Tag Archives: Palestine

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)


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

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.


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.


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









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.


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

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:




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)

Sharon’s Legacy: A Conflict of Opinions

The death of Israeli leader Ariel Sharon this week has polarized opinion across the globe concerning his lifetime. Divisive even today, Pandeia explores through two unique viewpoints how 
Sharon’s legacy lives on most fiercely through the young people in both Israeli and Palestinian communities.

To many Israelis, Ariel Sharon was ‘The Bulldozer’ – a heroic warrior, leading decisive military campaigns in the 1967 and 1973 wars.

But to many Palestinians he was The Butcher, who laid siege to Beirut and was responsible for the deaths of at least 800 civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982.

It was this stark dichotomy that was repeated throughout the day of his death on Twitter.

While the views of political leaders from around the world were heard:


The journalist at the forefront of the NSA controversy Glenn Greenwald quickly set the tone for much of the anti-Sharon Twitter discourse.


While some focused on the role on the media in enhancing what they saw as a tarnished legacy.


However, regardless of the world’s reaction to his death, it is the next generation of Israeli and Palestinians that will feel the effects of Sharon’s actions most fiercely.

It is with this thought that we start our first theme for 2014: Conflict. In a two part series, Lisanne Oldekamp and Sofie Ejdrup Larsen examine the lives of the young people on both sides of the Gaza conflict with very divergent conclusions.

In Lisanne’s article, The Singing Rocket, the problems Palestinian children face on a day to day basis is juxtaposed with the arrival and hope shown by a new star, Mohammed Assaf winner of the 2013 edition of Arab Idol.

Last year Palestinian children got the chance to see that demonstrating, hunger striking, and stone throwing are not the only ways to get their message across. Next to the many posters of martyrs in the village, the poster of a new hero, alive and kicking, has become a common feature in the streets of Palestine.

From the other side of the Gaza Strip, Sofie’s article An Army of Kids looks at the militarisation of Israeli youth and the potentially damaging effect this is having on their upbringing and overall world view.

Since everybody has to do it, doing one’s military service is generally perceived as a ‘collective duty’ by the Israelis and has become a more or less integrated part of most people’s lives. Like one of our sources, a soldier in the Marine Corps, stated: “I feel like it’s my turn to watch over the others back. They did it for me then, now it’s my turn. I can defend myself with my gun, but how are the old people gonna defend themselves?”

As our first two ‘Conflict’ articles depict, however Ariel Sharon’s past is remembered, it is the future of both communities that means the most to the young people of the Middle East.

The Singing Rocket

The young people of Palestine have found quite a number of ways to champion their struggle but as Lisanne Oldekamp investigates, none have been quite so effective as the peaceful story of one man and a talent contest.

It’s a sunny Friday afternoon, shortly after midday prayers. On the central square of Nabi Saleh, a group of people awaits the arrival of the villagers that attended the service in the village mosque. It’s a warm day in May, yet most wear scarves. As the inhabitants of the small, hillside village enter the square, journalists jump into action mode, foreigners look on with nervous faces and several men pick up their megaphones. After some loud speeches have warmed up the crowd, the people start walking. Most protesters wear proper footwear that allows for a quick escape. Passing posters of fellow villagers that have died in similar protests, it is the sturdy young children that lead the way. Down the road, around the corner at the gas station – where a sense of nervousness shivers through the less experienced part of the group as scarves are tightened across the face to protect the lungs. After a few hundred meters, the anticipated clash with the military takes place. Stones are thrown, tear gas grenades shot back. The young children that walked in front of the demonstration run back – but never far. The adrenaline makes them giggle as they appear to turn things into a game: who is the bravest, who stands their ground the longest, who throws the biggest stones?

The Palestinian population is young. In 2012, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), children aged 0 to 15 made up over 40% of the population. Despite the relatively stable status quo the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in since the Second Intifada (with exception of the frequent outbursts of violence in Gaza), these children continue to grow up surrounded by violence. The weekly demonstrations against the occupation in villages all across the West Bank have become an almost normal part of their life. Tear gas thickens not only the air of the fields surrounding the village, but of the streets and in the houses of the village as well. Often, the protesters are chased down the streets of their village and arrested in their own homes. Fathers, brothers, uncles, even mothers are being arrested in front of the children’s eyes and nightly house searches further diminish the children’s feeling of home as a safe haven. Between the posters of the martyrs, praised for their bravery and sacrifice, and the weekly demonstrations, attended by so many villagers and supported by international activists, it seems likely that Palestinian children create a disturbed perception of violence.

