PEACE in Action

Peace in the Holy Land Is Possible

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Peace in the Holy Land Is Possible
Peace in the Holy Land Is Possible

In October 2005, I traveled to Israel-Palestine with the Israeli Coalition Against House Demolitions (ICAHD-UK). Since my pre-war trip to Iraq, I had become a full-time peace activist, and I sought to learn more about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. I believe this conflict to be the heart of much of the violence in the Middle East. I will give an overview of my visit to Palestine and explain why I believe that, despite the violence and seeming hopelessness, we can still plant the seeds for peace.

Our first stop was Bethlehem, where I first saw the wall. Upon entry to the city, one is faced with a checkpoint surrounded by armed soldiers and a 10- meter (over 11 yards) tall concrete wall with writing on it much like the Berlin Wall. The wall encroaches well into the West Bank, and is meant to be twice the size of the 1967 borders. The International Court of Justice deemed it illegal in 2004. The wall splits families, as well as employees from the places of their work. Israel claims this wall is solely for security, but if that were the case, why would it need to extend well into the West Bank?

In Bethlehem, I also visited the Hope Flowers Elementary School, which focuses on democracy and peace education. However, there is a demolition order on this school due to an encroaching Israeli settlement.

At the Dheisheh Palestinian Refuge Camp, Palestinians live in rundown metal shacks. Compare these shacks to the extensive nearby Jewish settlement, which has swimming pools and access to water 24 hours a day; the Palestinians living in this camp have access to water only once a month in the summers.

Hebron, a city surrounded by an Israeli settlement, is another example of massive human rights violations. The news always depicts Palestinian children throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. Well, in Hebron, the Christian Peacemaker Team escorts Palestinian children to school because the Israeli settlers throw rocks at them. The marketplace has a net above it to catch debris because the settlers also sling their trash right onto the marketplace.

Upon traveling to the Upper Galilee, we saw the remains of the Suhmata village massacred by the Israeli military in 1948. The only building left standing was a church. Every year Israeli human rights activists and surviving villagers hold a ceremony to commemorate the village’s destruction.

Finally, I would like to discuss the situation in Jerusalem, a city holy to all three Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Judaism and Christianity). First, I will tell the story of Salim Shawamreh, whose house was demolished four times on his own land. Salim paid the $5,000 required to build a house, but was constantly turned down for reasons like sloping land. The fourth time, the house was rebuilt as the Beit Arabiya Peace Center with the assistance of ICAHD; it remains standing today. However, in East Jerusalem, 10,000 Palestinian homes now face demolition orders. Salim echoed my feelings about the connection between Israel and Palestine by stating, “In the end, what is good for the Palestinians is good for the Israelis.”

In Jerusalem much of the conflict is centered around the Temple Mount, for there you have the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa Mosque, both sites second in their holiness to Mecca and the Wailing Wall. Palestinians must have a permit to visit Jerusalem, and fewer than one percent are able to obtain such a permit. Many Jews do not feel safe or comfortable worshiping on the Temple Mount because they do not have a place of worship there. Some of the Jews proclaim that in order to rebuild the temple of Solomon, they would have to tear down the Dome of the rock or Al-aksa. However, it is obvious that there is a large gap between the two mosques. So why does one have to tear down another place of worship?

Despite all the violence and despair, I believe that the Israelis and Palestinians can live together in harmony. Even though being able to coexist in one state is ideal, a two-state solution can be the first step in this process. Both Israelis and Palestinians could have their own state and coexist peacefully through a two-state solution under the following conditions:

  • Israel is ensured protection and security in return for offering a viable Palestinian state.
  • Return to pre-1967 borders.
  • Both Israel and Palestine are viable states with control of their own resources and borders. For example, as it stands now, Israel controls the major water sources.
  • Creation of a European Union-style passport allowing for both Israelis and Palestinians to remain citizens of their own states, but be able to travel, live and work freely throughout Israel and Palestine. This would also allow for Israel to remain a Jewish state.
  • Israeli settlers already living within the pre-1967 borders of Palestine can remain in their own homes if they choose and still be considered citizens of Israel, but they would be living in Palestine and thus subject to Palestinian laws.
  • No one should be forcefully uprooted; instead, refugees could be offered comparable compensation or new homes in Palestine just as any Israeli settlers who have been forcefully uprooted should be compensated and offered new homes in Israel.
  • Both Jews and Muslims must be allowed to worship freely and safely along the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount should be controlled by an International Governmental Organization, such as the United Nations, not by Muslim or Jewish security forces.
  • If the Temple of Solomon is rebuilt, it could stand between the Al-Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock as proposed by Tel Aviv architect Tuvia Sagiv.

Ultimately, with these steps taken, peace between Israel and Palestine could become a reality. However, to make it work, both sides must put basic human rights first, and look at the human faces behind the conflict. Only then can we have a just and viable peace in the Holy Land.

Joy Johnson is President of the Wake County Chapter (Raleigh, North Carolina) of the United Nations Association-United States of America.

pot shot
Special thanks to Ashleigh Brilliant
(Brilliant Enterprises; 117 W. Valerio St.; Santa Barbara, CA 93101 USA)
for permission to use his Pot-Shots postcards.

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