Tag Archives: Israel

Changing perspectives on Palestine

THINKING OF PALESTINE, the first thing that comes to most people’s mind is the conflict with Israel: a never-ending tale of occupation, rockets, settlements and protests. So, Not exactly what you would call an ideal holiday destination. Israel is (in quieter times) a popular holiday destination. Parties in Tel Aviv, religious and cultural monuments in Jerusalem, the Red Sea beaches in Eilat and an organized trip to the Dead Sea can form a very relaxing holiday.

It’s time to change that perspective. Because from time to time, I feel homesick to my favorite club/restaurant/swimming pool (all at the same  place) in Ramallah, the knafeh in Nablus and the scenic route from Ramallah to Jericho. Since the Lonely Planet offers very little information on tourist sites in Palestine, here’s my top 5.

(Please note that since visas to enter Gaza are very difficult to obtain, this top 5 consists solely of locations on the West Bank. I would also say this article should not be interpreted as an argument against visiting Israel or supporting any side of Israeli-Palestinian conflict: just that, it is important even in a war zone, to understand the beauty and culture which lie beneath. The importance of culturally significant or geographically beautiful areas becomes – if anything – more marked as the conflict continues.)

5. Jericho and the Dead Sea

Contrary to what one might think while taking the highway from Jerusalem, the Dead Sea is not bordering Israel, but Palestine. The ancient city of Jericho is closest to this salty sea with its cleansing mud — even though most of the access points to the sea are Israeli.  After floating in the Dead Sea, take a quick bite in downtown Jericho and then head to the lowest cable car ride in the world. The cable car takes you to the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus Christ is said to have resisted two of the Devil’s temptations during his forty days long fast. One of these entailed turning a stone into bread – this stone can be found inside the monastery and provokes strong emotions in many religious visitors. Underneath the cable car is another interesting stop: the archeological site of the oldest city in the world, as Jericho proudly proclaims itself. The remains of this ancient town date back around 20.000 years.

4. Eat knafeh in romantic Nablus

Cultural heritage has become subject to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The village of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills is one such example, the ruins of the Herodion just outside Bethlehem is another. When BuzzFeed published an article on the ‘17 most incredible desserts of the world’, its labeling of knafeh as an Israeli pastry, the delicious dessert became center of another cultural controversy. The Palestinian city of Nablus is famous across the Middle East for its knafeh – many argue it is the best there is. To label such a dessert as Israeli, is as close to treason as one can get in the eyes of a Palestinian. The heated debate over who made it first, does not make the cheesy pastry soaked in a sugar-based syrup, with its typical orange top layer, taste any less delicious. When wandering through the city’s narrow streets, several bakeries give you the chance to witness the baking of the pastry, and taste it when it’s still warm. The romantic vibes of Nablus are best enjoyed from the top of one of the surrounding hills. They provide you with an amazing view of the city and its surroundings. These include several Israeli outposts, which slightly damper the romance. Nonetheless, the view is almost as good as a fresh bite of warm knafeh. palestine6 3. Taste the revolution in Taybeh

When you visit Jericho from Ramallah, consider a stop at the small village of Taybeh. This small, quiet Christian village has amazing views of the hills of Palestine, but is also home to the only brewery in Palestine. The brewers, who named their beer after the village, are happy to give tourists a tour of their small brewery. They will proudly tell you the story of their company, which exports to several places around the world, including Germany. Struggles with importing ingredients and exporting the beer have not stopped this company from brewing several types of beer. The struggles of the brewers, as well as the Palestinian people as a whole, have inspired the beer’s slogan ‘taste the revolution’.

If you visit Palestine in October, don’t miss Taybeh’s very own Oktoberfest, and if you like to work up a sweat, try hiking in the hills around the village. Many other locations on the West Bank are perfect for a hike as well – and in some cases, organized hikes are arranged.