If this perception of cause-and-effect becomes the only discourse in the children’s mindset, they might become the generation to start the Third Intifada. But as the conflict continues to remain in a dead-lock, activists need to turn to more creative methods to reach the headlines. Palestinian children got the chance to see that demonstrating, hunger striking, and stone throwing are not the only ways to get their message across last year. Next to the many posters of martyrs in the village, the poster of a new hero, alive and kicking, has become a common feature in the streets of Palestine.

A story worth retelling
It was the American Dream times a thousand. It took an aspiring singer — the son of a refugee family — two days to join a singing competition and a lot of pleading with reluctant border patrol to allow him to enter Egypt, where auditions were held in a hotel. Upon arriving at the hotel, he stumbled across a line of thousands of people with the same goal he had: to be part of this competition, and thus have a shot at becoming a professional singer. By jumping over a wall, he at least made it into the hotel – where he was told he was too late to enter the competition. Desperate not to go back after all his effort, he asked a friend what he should do. The friend kindly offered him his place in the auditions: “You came all the way from Palestine. Besides, I know I won’t reach the finals, but you will. Take my place.” A few months later, Mohammed Assaf from Gaza was the first Palestinian to win Arab Idol.

Mohamad Assaf (nicknamed ‘The Rocket’) is, without a doubt, Palestinian of the year 2013. His songs and shy, polite appearance stole the hearts of the Arab world and beyond. With Assaf, Gaza has its own Justin Bieber – without the bad behavior and sex/drugs/drinking scandals. His pretty brown eyes and friendly smile and of course his warm singing voice have accomplished what Palestinian politicians thus far could not manage: to unify the Palestinian people. Internationally, he managed to create a headline regarding Palestine that did not involve violence, rockets or the occupation. Although that’s not to say the headlines themselves didn’t still refer to a troubled past: ‘Finally, Palestinians  have reason to celebrate’ or ‘First good news for Palestinians in years’. Assaf quickly became a welcome advocate of the Palestinian people and their cause: a singer whose music touched many, a youngster with bright, thought-through quotes. Its hard not to feel glad that he was such a polite, civilized man: it would be hard to believe that this singer could be a terrorist. And perhaps that is what served the Palestinian people most: he became someone people could relate to, his appearance and actions did not match the common stereotypes of Palestinians.

As Mohammad Assaf would later say on a Dutch TV show: “The media always link Palestine with problems and violence. They forget those other, beautiful stories that can be told of us [Palestinians]. If only the media would make an effort, they would discover creative people that love life.”

A new role model

Through winning Arab Idol, Mohammad Assaf has done just that — he reached the international headlines because of his singing, a talent unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, the ‘Nightingale of Palestine’ does have a clear message on the matter: Palestinians in Gaza and on the West Bank must overcome their differences and form a unified front against the occupation of their land. During the competition, he became much more than a singing refugee. He became the embodiment of Palestinian nationalism,  and used the stage to “represent Palestine in its beautiful image”. Not only has Assaf given the world a new, fresh image of Palestine – he has also shown the young people of Palestine that there are different, more creative ways of having the media pay attention to their problems. It does not take rockets, stones or even a Third Intifada to spread the message they want the world to know: they can use their personal talents to step into the spotlights, where they have a stage to inform the world and to reason with their opponents.

Mohammad Assaf has become the young people of Palestine’s new national symbol of hope. He has provided them a choice. They can continue throwing stones, at the risk of becoming one of the old-fashioned posters: a martyr, praised by family and friends, but with a message that fades over time. Or they can choose to represent the ‘Palestinian Cause’ in a different, more creative way: hoping to reach as many people as possible.

Israel: An Army of Kids

During the last 60 years of conflicts and wars, the Israeli military has gained a significant position in Israeli society. As Sofie Ejdrup Larsen explores many Israelis have come to perceive the military as an inevitable part of their youth.

In November 2012, the conflict broke out between Israel and Hamas once more. For about a week rockets were fired, bombs were dropped, and as a result more than 150 civilians lost their lives.

This time, the violence was triggered by an increased number of rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas into southern Israel, killing 3 Israelis. In response, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) launched ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’ attacking Gaza in an air offensive and killing Hamas militant chief, Ahmen al-Jabaar. This only lead to further attacks; Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were, for the first time in more than 20 years, targets of Hamas’ rockets. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to this with more aggression, calling in 30.000 soldiers from the reserve force in a ground offensive. A few days later, as the Hamas continued firing rockets into Israeli territory, an additional 45.000 soldiers were demanded to the borders of Gaza. An Israeli invasion of Gaza was alarmingly close to becoming a reality.

