If you do not live in Israel or in Palestine and ask yourself what is going on between the two governments, about the Peace-negotiations over the past months, years, decades… Do not bother anymore: Status-quo is still the best word you can come up with to describe this current situation.
In the news, you can also see that on the ground, things are not so well either. No need to remind you about the so many events of the last months which leave such a little space for hope, if you still had any.
However, what you do not see is that sometimes, good things happen too. In fact, many people on both sides do what they can to create a better reality to live in. Maybe it’s time to talk more about these people and what they do.
Last week, in central Tel Aviv, I had the chance to meet some of these actors when I attended the 'Israeli-Palestinian congress of the people'. I thought it was worth writing about this event.
Created in 2009 by the organization Minds of Peace, it runs several times a year either in Israel or in the Palestinian territories. The main idea of the organization is to hold peace negotiations involving not the governments but the Israeli and Palestinian citizens, by creating a public debate where everyone, activist or passer-by, is invited to participate.
Coming from cities or villages, kibbutzim or settlements, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular from all ages, the participants represent very well the diversity of the two societies.
All the talks are in Hebrew or in Arabic, translated continuously from one to the other by the organizers of by the participants, many of whom speak both languages fluently.
The congress starts with sessions of negotiations by groups of about 20 people. Each group debates about a specific subject, which will be discussed again later, with the entire assembly.
Comes the time of lunch. For half an hour, people stop talking about the conflict. They just chat.
During this break, I find myself eating with Ahmed and his friend Huthayfa, both students from East Jerusalem, and Aliya, an octogenarian Israeli. She tells us that she recently started an Arabic class, but sadly, her memory is not what it used to be anymore. Nevertheless, she’s trying hard to use all the words she can remember, encouraged by the two young men. It’s amazing to watch this unexpected trio going along so well!
Before getting back to the negotiations, I have the opportunity to chat with some of the participants, and to ask them what motivated them to come today.
Aliya claims to be an activist, always present at the events which she thinks “can change something, change the situation”. Ghadeer, a young Palestinian woman, says that she came because "together we must find a way to make peace." For Myron, Israeli in his forties, "the current situation is a dead end, and it’s when it comes to this point that we can finally open our ears to new ideas, or ideas that we weren’t ready to listen before." For some, it is also about listening to what the other has to say.
Back to the negotiations. We are now about a hundred people sitting around a big table. Lead by the organizers, we discuss issues of borders and demography, security, education, cessation of violence, water and, of course… Jerusalem. Sometimes, it is hard to find an agreement. Some subjects are not unanimous among all. On several occasions, political convictions or personal stories create discord and force to renegotiate an issue. Sometimes Israelis do not agree among themselves, sometimes Palestinians. Other times, all the participants manage to find common ground quickly. All combinations are possible, the objective being to find solutions that will satisfy the greatest number.
The congress ends in the afternoon. Many issues were discussed and some still remain unsolved. But no worries, there will be other reunions. Besides, the organizers have announced their intention to establish a bigger conference soon. They hope that by mobilizing a growing number of citizens in the peacemaking process, this will encourage political leaders to eventually reach an agreement.
It is true that agreements negotiated in these congresses are not officially effective, but it shows a real willingness among the people to find viable solutions for and from both sides. They also show a mutual recognition of the other and of its rights, starting point for a real dialogue.
We can only wish that the Israeli and Palestinian leaders will take in account this kind of event in the near future. In the meantime, people need to make their own peace.