It was the eve of Israel's National Day of Remembrance for the soldiers killed, commemorated throughout the country with sirens and solemn ceremonies. The trip came at a time of weekly large demonstrations against the far-right government and Netanyahu's judicial reform: a reform designed to give the new government greater power over the judiciary, over the Supreme Court. At the same time, far-reaching measures are planned, and some have already been passed, to make life more difficult for Palestinians in Israeli-occupied Palestine. These include authorising settlers to take more land and build more settlements. The trip also took place at a time of increasing violence: Rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, bombardments of Gaza by the Israeli military as well as acts of violence with several deaths in various places in Palestine, but also in Israel.
And yet: all our programme points or visits and talks could be carried out without problems in a safe atmosphere. We started our trip with a visit to the new ANU Museum (formerly Diaspora Museum) in Tel Aviv. Whereas in the past the emphasis was primarily on the history of Judaism with a focus on persecution through the centuries as well as the pogroms and the Shoah, today the focus is on the current living situation of Jews in many countries of the world. Diversity and cultural richness are presented in an exciting and vivid way.
The following day, we were excited about the Joint Memorial Ceremony: 15,000 people participated in person in the park in Tel Aviv, 300,000 people online. Besides musical and lyrical contributions, the personal stories of those affected were impressive and emotional. Jewish-Israeli as well as Palestinian relatives of victims called for reconciliation and an end to violence and occupation. "As human beings, we share the same pain. And if we see each other, meet and talk, perhaps the flames of hatred will be extinguished and space will be created for a little reconciliation and life," said for example Yuval Sapir, in memory of his sister Tamar. A great event!
Rana Salman from the schwelle project partner Combatants for Peace reported on the current activities of her organisation: "Freedom School, a project for young Israelis and Palestinians, which is also funded by the EU, is a great success!” More Palestinians than Israelis have registered for the current course and not all of them could be accepted for the new course. Rana is particularly pleased that young people from Nablus and Jenin have also registered, as many young men have recently become radicalised there. Rana hopes that the training in non-violent resistance to the occupation will also have an impact on the young people in this region.
The organisation's activists travel a lot in the Jordan Valley, where houses and even whole villages are repeatedly destroyed after demolition orders and CfP helps with the reconstruction. Humanitarian aid is one thing, political public relations work is another. With Usama, a member of CfP, we travel to the Jordan Valley, a region where Israel makes life very difficult for Palestinians and Bedouins. We drive from Bethlehem to Jericho: The well-built highway via Jerusalem into the Jordan Valley is taboo for us, as we are travelling with Palestinians in a Palestinian vehicle. We have to take serpentine roads through the Wadi Narr, which, although under Israeli responsibility (Area C, Israeli military administration responsible for everything), are not in good condition. But they are the only way to reach the Palestinian villages.
The Jordan Valley is the largest water area and agricultural land in Palestine, with the large greenhouses belonging to Israeli settlers. There are five springs around Jericho, four of which are in Area C. The 60,000 Palestinians can use 20% of the water, 80% is reserved for the 11,000 settlers. "Controlling water is controlling live". We see a village – a collection of tin shacks - where in a night-time action CfP and 200 activists have built a school and a children's playground so that 350 children no longer have to walk miles to Jericho. The Israeli military administration threatens to demolish the school and the whole village. A lawyer has been receiving money every month for a long time to extend the delay for the demolition order each time, as a judgement has been pending for a long time. Court decisions are generally delayed. And we see destroyed houses in the barren area below Mount of Temptation, rolled down by the Israeli army. It is a depressing view.
Our tour in Hebron is even more haunting: there we have an appointment with Becca from Breaking the Silence. Hebron is divided into two zones: H1 and H2. Hebron 1, with about 230,000 Palestinians the second largest city in Palestine, is where most of the Palestinians live, but a few thousand live in H2, where about 800 settlers also live. Part of this area, the old business district, is Ghosttown, shuttered shops and houses. In the other parts, life is made very difficult for Palestinians by checkpoints and harassment, sometimes forcing them to take long detours. The settlers of Hebron in H2 demonstrate their control and do not hide their aggression towards Palestinians as well as tourists.
In Bethlehem we visited Dar al Kalima University, whose president Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb is also known to many in Germany. After the Dar al Kalima College started in 2010 with a few alternative vocational trainings, it has become a university with many departments in the following years. The vivid life of the young people is immediately noticeable when you enter the campus. Our conversation with Mitri was mainly about the question of 'hope and confidence of the young generation' in the face of the renewed spiral of violence in the Palestinian territories. We were pleased and impressed by the vibrancy and positive vibrancy of the young people on campus and in the spaces. Dar al Kalima has extended its services to Gaza: there it is very important to give hope and offer a good education. The Dar al Kalima College in Gaza is housed in a very beautiful old house, where young women and men are taught together. Especially the young people are inquisitive, well acquainted with the media and have a lot of creativity.
We also used our trip to meet our 2019 award winners Women wage peace: Angela tells us that the 'Call of the mothers' is now very widespread and is especially widely used on social media. Women wage peace is also part of the broad democracy movement protesting against Netanyahu's so-called judicial reform. The national-religious forces want to restrict women's rights, many measures against women are already being implemented in the religious communities. Angela reports that there is now also an official Palestinian partner organisation to WWP: 'Women of the sun'! We visited this organisation later in Beit Jala. The Palestinian women of this still quite new organisation have become very active, because the fight for women's rights in Palestinian society is not easy in view of the occupation situation and needs a lot of courage. They want to cooperate with 'Women wage peace' Israel, but also demand a joint struggle against the occupation. WWP is planning a big march all over Israel on 4 October with international participation.
We stopped by Wi'am, the Centre for Nonviolent Conflict Management in Bethlehem: The Wi'am Centre with its director Zoughbi Alzougbhi has been working professionally in the field of conflict counselling and conflict facilitation for many years. Zoughbi himself is a trained Sulha facilitator. Sulha is a widespread traditional Arab conflict mediation, which is still widely used in Palestine in particular. Decades of Israeli occupation and humiliation also lead to internal social escalations and domestic violence. Zoughbi says that it is very important to deal with the intra-societal conflicts. Of course, they are also fighting against the occupation, but to be able to lead the non-violent resistance properly, the conflicts in their own society must also be dealt with. Zoughbi told us that there is still hope in Palestinian society and points to examples such as South Africa, Northern Ireland or the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification in Germany.
Our trip to our partners and other friendly organisations showed us how important it is to support peace work in Israel and Palestine: Unfortunately, the courageous examples of these initiatives are presented far too rarely in our media. We see it as our task to strengthen and support the peace efforts. Peace without justice is not real peace, and this includes a life in freedom - without occupation.