2. Feel the revolution in Hebron

Perhaps the most contested city in the West Bank is Hebron. The second largest city on the West Bank (only East Jerusalem has more inhabitants) is built around the Tombs of the Patriarchs, or the Cave of Machpelah, making it a holy city for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. In the heart of the city, a community of orthodox Jews causes a lot of tension with the Palestinian inhabitants. The darkest page in a history full of violent clashes between Jews and Muslims is the massacre that took place in 1994. As a result, the Jewish and Islamic side of the Cave of the Patriarchs are nowadays strictly divided and security is very tight.

Hebron, Palestinian side (close to Israeli settlement)

Hebron, Palestinian side (close to Israeli settlement)

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If you look close, you’ll see an Israely solgier guarding a settlement in the middle of Hebron, right to the mosque

Parts of Hebron’s old city center, including the main street (Shuhuda Street), are closed for the Palestinians. Any citizen of Hebron will have a personal story related to the conflict, one they’ll gladly share, in the spirit of what is often referred to as the Palestinian Cause (spreading the word of Palestinians suffering because of Israel).  The stories will be intense, but their determination to survive and make their best of the situation is thick in the vibrant, narrow streets of Hebron.

1. Party in Ramallah

After a trip to Hebron, one might feel the need for a nice, cold beer. The best place to enjoy a cold Taybeh, especially when you’re into dancing as well, is Ramallah’s al-Snobar. Named after the pine trees planted on the site, al-Snobar is a great place for swimming, food and dance. Although popular among the ‘internationals’ living in Ramallah for a few months, upper-class Palestinians also regularly find their way to the restaurant. The pine trees create the illusion that you’re far from the busy streets of Ramallah — even though the bar is located very close to the centre. When the music stops and the lights switch off, enjoy a final beer with the owner and his dog by the cosy fire plate.

Another great place for a beer, a bite to eat and a dance, is Beit Aneesa. When its owner, Aneesa, died, she supposedly left her house (‘beit’ in Arabic) to the municipality, along with the request to turn it into a place for Ramallah’s youth. Since both these sites are (partially) outdoors, they are only open during the summer season. Most of Palestine is Islamic. Restaurants owned by Muslims are more likely not serve alcohol, but in places like Taybeh and in the Christian part of Ramallah, beer and other alcoholic drinks are readily available. If you prefer your drinks a bit stronger than beer, try arak: a strong, distilled drink that turns into a milky substance when water is added. The aniseed-flavored drink is called the ‘drink of lions’ and its strength falls somewhere between 30 and 60 per cent.

Practical information

Getting there: Palestine does not have an airport – the one near Jerusalem was closed by Israel years ago. Accessing the West Bank, one can choose to fly to Tel Aviv, take a bus to Jerusalem and a group taxi to Ramallah. Another option is to fly to Amman and enter through the Allenby Bridge, or one of the other border crossings between Jordan and the West Bank. All of these are controlled by Israel, whose border patrol can be rather strict.

Getting around: The cheapest way to travel around the West Bank is by service: a yellow group taxi that leaves when it’s full. On Fridays and late in the evening, this could take some time – sometimes, passengers chip in for the empty seats if they’re in a hurry.

Currency: NewIsraeli Shekel (ILS). 1 euro equals 4.6 ILS.

Text and pictures by  Lisanne Oldekamp

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The Gaza talks: who’s who at the negotiation table?

ISRAEL AND THE Palestinians reach the end of their second cease-fire in two weeks. Civilians on both sides are nervous to see what is next. As representatives of both sides continue negotiations, the most important questions are: who are they representing, and what do they want?

Palestinian parties

Most of the media’s coverage of the negotiations focuses on Hamas. In part, this makes sense – since 2007, it is the ruling party in the Gaza Strip. It is, however, not the only Palestinian party at the negotiation table in Cairo. A few months ago, Hamas and Fatah reached an agreement regarding a unity government – the Palestinian Authority, therefore, is an important player in the negotiations. Furthermore, the Islamic Jihad, the second largest group in Gaza, is sitting in as well. This faction’s ties with Egypt are currently closer than those of Hamas, but more on that later.

