How important do people feel the Palestinian- Israeli conflict is to their
well-being? I often wonder. As a journalist I carry this question with me into
the field, but avoid asking it directly.
For example, Palestinians will
usually say that occupation is unjust, they suffer from it and that it has to
end for everything in their lives to improve. I usually disregard these
statements, and attempt to obtain a deeper understanding of the way people live,
think and behave on both sides of the conflict.
I actually came to the
conclusion that when it comes to the struggle, people’s ideas and beliefs are
changing drastically from what they were decades ago. It’s safe for me to say
that in Israel and Palestine, the general public reached the conclusion that
there are more important issues in their lives to worry about.
people don’t care as much anymore. However, the circumstances that brought about
this state of affairs in each nation vary considerably.
remember a few incidents from the time close to the Palestinian statehood bid at
the UN last year. As the excitement succeeded in putting Palestinians on
the world news map again, I met locals who couldn’t care less. For them, nothing
would really improve on the ground, because their daily challenges –
checkpoints, a weak economy and lack of a clear future – will continue to exist,
they have no quick fixes.
Aside from the diplomatic strategies for
demanding statehood and its political ramifications, these people know that with
or without a country, with international recognition or without, they would
still be severely economically challenged. Especially when the past 20 years
haven’t shown that the Palestinian interim (as Oslo states) Authority succeeded
in providing better living conditions for Palestinians.
Not only that,
some have actually come to see the conflict as an excuse for not finding
solutions to some of their problems. They say, “We need to end the occupation
first and then we will think about other issues.” I am not defending the
occupation, but I believe we can try to improve other parts of our lives while
we strive for independence.
For example, we have many economic
challenges, some of which can lead the PA to not be able to fulfill its
commitments to the people. I don’t deny the blatant interconnectedness between
the Israeli measures and the Palestinian economy, particularly when the Israeli
authorities decide to punish all Palestinians by withholding Palestinian tax
money they collect on behalf of the Palestinians. However, not improving the
private sector, not fighting corruption in our institutions is not entirely
related to the conflict.
ON THE Israeli side, there’s also that sense of
desperation and disconnection between the leadership and the people.
summer’s social protests in Tel Aviv clearly demonstrated that Israelis want
economic reforms and a better system that can save the middle class from
vanishing. Tycoons’ power in Israel is turning the country from a once
socialist state to a rampantly capitalist one.
I’ve heard it from some
Israelis: “we think the government is spending more time, energy and money on
security and less on the lives of Israelis,” a different situation from that of
It’s similar here, because until last Tuesday,
Palestinians seeking a civil service job had to have a clearance from the PA’s
preventive security forces to be allowed to assume their duties. In addition,
the Palestinian attorney-general decided to block some news websites a week ago
because of “undesired content,” directed against the Palestinian
The conflict has made unconventional measures more accepted,
because the nation is facing a threat and it is not the best time to play by the
rules. For example, terms like “security,” “Iran nukes,” “war on Gaza” and
“Gilad Schalit” have been used in Israel to divert attention from domestic
concerns, like discrimination, racism and economic and social demands, to name a
It might be surprising to know that I came across many Palestinians
who really think Israeli annexation of the West Bank would be better for them.
“At least bring us back to where we were before the first intifada,” some people
have told me.
They base that on the fact that a worker in a shwarma
restaurant in Israel, for example, would earn NIS 10,000 a month, which is
almost double the salary a director-general in the Palestinian Authority’s
Needless to say that this kind of
thinking wasn’t common, let alone openly expressed, particularly not in the
years of the first intifada, for example, a time when Palestinians felt a
greater sense of unity as a society and faith in themselves as freedom
What I want to say is although we still have ideological and
patriotic people, and many of them, economics has become of greater importance
in the lives of people frustrated and exhausted by poverty. It moves people to
take to the streets, more than political problems do.
Mothers from both
sides have told a team from the Women Without Borders organization, “Why should
my son and not the sons of politicians suffer in order to defend the country?”
This is an obvious shift from the time when more mothers were proud of their
children’s patriotic role, and reflects people’s distrust of
In general, the not-so-great performance of the Israeli
Left, and the no-so-great performance of the PA along with other regional and
political factors, played a role in people’s disenchantment with the conflict as
well as to their own societies’ issues.
A 19-year-old working as a
fisherwoman to support her poor family in Gaza wasn’t much of a story that the
public related to. In a sea full of male workers with barely any women, it was
obviously not the safest environment for this woman to work.
Israel, an uproar was created after a young crowd watched and cheered as a
reportedly drunk woman engaged in group sexual activity on a Tel Aviv’s beach in
the middle of the day.
Socially, or politically, stories such as the
these were unlikely to pass easily in the good old days, when both the Israeli
and the Palestinian societies each believed in their own culture, people and
The comparison between the Palestinians and Israelis
might seem far-fetched as each one of them has its own uniqueness, and I am not
saying that the two communities are facing the same issues. However, some
similarities can be found between the two people’s struggles among themselves
and might stress the need for thinkers, analysts and the elite to address this
This social disintegration is a key element of driving people to
the extremes and more toward the Right. Losing faith in one’s people and nation
threatens our societies’ identities, foundations and future aspirations, and
furthermore negatively affects our ability to create peace – the only way we can
guarantee a bright future for coming generations.
People do not care as
they once did, and we should be worried. It seems our leaders are more concerned
with remaining in power than with actual change, with progress and achieving
peace. I fear this is now politics as usual here.
The writer is a
Palestinian freelance journalist and producer working in the West Bank.