Changing the reality in which we live - opinion

Many Palestinians live in cages. Their towns and cities are invaded by Israeli soldiers at any given time.

ISRAELI AND PALESTINIAN activists take part in a demonstration in support of peace, near Jericho, in October 2016.  (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
ISRAELI AND PALESTINIAN activists take part in a demonstration in support of peace, near Jericho, in October 2016.
When Israelis and Palestinians tell me that they want to live in peace but don’t have a partner on the other side, I believe them. Their assessment is based on the reality they live and breathe. Israelis and Palestinians are sharp observers of their reality.
Many Palestinians live in cages. Their towns and cities are invaded by Israeli soldiers at any given time. Checkpoints and blockades are constructed on their roads making their daily life much more difficult. Their economy is controlled by an occupying power. Their land can be confiscated and transferred to nearby Israeli communities that have already been built on their land. Some 60% of their land, which some people decided to call “Area C,” is totally beyond their control. They are treated by their powerful neighbors as terrorist suspects at all times. Their demands for freedom and independence have been almost completely removed from the world’s agenda.
Many Israelis see their Palestinian neighbors as people who want to kill them and throw them into the sea. This is not just a cliché; it is for many Israelis their genuine perception of reality. They sincerely believe that Palestinians have no desire to live in peace with Israel. They seek Israel’s destruction. Many Israelis see what Palestinian textbooks educate the young generation about Israel’s non-legitimacy as an expression of political goals. They believe that Palestinians’ non-recognition of the rights of the Jewish people to a state of their own in the Land of Israel is an expression of an everlasting refusal to understand that the Jewish people has a genuine historical connection to this land.
Many Israelis faithfully believe that in 2006 – when Palestinians democratically elected Hamas to rule them after Israel left Gaza completely, and a year after every soldier and every settlement was removed by force by the government of Israel – the Palestinians expressed their true desire to use force and terror to remove Jews from this land.
The perceptions of Israelis and Palestinians are largely based on elements of truth. It is difficult to deny the belief of the non-existence of partners for peace in the reality in which we live, amid the words that we hear from leaders and citizens on both sides. The lack of understanding between the peoples of Israel and Palestine is a function of the failure of the peace process, the violence suffered by both sides from the other, and the lack of contact between them. The possibilities to even imagine peace between Israel and Palestine seem slim and far away. We have been in a mode of conflict management already for years. No one talks seriously about conflict resolution.
Many Israelis continue to live in the delusion that they can make peace with the entire region and live in peace with the entire world while continuing the deny Palestinians their basic human and political rights. Israel has been doing this for quite a long time, while continuing to whittle away at the shrinking Palestinian territory with continued Israeli expansion and control.
Many Palestinians live with the delusion that they can boycott Israel and prohibit contacts with the Israeli government and with Israeli citizens. At some point Israelis and Palestinians are going to have to re-engage and talk to each other.
AT THE beginning of the peace process, after the Madrid conference in October 1991, when Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister and Yasser Arafat headed the PLO, I proposed to Jerusalem Palestinian leader Faisel Husseini that he find a way to speak directly to the Israeli people, to demonstrate that the Palestinian people were prepared to make real peace with Israel. I proposed that the Palestinians purchase a full page in the local Israeli weekend newspapers that then existed in tens of Israelis towns and cities.
The idea was to put before the Israeli public authentic Palestinian voices speaking about peace and their hopes and dreams for the future. I proposed the same idea to Israeli leaders to bring authentic Israeli voices to the Palestinian public through Palestinian daily newspapers.
Faisel Husseini decided to find other ways to speak to the Israeli public, including a very public visit to the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters Museum at Kibbutz Lohamei Geta’ot. He was well aware of the need to influence the hearts and minds of the Israeli public in preparation for serious negotiations. We have gone deeply backward since then, and the hearts and minds of Israelis and Palestinians are quite far away from believing in the possibility of peace or being prepared to make compromises to achieve it.
The greatest way to influence the hearts and minds of Israelis and Palestinians to support peace would be dramatic moves by our leaders. But we do not have leaders who are capable or who want to do that. Today we don’t need to publish in the written press. We have social media that could be a very effective tool to enable Israelis and Palestinians to address each other directly and to re-engage in a positive way.
All too often social media is used to incite and to spread hate, but it can also be used to spread understanding and hope. Authentic voices from both sides in a strategic campaign aimed at speaking directly to the public on the other side could have an impact. It is not enough obviously to enable the launching of a new serious peace process, but it could be enough to put the issue back on the agenda and within the public discourse.
I don’t believe that our current leaders on both sides have the ability to renew negotiations or launch a new peace effort. We will have to wait for a leadership change to be the catalyst for that. However, there is no reason why civil society has to wait for that to happen. We need strategic political thinking to be developed by civil society actors on both sides to engage and to work together to change the very bleak reality that we are in today.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.