Considering the number of casualties among Palestinians, it seems likely that Hamas is eager to stop the violence. But as shown in between the two cease-fires, and as pointed out by Israel time and again, the ruling party in Gaza appears to have no interest in a termination of their rocket firing. In fact, Hamas sticks to its demands: a complete end to the economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, including harbours, and a reopening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

The blockade started after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and gained control of the Gaza Strip. Since it was founded in 1987, Israel and most of its allies consider Hamas a terrorist organization. But as argued by Alaa Tartir in the Huffington Post, “[t]he Hamas of 2014 is dramatically different from the party of 1987 that penned a charter calling for the de facto rejection of Israel.” By participating in the 2006 elections, for example, Hamas acknowledged the Oslo Accords. Furthermore, its chairman Khaled Mash’al accepted a Palestinian state across the 1967 borders, thus indirectly recognizing the Israeli state.

Currently, Mash’al is pushing President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) so that charges can be made against Israel. However, Mash’al hereby risks an investigation into his own organization, which has also been accused of crimes against both Israeli and Palestinian citizens. Respectively, these are the firing of rockets into civilian areas, and using civilians as a human shield. Mash’al seems to be willing to take that risk.

Now that the political unity has been established, the Palestinian government is able to focus on other issues as well, such as travel opportunities for Palestinians with family members in each part of the Palestinian territories. Sources have confirmed that safe passage for civilians travelling between Gaza and the West Bank is part of the negotiations.

Israel

By not recognizing the evolution Hamas has gone through, Israel internally keeps in place an enemy that, according to polemologist Leon Wecke, plays an essential role in keeping the country together. “The Palestinian enemy plays an important role in creating a sense of cohesion in the country. It creates an opportunity to govern Israel despite large differences of opinion. Furthermore, the enemy provides part of a legitimation for the violence that is periodically unavoidable given the occupation and the nature of Israel’s government.”

Of course, current events only underline this enemy image Israelis have of Palestinians in general and Hamas in particular. The latest outburst of violence has shown that Palestinian militants are capable of entering Israeli soil through their tunnels – they managed to kill five soldiers on Israeli territory. Among Israeli civilians, this has increased the fear that at any moment, anywhere in the southern part of the country, armed militants can pop up like moles from the ground, shake off the dust and start a killing spree.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly stressed that Operation Protective Edge will not end until Israel is assured of a longer lasting end to rockets from the Gaza Strip. The Israelis will demand nothing less, but it is doubtful that Hamas will agree to disarming its militants. And although the Palestinians now have experienced that they are no match whatsoever to Israel militarily, they are as determined as they are united.

Egypt

Despite the recent change of regime, Egypt again stepped up as the prime negotiator – both cease-fires were drafted in Cairo. But are al-Sisi’s motives truly beneficial for both parties? Even before the Presidential elections in Egypt, Hamas toned down its connections with the Muslim Brotherhood – thus anticipating on the outcome of the elections. Despite these precautions, Hamas’ connections with Egypt quickly deteriorated after the new President was installed. In fact, it is safe to say that Egypt’s ties with Israel are currently closer than those with Hamas. However, al-Sisi cannot afford to lose all connections to parties on the Gaza Strip. Blogger and commentator Nervana argues that it is in the President’s interest to hold at least some grip on the Gaza Strip, but also to not have the burden of responsibility completely. Now that al-Sisi managed to host the negotiations in his capital, Nervana argues, any outcome is positive for the President. Obviously, if peace talks succeed, he can take the credit. But if negotiations fail, Egypt will not be held accountable, and al-Sisi might even be happy with a continuous occupation of the Gaza Strip by Israel.

“Sisi will not just blame Israel and Hamas for the failure of the talks; he will also happily watch Israel sink more into the Gaza swamp. Israel’s occupation of Gaza will actually be Egypt’s best possible outcome. It will relieve the Egyptian authority from the headache of who and how to run the Rafah border between Gaza and Sinai, and will be perfect for Sinai’s security by ending the smuggling of weapons and militants from Gaza.”

What’s next?

