Youth Dialogue

Youth Views: Minutes away but worlds apart

by Noa Epstein and Abed Eriqat, CG News, 05 June 2008

“The fact is that our future well-being, our pursuits of normalcy, dignity and happiness, are intertwined. For each of us, our future depends on defending the vital interests of our nations while not feeding the collective anxieties of our neighbour.”

Tel Aviv/West Bank – When you live ten minutes away – but worlds apart – from one another, you can still learn essential things about each other, even after five years of friendship and countless hours spent together.
Abed and I spent over a week travelling together in the United States to promote our Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programme to Americans. During this time we discovered many new things about each other, as well as about the conflict that governs our daily lives. Most of all, we discovered that dialogue – even among committed peace activists like ourselves – can reinforce our common ground and our conviction in the viability of peace between our nations.
We met five years ago at a summer camp in the United States that brings together Arab and Jewish children to learn about each other and about peace. After the camp was over, our friendship continued and two years ago we established an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programme for young professionals.
We spent dozens of hours planning and organising intensive seminars for Israeli and Palestinian students. We discussed politics over cappuccino in Israel and while sipping Arabic cardamom coffee in the West Bank. We helped Israeli and Palestinian students draft recommendations for peace negotiators and organise joint rallies. We continued to gain new insights and enjoy our extensive conversations while travelling across the United States.

I, Noa, was moved when I heard my Palestinian friend, Abed, explain that for him, working with Israelis like myself to advocate for peace is a form of “resistance” to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Abed grew up throwing stones at Israeli soldiers in the little village of Abu Dis in the West Bank – just a short drive from my home in West Jerusalem. That was the form of resistance that his friends valued, and when he got involved in dialogue with Israelis, some of his peers shunned him. On campus, Hamas activists posted placards depicting him as a traitor who prematurely normalizes relations with Israelis. But for Abed, a Palestinian patriot, engaging with Israeli partners for peace is a more constructive form of resistance.
For me, Abed, taking this trip with Noa reinforced the notion that her empathy and compassion for my people ought not be confused with her determination that Israel remain a Jewish, democratic state, one that cannot allow an unlimited return of Palestinian refugees. Noa is a loyal Israeli, and she wants to build a home in a secure and strong Israel – both in the physical and moral sense. I believe in the moral right of Palestinians to return to their homes, especially those who were displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948. Yet I recognize that the full implementation of this right is unrealistic, and that insisting on it would be a recipe for perpetual conflict.
This trip inspired both of us, and we were touched by Americans’ strong support for our win-win message. Some were surprised at the notion that Israelis have a national security interest in securing the wellbeing of an independent Palestinian state, and that Palestinians have an equally vital collective interest in a secure, confident Israel. The fact is that our future well-being, our pursuits of normalcy, dignity and happiness, are intertwined. For each of us, our future depends on defending the vital interests of our nations while not feeding the collective anxieties of our neighbour.
I, Noa, was delighted to receive an invitation from Abed to attend his wedding later this summer. It’s hard to believe that the young man I met as a teenager years ago is starting a family. I am happy for him. I know, though, that when I cross the concrete wall that separates Jerusalem from Abu-Dis on my way to the wedding, I will think about the reality in which Abed’s children, and mine, will grow up. Will they be sucked into this ongoing violent conflict? Or will they also be trying to rally their friends – like the two of us – to create a constituency for peace?
We hope that our children won’t have to do either. Our dialogue programme for political activists – modest as it may be – urges youth to demand and sustain a future peace agreement between our nations. By expanding the programme (we already have long waiting lists for upcoming dialogue sessions), we may provide our children with a new environment in which friendship is a result of peace, rather than a means to achieve it.

* Noa Epstein, an Israeli student, and Abed Eriqat, a Palestinian lawyer, are the co-directors of Peace Now’s Youth Dialogue programme. Peace Now is Israel’s oldest and largest peace movement. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
Source: Common Ground News Service, 3 June 2008, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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