Peace is possible for all in the Holy Land

The contradictions of worship show an IDF soldier with machine guns and a Muslim young lady worshipper at one of Islam’s holiest sites the Dome of the Rock seen in the background. Joseph Glatzer / Contributing reporter

I just spent three weeks in Israel, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, and the West Bank. Many of my preconceived notions were challenged and discarded. I learned about people’s daily lives by staying with both Israeli and Palestinian families.

I left the Holy Land with more hope for peace than I ever had before.

One of the people I met was a young Israeli Navy veteran who agreed with a settlement freeze, and cited settlements as a main obstacle to peace.

In Jerusalem’s Old City I met an Israeli Army veteran at a Christian Palestinian owned restaurant and bar. He said he wasn’t a bad person and that he and his friends didn’t do any of the bad things mentioned in the Goldstone Report. I told him I believe him and that I know Israeli soldiers aren’t bad people. It’s the commanders who are responsible for giving unjust orders.

I continued, “I rode on an Israeli bus to Jerusalem. I met good decent people, none of whom deserved to die.” I added that I cried when I watched “Schindler’s List,” just like I’ve cried watching documentaries about Palestinians. He must’ve never heard an American with a keffiyah sympathize with Jewish suffering.

Letting his guard down, he remarked that he wouldn’t join the Army again if he could go back, “It’s not because I don’t support Israel. I just don’t want to risk my life for the people running this country that don’t represent me and my friends.”

He conceded the Separation Wall had to fall and the Occupation was unjust. I remarked, “I’m amazed how much more reasonable and open-minded the Palestinians and Israelis like you I’ve met on this trip are, compared to the people I know at my school.”

He explained, “It’s because we have to live here with each other and deal with the consequences, the people in the US don’t.” An hour of heartfelt conversation and a few beers later, we exchanged Facebooks and made a pact to only talk about peace from now on.

I was also able to march with hundreds of Israelis to Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem in support of Palestinian families living in tents outside the homes they were kicked out of by settlers.

The 120 “settlements” in the West Bank are Israeli cities built on Palestinian land captured in the Six Day War of 1967. They are home to 480,000 settlers.

Having had the chance to drive through the East Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev, I saw the inequality firsthand. Anees, a Palestinian resident of the East Jerusalem city of Beit Hanina, told me he’s required to pay taxes to Israel.

But, the money pays for manicured lawns and public pools in the settlement next door while his neighborhood’s roads crumble and garbage goes uncollected. I think “no taxation without representation” is a concept Americans understand well.

These settlements are illegal under international law: the transfer of an occupying power’s civilian population into occupied territory is a violation of Article 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Palestinian life is disrupted on a daily basis by the 227 checkpoints and 541 other obstructions to freedom of movement in the West Bank.

In trying to leave Ramallah for Jerusalem, I got stuck in the Qalandia checkpoint for two and a half hours. Palestinians in Ramallah aren’t allowed to enter Jerusalem without rarely granted written permission from Israel.

Inside the checkpoint’s cage, I met Osama Jamil M. Al-Bast, a Director General in the President’s office of the Palestinian Authority. He showed me his one day permission slip

for Jerusalem to attend an official meeting with European Union diplomats. I was next to him when the call that he missed the meeting came in.

He told me that once you’re in the second cage of the checkpoint you can’t go back. So, he had to wait another half hour before he could go through just to turn around again.

Being in a checkpoint was degrading, humiliating, and infuriating. I knew I would get through, but I still felt imprisoned and helpless. Checkpoints cause children to be late for school and students to miss exams.

In 2008 Nahil and Muayad Abu Rideh’s baby died stillborn due to a forty minute delay at a checkpoint. Sixty-six Palestinians have died since 2000 due to Israeli-imposed delays in receiving medical care at checkpoints (B’tselem).

Upon finally making it back to Jerusalem, I took a taxi to the bus station. I was still fuming from my checkpoint ordeal, and the Israeli driver told me, “The checkpoints are there to make the Palestinians leave Palestine. The only one that cares for the people here is God. Only God can make peace.”

These Israeli government policies don’t represent every Jew throughout the world or what’s in the hearts of most Israelis. The people are way ahead of their leaders on this.

Everywhere I went, I found that people want the same things: the ability to earn a decent living, to be treated with respect, and hope of a better future for their children. Peace is possible.

  • sam

    The separation barrier is a sad but necessary reality of Israel. Since the separation barrier has been erected the number of suicide bombings in Israel have dropped significantly. The inconvenient check points are necessary for the same reasons. Also, the palestinians have proven that occupation is not the issue, as Israel vacated all of Gaza several years ago only to be met with thousands of rockets being fired into Israel. Why would any sane Israeli advocate giving back the West Bank? So it can be taken over by Hamas and used as another base for missile attacks?

  • Thank you for visiting Israel and Palestine, for exploring and writing honestly. I lived in Ramallah for three years and traveled all over the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel, and my experiences match yours exactly. I came away with much more hope for peace. Our leaders continue to bitterly disappoint us (Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans), but for the most part, the hearts of the people are in the right place.

    Even those on both sides whose racism and ignorance are breathtaking — I’ve seen these people change with my own eyes as they learned and saw more about the other side. I’m writing a book now (Fast Times in Palestine that attempts to replicate this process for people who can’t or won’t travel to the region. Hopefully, piece by piece, we can get to peace.

    Politically, things are an abject mess, but on a personal level, peace has never been closer. It’s getting harder and harder to deny the Palestinians’ humanity, and the defenders of Israel’s most damaging and unjust policies are becoming more shrill and more obviously on the wrong side of history.

  • Leona

    It’s really nice to see that people still care, people like you bring back hope. People need to know and understand the other side. US is so consumed and obsessed with Israel they often forget the other side. It is brave of you to write about this since it is such a controversial issue. it is time things like this be heard and for this to not be so taboo. It’s sad that Israelis themselves know that they are wrong, and yet no one can do anything.

  • “unPC” Hsve you ever been to the Middle East or even talked to or met a Muslim or Palestinian in your life? If the answer is no I don’t think you are qualified to say what all Palestinian Arabs will or will not accept.

  • unPC

    You’re crazy if you think Palestinian Arabs will accept any scenario that involves Israeli “infidels” still living in the Middle East. The Koran forbids it:

  • motasem melhem

    i belive that the israeli forces wont be stoped unless the big contries protecting israel order it to stop violating palestinians rights, bcause israel wont do it alone.