The first 72-hour cease-fire between Israel and Hamas had barely ended when the first rockets flew across the sky again, in that little corner of the Mediterranean coastline. Hamas fired rockets at cities in southern Israel such as Ashkelon, Israel’s response took the lives of numerous Palestinians. The current cease-fire ends by the end of the week. Sources in Cairo revealed to several media that there might be some progress in the negotiations. Israel supposedly agreed to meet the Palestinians half-way regarding their demands on the end of the blockade and widening the distance to which Gazan fishermen can sail out. However, as the end of the cease-fire comes closer (tonight at 21:00 local time), civilians on both sides can do nothing but hold their breath, wait and see.

 Written by Lisanne Oldekamp
Photo Credit: Robert Croma

Sources

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alaa-tartir/hamas-gaza-aid-conference_b_5661217.html

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/05/gaza-egypt-hamas-brotherhood-elections.html#

http://www.eurasiareview.com/10082014-cairo-talks-mediation-end-game-gaza-war-analysis/

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/ru/originals/2014/04/islamic-jihad-support-gaza-expense-hamas.html

http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/exclusive-hamas-pushes-abbas-join-icc-316559675

http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/easing-blockade-may-be-cards-1975299451

 

BBC gets off the fence with on-air Gaza appeal

THE WORLD RENOWNED pillar of impartiality, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), today took a radical step in their decision to broadcast an on-air appeal for donations to help the thousands affected by the conflict in Gaza.

An appeal on BBC Radio One – a station dedicated primarily to pop and chart music – went out this morning, interupting the regularly scheduled programming to discuss the severity of the crisis (which has left almost two thousand civilian fatalities in Palestine, 400 of which are children) and call for donations from Radio One listeners to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umberella organization consisting of 13 UK aid charities with the aim of dealing with international crises.

Read by popular Radio One DJ Scott Mills, the statement – according to the BBC website – was tailored specifically with the organizations requirement for impartiality in mind, rather than using a widely distributed message from DEC themselves. In what was a highly emotive segment, Mills outlined the severity and extent of the current crisis, which has forced half a million civilians in Gaza to flee their homes following heavy Israeli air strikes and rocket fire, and many of whom now live in unsafe, unhygienic and inhumane conditions as the offensive attacks continue.

The latter half of the appeal outlined the great help donations would bring in the form of aid to an area of conflict with already heinously overstretched medical and humanitarian resources. The broadcasts were also carried out on other stations and channels, including BBC Radio Four and television station BBC One.

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The broadcasts came after careful consideration from the corporation that it was inkeeping with their ‘charter obligation of due impartiality’. It was for these reasons that the BBC chose not to broadcast a similar appeal for Gaza in 2009, an inaction that sparked over 40,000 complaints. Speaking on the decision to appeal today, The BBC have outlined that:

“The disaster must be on such a scale and of such urgency as to call for swift international humanitarian assistance; the DEC agencies must be in a position to provide effective and swift humanitarian assistance at a scale to justify a national appeal; and, there has to be reasonable grounds for concluding that a public appeal would be successful”.

With this in mind, the decision of the organization was that this criteria in the case of Gaza has unequivocally been met, stating:

“The humanitarian need in Gaza has been widely acknowledged, including by the Israeli government, and the DEC has given assurances that aid can reach those who need it.”

This decision has been mirrored in other large broadcasting organizations, including Sky Television – who similarly declined to broadcast the DEC appeal in 2009. In light of the DEC’s campaign, the British Government have agreed to match public donations of up to two million pounds towards aid in Palestine.

The extent of the problems in Gaza are becoming increasingly apparent, and urgent, as evidenced with these formerly unheard of moves from large and impartial organizations such as the BBC – something which should not be taken lightly by their several million listeners across the UK and worldwide.

The disaster facing Palestinians is on a scale of such severity, and such urgency, that impartiality from media giants like the BBC can temporarily be put aside. The offensive attacks on Gaza and its civilians is relentless. The aid currently provided to help is not even close to enough.

If you would like to donate towards aid for the Gaza crisis through the DEC, and find out more on how your money can help, please click here.

