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Shifting views of Israel and Palestine



I am on a study tour of Israel and the Palestinian Territories. It is my eighth visit over twelve years, and each time I come away with less clarity and more questions about the tensions that plague this tiny land.

Palestinians burned tires and threw stones during clashes with the Israeli police on 15 May 15 2011 at Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah, West Bank. The day marked the 'Nakba' or 'catastrophe' which befell Palestinians following Israel's establishment in 1948. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is multi-dimensional, has deep roots and no easy answers. Who is the oppressor? Who is the oppressed? It all depends upon the lens you look through at any given moment. And our view is continually shifting as we make our way from East and West Jerusalem to Bethlehem, from Jericho to Ramallah, from the Gaza border to Tel Aviv.

In Jerusalem, with Israeli elections looming, we engage with the views of a left-wing Israeli journalist, a centrist Jewish author with Muslim dialogue partners, a controversial Arab-Israeli candidate on the campaign trail, a right-wing veteran Middle East commentator who sees no viable peace on the horizon, and another political correspondent dubbed 'the most optimistic man in Israel'.

At Yad Vashem we are plunged into the darkness of holocaust history. At the Centre for Israeli Innovation we are dazzled by Israel's entrepreneurial chutzpah. It is no small miracle that a fledgling nation of traumatised people, surviving genocide and three wars of self-defence, has managed to reinvent itself into a leading start-up nation.

Inside the West Bank the view is just as complex. At the Palestinian Authority government offices we are greeted by a foreign ministry official and a hard-line lecture on all Israel's sins. An hour later we are hearing the strikingly moderate views of the Deputy Prime Minister. We have already been exposed to painful scenes at Aida refugee camp, the controversial Israeli security barrier ('wall') and Qalandiya checkpoint.

Making our way through the bustling streets of Ramallah, advertisements for Palestinian fashion and fine-dining juxtapose the charred remains of yesterday's protest. A short drive later, the modern marvel of Rawabi rises from the ancient landscape. Rawabi is Palestine's first master-planned, environmentally-sustainable city under construction for 40,000 residents, the brainchild of a multi-millionaire American-Palestinian.

The many faces of this land and its peoples never cease to surprise. Our Israeli-Palestinian guide ably navigates the diverse narratives emanating from settlements to falafel vendors, from war memorials to cultural icons. He acknowledges the benefits of being an Arab Muslim citizen of Israel, yet also harbours a painful ancestral story of dispossession in the 1948 war.


"No one wants this occupation. It is bad for Palestinians. It is bad for Israelis. Yet how to end it justly and safely for both parties is far from clear."


Here, amidst all the complexities, most people get on with their lives. Palestinians from the West Bank might queue for hours to get through a checkpoint on their way to work in Israel. Meanwhile Israeli children near the Gaza border sleep in bomb shelters. Palestinian parents fear for their children's safety amidst Israeli military presence in the West Bank. Meanwhile Israeli parents fear that their teenage children will be those Israeli soldiers assigned to duty in the West Bank. No one wants this occupation. It is bad for Palestinians. It is bad for Israelis. Yet how to end it justly and safely for both parties is far from clear.

Still, there are signs that political impasse and bloodshed may not have the last word. The NGO EcoPeace has Israelis and Palestinians lobbying the governments of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority to better manage scarce water resources. Project Rozana and Road to Recovery have Israelis and Palestinians working together for improved health outcomes for Palestinian communities. The Aguda is a Tel Aviv LGBT organisation that includes outreach to Palestinian gay people in the West Bank.

Combatants for Peace harnesses the energies of those on both sides who have exchanged armed struggle for educational targets. The Parents Circle brings together Israeli and Palestinian families who have each lost a child, killed by the 'other side'. Their personal stories convey a strong message: if we can reconcile, surely governments can too.

Meanwhile, other cooperative initiatives focus on economic development. Palestinian Internship Program supports young Palestinian graduates with Israeli-sponsored start-up assistance and networking opportunities in the hi-tech sector. And the list goes on: individuals, NGOs, grassroots initiatives embodying the very peace to which the world aspires.

Nor is it all about the Arab-Israeli conflict. In Tel Aviv we visit Bialik Rogozin School, which educates 1500 non-Jewish children from 51 countries. Culturally diverse, Israel both succeeds and struggles in its efforts to integrate waves of immigrants and refugees. At a nearby women's collective called Kuchinate, we meet asylum seekers from Eritrea and Nigeria slowly rebuilding their lives. The unassuming little nun who greets us has received public recognition for her part in uncovering human trafficking networks in the Sinai Peninsula.

The complexity of Israeli and Palestinian societies demands respect. Israel is not the evil empire and Palestinians are not all terrorists or eternal victims. By and large, Israelis and Palestinians resemble people everywhere: saintly and sinful, hopeful and fearful, challenged and talented. They both carry deep ancestral memories, past traumas, and legitimate connections to the land. Shared aspirations for peace are often betrayed by questionable political forces, self-seeking media agendas and the violent actions of extremists.

As Australians living 14,000km away we are in no position to solve this conflict; but we can help by taking great care in how we communicate about it. Whatever our political leanings, we can steer clear of causes that demonise the other, that eschew nuance and treat ethnic or religious groups as one-dimensional categories. Rather than import the conflict 'here', we can support Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding initiatives 'over there'. In the words of a bereaved father from the Parents Circle, 'Don't be too pro-Palestinian. Don't be too pro-Israeli. Desire peace for both.'



Teresa Pirola is a Sydney-based Catholic faith educator.

Main image: Palestinians burned tires and threw stones during clashes with the Israeli police on 15 May 15 2011 at Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah, West Bank. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Teresa Pirola, Israel, Palestine



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Existing comments

Thank you for the insightful article, wished more of these articles could become more common knowledge.

Fransje | 16 November 2023  

Palestinians were the target of violence by illegal Jewish Israeli settlers (Messianic Jews) four days after 07 October...4 people dead and 40 wounded...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foZzIR3-m9k...Again a group of peoples justifying violence using Jesus Name as a flag of rightfulness...This is why white protestant America is supporting Israel.

Mary | 17 November 2023  

This article was first posted on the 06 May 2019, here on Eureka street. Why has it been reposted? Peace is always hopeful thinking. However, new facts need to be reported. Old articles are as useless as fake news.

George Wass | 17 November 2023  

Thanks for this article! I think the last paragraph should be mandatory reading for all politicians, media people and community leaders - and then they should be required to demonstrate how they are doing it!!!

Beth Gibson | 17 November 2023  

As an outsider looking in, the current Israel/Palestine setup looks pretty deplorable. It looks like war to me. Sadly, the voices of hope and reconciliation you talk of seem to have been shunted aside.

Edward Fido | 18 November 2023  

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