rio de janeiro 88.
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Like other Israeli members of the media, I had been invited to participate in a UN-sponsored seminar on the age-old (some would say tired) topic of "Middle East Peace." Its stated purpose: to bridge the gaps in viewpoint between the people of the region, minimize controversy and create dialogue.
By the time the two-day rounds of discussions had come to an end, however, I felt that the very opposite had been accomplished. Not only had the gaps not been bridged, but they were widened - and not only as a result of the bitter political debates between Israelis and Palestinians.
It is thus that I have something to say to the person who invited me to the conference (and I am not speaking on behalf of my colleagues): Mr. Kiyo Akasaka - Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information - your conference inflamed hatred towards my country. In Israel, too, there is a schism over the desired solution to the decades-long, blood-filled Palestinian-Israeli conflict - one that has slightly decreased since Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his willingness to recognize a two-state solution.
But this Rio convention - held under your auspices and with your supervising of every single item on the agenda - was like a trial in which Israel was the accused, but with no right to defend itself.
For those who do not share the belief that the Palestinian leadership is morally superior to its Israeli counterpart, I would like to define the Rio conference in the following simple terms. It was a UN-sponsored hate-fest against Israel in which most of the speakers represented the Palestinian side; the chairmen of the debates knew which members of the audience to give the floor to - those who would bash Israel; one of the chairmen did not allow MK Ronit Tirosh (from Kadima, the largest faction, and not some far-right-wing one at that) to finish a sentence, either in Hebrew or in English; all the chairmen were generous of spirit (and time) toward those who "delivered the goods" - in other words, those, including members of the local Jewish community, who placed Israel in front of a firing squad.
I understood immediately why my own statements were received less-than-warmly, with only polite applause. And for me, this was a good sign, because what I said, in no uncertain terms, was something that 99 percent of those present didn't want to hear. This was a source of great satisfaction, since any other reaction on the part of the participants would have meant that I had joined the choir in singing the anti-Israel anthem. And had I done so, I would have been given a standing ovation.
Far be it from me to sing my own praises, however, while singing Israel's. But basically what I did was raise the following questions: Why was the Palestinian Liberation Organization established in 1964 - before Israel became an "empire," before the "occupation" and before settlements were built beyond the "Green Line"?
Which "Palestine" was the organization trying to "liberate," if its purpose, prior to the Six Day War, was the destruction of Israel?
And, more recently: Was it not a war crime on the part of the Palestinians to fire missiles at Israeli towns inside the "Green Line," after not a single Israeli settler or soldier remained in the Gaza Strip?
At the conference, we almost witnessed an historical event. One of the invitees was Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin, who was supposed to meet with Gaza City Mayor Majid Abu Ramadan, to finalize details of a joint project for the purification of sewage that is polluting the Mediterranean, which borders both cities.
However, after days of telephone conversations between the two mayors, the Hamas leadership forbade Ramadan to go to Brazil to meet with his Israeli counterpart, even for the purpose of realizing a goal of such importance to the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Even the vice president of development and special projects at Mekorot, Zion Cohen - who did preparatory work for this project - arrived in Brazil to present it as a ray of hope towards potential cooperation (particularly significant after a period of missile-launching from Gaza to Ashkelon).
But to no avail.
IN HIS closing statement to conference participants, Akasaka expressed his wish that we journalists would report on what went on. "Please write about what you heard at this seminar," he said.
As his guest - and as a journalist - I hope I have done justice to that request.
Next year, this seminar is slated to convene in Rabat, Morocco. It is unlikely that I will be among the invitees. Far more desirable will be those guests whose statements can be received with great fanfare. Like in Rio, undoubtedly, so too in Rabat.
I would be satisfied to have a meeting - without UN mediation or a plane ticket - in Jerusalem, Ashkelon, Sderot or Ramallah.
The writer is the host of Israel Television's Ro'im Olam weekly news magazine.