Written by Rachel Barr
Photo Credit: United Nations Photo, slipstream JC

Just Eight Minutes…

Even as the conflict in Gaza sees no end, news stations are ready to move on. But that’s no reason for us to do the same. 

A couple of days ago, one summer evening in our cabin, the newscast presented eight minutes of the dramatic world situation. Eight minutes in, the host moved on to inform us of more or less completely unnecessary news. The kind of news I often find humiliating. Especially when there are more important issues worth knowing. This particular evening for instance, it detailed the beautiful weather in Norway, the explosion of ice cream sales, and a train stopping because of the heat. Far less important than the surrounding world in flames.

This past week, the documentary from 2008, ‘’Tears of Gaza’’ was broadcast on Norwegian TV. Sadly, the situation presented in the documentary, is the same today, if not worse. While watching, we witnessed frustration and hopelessness of what felt like constant bombing, endless deaths of innocent children and endless tears filled with hatred. Quite understandably, it can be hard to avoid the hatred that younger children develop under these circumstances. A boy who had lost his dad said: ‘’I hope God punishes Israel, Egypt, and everyone else who supports Israel’’. The same boy wanted to become a doctor when he grew up. He wished to cure injured in war. Back in 2008, we wished that the little boy never would have to experience another war. Unfortunately, by this point, he’s probably been through three wars all together.

That is if he lived through the first one…

That same night I had trouble sleeping. Usually, I am able to reflect upon an unfair situation, become frustrated, but then again feel glad that I am living the life I am. This night I could not help to think that I am too going to die one day, just like the children in Gaza. Maybe loving life the way I do eventually will feel like a waste. Even though my situation cannot be compared to those lives in Gaza, a sort of death anxiety came creeping up on me. The following night, the same channel showed another documentary on the tense situation in the Middle East. For many years, two TV channels were our only way to keep updated on what was going on in Norway and the rest of the world. This year, we decided to subscribe to newspapers, and organise an Internet connection. Suddenly, news became available, and it was almost a shame not to be updated. Usually, we are able to read heartbreaking articles, watch awful, disconcerting documentaries or listen to unbelievable sad interviews on the radio before we continue on with our life without any concerns. Sometimes we are disgusted at the news. At the same time it all happens at a distance, making it somewhat palatable. Thursday, however, I woke up doing the most natural thing when connected to Internet; check the newspapers and social media on my smart phone. Around the breakfast table the same morning, the terror threat towards Norway, was a delicate subject. Now, the dramatic situation was no longer at a distance.

News about the unbelievable weather, one or more happy rather unknown celebrity, and worries about being fit for the beach, has still remained in the headlines in addition to the terror threat. Some of us are always looking for a way to escape the reality, some seeking only news or advice that will make their day even better. Certain days, I can honestly say that I have done the same. This summer however, I have barely been able to go to bed without any concerns. There are too many terrifying things happening around the world and in our country at the same time. This makes the news — to me and presumably others — impossible to avoid.

The last couple of years, Norway has experienced disasters that have affected our people. Memories will always stay with us, but moving on is often vital to obtain the meaning of life no matter how hopeless it might feel. What we are experiencing in our country today as well as in the world, can make us revaluate our lives. Seize the day, hopefully everyday, and especially during these critical days. But, please do take time to engage in the world issues in between all the sunbathing and ice cream eating.

By Hanna Skotheim

Photo: Electonic Infitada

Palestine and Israel – has Europe sided with the executioners?


IT HARDLY COMES as a surprise when European and other Western countries in general fail to oppose the destructive use of force by one state against another. It does, after all, feed into the same reasoning people once used to justify colonialism: those with power should use it, simply because they can. The European powers and Ireland all abstained from voting this week on a UN Resolution to conduct an inquiry into the alleged war crimes taking place through what has been translated into English as “Operation Protective Edge” (although some sources suggest that a more accurate translation denotes a more offensive nature – “Operation Mighty Cliff”) – an ongoing military assault on Palestine by Israel, resulting in the deaths of 697 Palestinian civilians (256 of whom were women and children).

