and Israeli call for defense.   Machsom Watch is an organization comprised of Israeli women who document activities occurring at the many checkpoints preventing freedom of movement between Israel and Palestine.  

 

Checkpoints are an oft-sited area of human rights abuses committed by the Israeli army.   The role of Machsom Watch (which translates from Hebrew to "Checkpoint Watch") is to have women at each checkpoint two times a day, observing and documenting what occurs.   They often act as intermediaries between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, helping them to see each other as humans.   The Israeli army has orders to treat Machsom Watch with respect, and the women of Machsom Watch have close connections with the army generals, enough so that if a human rights violation is occurring, the women can call the general to report the soldier.  

 

As Nurit, a member of Machsom Watch who took us with her to observe a checkpoint stated, "It is important to remember that the soldiers are victims too, they are not there by choice."   For this reason, the women of Machsom Watch treat the soldiers with dignity and respect, often taking on the motherly role with these soldiers who are young enough to be the sons and daughters of the women.  

 

Nurit took us to observe Qalandiah checkpoint, one of the largest checkpoints located within the West Bank, which separates the city of Ramallah to the North from Jerusalem to the South.   Children walk through the checkpoint selling gum, and begging for shekels.   The line of cars stretches on seemingly endlessly, and people wait.   And wait.   Some days we waited for hours. But we were not alone, as we were sharing this moment with Palestinians who make this journey and wait in these lines every day.   Any complaints our group had seemed unwarranted when looking into the eyes of the Palestinian mother holding her newborn child next to you.  

 

On the day we went with Nurit to observe the checkpoint, we went on foot.   Walking through heaps of trash, sweating from the permeating sun, we were met with soldiers, guns and anxious Palestinians pushing to get through the lines.   After metal detectors searched our person and our belongings, we stood outside the checkpoint, just watching.   Watching soldiers unable to look at Palestinians directly in the eyes, perhaps afraid of making a human connection; watching Palestinians waiting anxiously because they are late for school, work, or just simply wanting to return home.  

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