Called to the front
It was about this time I got a disturbing message from my Israeli friend, Ori: He had been called to the front. Like any other citizen of Israel, Ori had to serve in the military for three years after graduating from high school. As a soldier in the Engineering Corps he specialized in bombs and mines; disarming, planting, detonating etc. During the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2008, known as ‘the Gaza War’, he was stationed in Gaza for some weeks. Back then, the Gaza War was sparked off by rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. The IDF answered with attacks on targets in Gaza; the Palestinian militant groups continued firing rockets; the Israeli forces increased their attacks, and so on. Sounds familiar? After three weeks of this, the madness finally came to an end. Under international pressure, Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire and  Hamas followed suit shortly after.

Today, four years after he finished his military service, Ori is 25 years old and studies Geometry at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, southern Israel. A few days before the IDF called him in, he and I had been writing back and forth on Facebook, since I wanted to know whether he was alright. Raised in Ashdod and currently living in Beersheba, Ori is quite used to the rockets. Both cities are relatively close to Gaza and especially Ashdod is often a target of Hamas. When I asked him how he was doing, he replied: “I am ok, chilling at the bomb shelter and having a beer… All will be good if I don’t get called to the reserves…” He described how quiet the university campus had become since the rocket fire had increased and called Beersheba a ‘ghost town’. Friday morning the 16 November, a very short message from Ori was in my inbox; “They called. Wish me luck.”

‘Doing One’s Duty’
I met Ori last year while carrying out a fieldwork in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Four other anthropology students and I travelled around the country for a month doing interviews, visiting military bases, and recording a short ethnographic film. All of this in the attempt of understanding how young Israelis combine ‘being young’, while serving in the military for several years – most of them in their teens.

After graduating from high school, all 18-year old, Jewish citizens must enter the IDF, unless they are occupied with fulltime religious studies. Women serve for two years and men for three years. After this, all men and some women become part of the reserve troops and are called in for training 3-5 weeks a year until they turn 55. This is why the IDF could suddenly phoned Ori, demanding him to get to the border of Gaza immediately.

Since everybody has to do it, doing one’s military service is generally perceived as a ‘collective duty’ by the Israelis and has become a more or less integrated part of most people’s lives. Like one of our informants, a soldier in the Marine Corps, stated: “I feel like it’s my turn to watch over the other’s backs. They did it for me then, now it’s my turn. I can defend myself with my gun, but how are the old people gonna defend themselves?”.

The institution of the IDF is characterized by a complex hierarchy. Most posts of higher rank are possessed by soldiers serving their military service selected to do a ‘commander course’. This way, a 19-year old can have the rank of a commander and be responsible for platoons of as many as 200 people. Above the commanders are the officers; soldiers that have chosen to serve an additional year, often in their early 20’s. One of Ori’s flatmates put it this way: “Your officer and commander is one year older than you. The army, you can say, is run by kids”.

Creating a nation 

Due to the massive immigration of Jews from all over the world throughout the last century, the population of Israel is characterized by a large amount of heterogeneity. In the army everyone wears the same uniform and obeys the same rules, no matter what social background one has. This way, social and cultural differences are less obvious and instead a feeling of equality is created. The IDF helps integrate different groups of people and to some extend ‘shapes’ them. Surveys show that most people leave the military more right-wing than they were before entering.

In short, the military is deeply rooted in the Israeli society and understood as an integrated part of life and self-conception for the majority of the Israelis. It functions to homogenize a highly multi-cultural population , ‘shapes’ the Israeli youth, generation after generation, and by doing this transforms the people of Israel into one nation with a common mission: Protecting Israeli citizens and preserving the Israeli state.

Last November, truce negotiations took place in Cairo. In the presence of United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, representatives from Palestine and Israel finally talked in diplomatic ways and decided on ceasefire. An actual war was once again averted and Ori has returned home to Beersheba to continue his studies. At least for now.

After more than 60 years of fighting, peace seems like a utopian dream for both Israelis and Palestinians. With the support of the radical, orthodox Jewish minority, Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition government continue the aggressive military strategy launched by Ben-Gurion back in the 1930’s.

An army of kids is indeed convenient in times of war.