Let us make no mistake – war crimes have been inflicted by both Hamas and the Israeli state on one another. However, in the context of Palestine and Israel, we see a nation with a vastly superior military capacity reacting to provocations (sometimes intentional, sometimes inadvertent, and sometimes merely perceived) with a disproportionate level of force. Throughout this recent battle, the damage and loss of life on the Palestinian side substantially dwarfs the loss suffered by Israel – standing, on July 23rd, at 32 IDF soldiers and 2 civilians) with three quarters of the over 700 Palestinian fatalities (and growing) being civilians. Figures of those injured in Gaza exceed 4000.

Even former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright – a woman that once gave her whole-hearted support to the U.S blockade on Iraq – has criticized Israel’s ‘disproportionate military response in Gaza’. The conflict can be seen in almost an infinite number of lights – how we choose to view it depends entirely upon the sources we consult and the interpretations we believe.

However, when a state inflicts a destructive and inhumane level of force on the civilians of another region, our choice perhaps becomes clearer. As Howard Zinn once said, “in a world of executioners and victims, it is the job of thinking people not to side with the executioners”. Whatever Israel’s justifications for its actions are, and however valid they may be, we (as objective third parties) should be on one side and one side only: the side of humanity. It is not necessarily our position (as third-party bystanders) in this age-old conflict to be pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli. But when confronted with devastating loss of life and unspeakable war crimes, we must choose the side of humanity and take action to put an end to the forces that threaten it. If we are to take at face value the reasoning of the countries that abstained from voting on the UN Resolution, then we could accept that they held reservations due to the inquiry’s lack of impartiality. They believed the inquiry’s wording was heavily biased against Israel before any investigation had actually taken place.

Considering both Hamas’ and Israel’s role in the current segment of conflict, this would seem fair. However, many sources claim that there was nothing in the language of the Resolution to exclude Hamas from investigation . An explicit statement in the Resolution assuring Hamas would also be under scrutiny would not have hurt, of course. However, its absence does not seem sufficient to exclude any inquiry at all from taking place (particularly given the scale and nature of the crimes committed). Thus, the reasoning of the European and Western countries in withholding their support might better be explained by other factors.

Israel is a power to which Europe and the West can relate. In addition to its Western-friendly attitude and economy, its current position is one that might bring a touch of nostalgia to the diplomatic tables of Europe. Responding to resistance in occupied territories with brutal, debilitating force is a familiar trend in history textbooks. It was a rationale that characterised European powers in their imperialist and colonialist pursuits in the rest of the world. It is the same logic often deployed by habitual abusers: killing a fly with a sledgehammer is acceptable, so long as you possess a sledgehammer.

This line of reasoning fits well into a natural-selection view of the world – the fittest will survive, and the fittest deserve to survive. However, as independently thinking people, we should perhaps rise above the primitive nature of this reasoning. As laypeople not encumbered by national and historic prejudices to certain modes and habits of behaviour, we should begin attempting to develop a healthier and more balanced mentality towards excessive exertion of military force. We should also condemn Europe’s abstention from the vote on the inquiry (regardless of the fact that its indifference failed to stop the inquiry from launching forward).

Following the bloody and bitter history of colonialism and imperialism, Europe’s attitude towards this kind of dynamic should be one of shame, remembrance and regret, rather than one of implicit endorsement. After all, as Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” The bitter conflict in which the region has been embroiled for essentially as long as history can remember rages on – and it is unclear how exactly it will continue to unfold. Marwan Bishara of Aljazeera makes a startling observation: that “not one great power possessing superior firepower has won a war against a weaker, less organized, less professional resistance against occupation”.

However, in comparing the Israel-Palestine conflict to this fact, he may have underestimated Israel’s stake in the situation. Throughout history, most colonial powers did not fight their uprisings on home turf and thus had substantially less skin in the game. Israel, on the other hand, has everything to gain or lose in this conflict.

Can weak truly trump strong when both sides are fighting for all their lives? It remains to be seen.

Written by Sahar Shah
Picture Credit: Leftmedia

Education in Israel-Palestine: Breeding violence?

 

 

Al-Nakba 2012: Palestinians comemorate their departure from what is now Israeli territory. This Palestinian child holds the key to the house that once belonged to his family. It is common Palestinian practice to keep the keys to their lost houses, as a way to symbolize what they call "their right to return"

Al-Nakba 2012: Palestinians commemorate their departure from what is now Israeli territory. This Palestinian child holds the key to the house that once belonged to his family. It is common Palestinian practice to keep the keys to their lost houses, as a way to symbolize what they call “their right to return”

 

Violence is an ever-present factor in the lives of Palestinian Children, who are a common sight at Friday afternoon protests across the West Bank.  People are unable to shield their children from the occupation even if they try, argue Palestinian parents. But how can you explain a conflict as complicated as the one in Israel and Palestine to a school kid?

The complex history makes it difficult to find a starting point to the dispute which has been punctuated by wars and violent outbursts. As a result, this has created a confusing time line. Yet, education largely determines the children’s perception of the situation and has important implications for future developments in the conflict. Education has therefore been the subject of a number of research projects. The most recent of these, entitled ‘Victims of our own narratives? Portrayal of the ‘Other’ in Israeli and Palestinian Schoolbooks’, was presented last year.

Victims and perpetrators

It is perhaps easy to argue that, similar to other conflict zones, Israeli and Palestinian schoolbooks dehumanise each other and present themselves as the victims. But this stereotype is only partially true, as argued by last year’s study, conducted by a team of researchers led by Yale professor of Psychiatry Bruce Wexler. If mentioned, such dehumanisation was solely portrayed in relation to a concern over the other’s actions – such as “the violent efforts of Palestinians and other Arabs to destroy Israeli targets through violence” (Wexler 2013). Dehumanisation for the sake of it rarely occurred in the school books that were analysed.

Aside from condemning actions by demonising the other, researchers found that textbooks on both sides show trends of victimising the self (i.e. the nation, the people) and subsequently portraying the other as perpetrator. Furthermore, schoolbooks on both sides present the other not as an enemy protecting what it sees as its own homeland, but rather as seeking the destruction or domination of the ‘self’ and even “call for individuals in their communities to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice of life for the collective good” (Wexler 2013).

These narratives do not portray a falsified history, it is argued, but their opposing narratives about similar events and periods of time are primarily caused by a selective focus. An emphasis on ‘the other’ as an evil force aimed at destroying ‘the self’ is consistently present in school books on both sides of the conflict.

Protecting the homeland

Interestingly, neither side recognises or includes reference to each other’s territory in their textbooks. Thus, in Israeli school books there is no indication of the border with the occupied territories and Palestinian ones do not portray Israel as a geographical area.

This is partly because the territory of the ‘other’ is never identified as such, Wexler argues that both Israelis and Palestinians grow up with a “patriotic attachment to the whole land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea”. This will make any two-state solution a hard pill to swallow for both parties. By portraying Israel and Palestine as the same region, children are taught that any peace negotiation that creates a potential border on the territory means giving away part of their homeland. This will have an effect not only on the current peace negotiations, but also on those yet to come.

Building bridges

Despite a number of similarities in teaching materials regarding ‘the other’, the researchers also found differences between Israeli and Palestinian textbooks. Most notable is the distinction that is made between Israeli ultra-Orthodox and state schools. The latter create a more nuanced image of Palestinians and are more self-critical, both compared to Israeli Ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian schools. Such nuances and self-criticism are crucial in providing children with a realistic image of the conflict surrounding them.

The need for a more balanced image of the conflict is voiced by the two girls in the video below:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tv00xjClbx0&feature=youtube_gdata_player

 

Although the situation could be worse, both Israeli and Palestinian school textbooks do not portray the other in a nuanced way. They miss an opportunity of bringing children from both sides closer together as well as fostering a mutual understanding of the other’s identity, wishes and hopes.

Schools could be the place to build bridges towards a better – more peaceful – future, but currently, they don’t.

By Lisanne Oldekamp

Photo by Lisanne Oldekamp (2012)

Middle Eastern violence in education – A German perspective

Haifa University

The German media is not overloaded with news, information and facts concerning violent attacks on educational institutions in the Middle East. The most recent articles in German newspapers are from 2013 and deal mainly with the Syrian crisis. Within the topic of Syria the media actually reports on attacks on universities.

The online newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine said in one of their reports: “Dead people after attack at university of Damascus”. This aims to inform that the Syrian conflict reached the capital Damascus long ago. After pointing out the number of dead students, 15 in total, the article blames the Arab League, which supposedly encourages any possible confrontation within the country. Two thirds of the article reports on international relations between Syria and countries such as Russia, which criticised the actions of the Arab League, and Turkey that deports refugees after riots. Conclusively the actual topic referring to the attack on Damascus’ university is embedded in the general Syrian crisis and, perhaps, would not have been reported without a powerful event such as the on-going crisis and the revolution.

Further research about the attacks on educational institutions in the Middle East lead away from articles to websites such as Human Rights Watch. The announcements on this website in November 2013 focus on stopping the military use of schools in conflict areas. The announcement by the non-governmental organisation published a video on this topic in six different languages. The video shows in what way children are seriously affected by the military use of their schools. The message on the homepage elaborates that the occupants turn the schools into prisons, training camps and depots for weapons. The video and announcement was published on the International Day of Children Rights.

A small poll among some German students who spent considerable time in one or more Middle Eastern countries say that the topic in Germany is under-represented. One of them is Alex, a German student in political science, who has been to the Middle East three times already. Two times in Israel for a student exchange in 2007 and 2008, the third time Alex stayed for half a year to study in Israel’s city Haifa in 2012/2013. During his third stay he also visited parts of Egypt and Jordan. Friends told him about the rocket attacks in 2006. “The university in Haifa lies on a 470 metre high hill and on not cloudy days you can actually see the Lebanon. As I was told you could recognise the rockets very early when you had been round the university round this time”, Alex says. These rockets did not reach the university but in the past it has been evacuated and the lecture program has been stopped. While the situation is almost ‘normal’ for the Israeli students most of the foreign students are face a scary situation and many of them return to their home countries. There is no university in Israel where you are safe in terms of rocket attacks.

During Alex’ semester abroad the operation “Pillar of Defence” took place. In November 2012 the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a campaign going against terror targets in Gaza. It was claimed the IDF were responding to increased rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. The intention was to destroy any terror organisations in the Gaza Strip, the second goal was to defend the Israeli civilians who were mainly living under fire. Alex tells that he and others realised people have been more tense during this time as numerous people thought another invasion of the Gaza strip was imminent. “During this time several Israeli students have been drawn in by the military, which established a circle around the Gaza strip. The people were afraid of attacks and after a bus attack in Tel Aviv the fears proved to be true. For the very first time, Hamas held rockets of a range that were able to reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Therefore the universities of these two cities sounded the highest alarm.”

Several people started to demonstrate for the attacks of  Hamas. “Even at my university”, Alex remembers. “It is embarrassing that also German were among the objectors.” Only one day later counter demonstrations took place which were meant to support the civilians of the South and to express solidarity.

Alex says that the Palestinians tend to build and place their rocket positions in Gaza in civil institutions, often in educational institutions such as schools. By these actions they intend to protect themselves from attacks by the Israeli military. “Mostly the people are safe inside schools or universities as the IDF is keen to avoid civilian victims.”

However, the topic only attracts a small amount of attention. In Alex’s opinion the focus is more on the “military-strategic events than the conflict itself and how the population deals with the attacks”.

The above mentioned articles in German media are not the sole ones but they give an insight to the attitude within the media. The reports, news and information concerning attacks aimed at educational institutions in the Middle East remain under-reported and are often only covered as part of a wider crisis.

By Maria Wokurka

Picture credit: Michael Privorotsky