Before I dive into the post, I want to acknowledge the real and relevant grievances on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are strong feelings of injustice and insecurity that stand in the way of a meaningful reconciliation and it would be naive to airbrush this and depict a utopian future. Most importantly, I am an outsider who could never truly understand what it feels like to experience the conflict first-hand. I have never watched my property be bulldozed and never lost a family member, so my outsider’s perspective is simply just that. I also acknowledge that my personal experiences have been mostly in the Jordan Valley, a region of relative peace compared to others.
However, the actions reported in this article do not surprise me. During my short stay in Israel and Palestine, I have seen and heard countless stories of coexistence and cooperation. The story (on the Palestinian side) usually begins with someone reluctant to speak to an Israeli, then meeting one, then realising that they weren’t as bad as they had once thought.
Just last week an Israeli and Palestinian had a robust discussion on the steps of Auja EcoCenter. They spoke vastly different narratives, to the point where they were almost having a discussion about two completely different topics. One spoke of the importance of working pragmatically within the current constraints towards a brighter future outside the established political framework. The other stressed the importance of acknowledging and correcting the injustices of the past before meaningful cooperation can begin. At the end, they hugged each other, and the Israeli went to the local Palestinian bakery for the best spinach and cheese triangles in the Jordan Valley. He spoke basic Arabic to the shop-owner, ordered his lunch and drove back along Route 90 towards Israel.
The top Reddit comment in response to the article supports the prevailing attitude that I have witnessed.
In my experience, anger appears mostly directed at decision makers (on all sides, by all sides) rather than at ground level. Organisations such as Seeds of Peace do great work in utilising the potential for acceptance at grassroots level by bringing together young people from conflict zones such as this one. They are not alone. An incredible amount of NGOs do significant peacebuilding work here.
For centuries, Palestinian Jews and Arabs coexisted in peace and from this perspective, the last 70 years should be viewed as an anomaly rather than the standard. Furthermore, a 2007 study showed that the majority of Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel support coexistence. The assumption that Israelis and Palestinians were, are and always will be antagonistic towards one another is in my opinion, misinformed.
Everyone wants food, water, security, health, education and peace. Focusing on these shared basic needs would facilitate a brighter future. Interaction and interdependence are key. Economic interdependency would be beneficial for all, with the combined Jordan Valley economy potentially reaching US $73 billion by 2050 (roughly equivalent to today’s GDP figures for Sri Lanka) if effective water cooperation between riparian states were established. The Water-Energy Nexus provides a visionary concept where each country could use its competitive advantage to encourage a sustainable, interdependent water and energy framework. These projects would help foster a politically stable Palestinian society, something that is of interest to Israel in much the same way it seeks a stable Jordan on its eastern frontier.
A positive step towards a strong and stable future should involve bringing people together and sharing each other’s narrative. The Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative project by Sami Adwan and Dan Bar-On is an excellent example of how this might occur. Focusing specifically on common harms fosters cooperation, so initiatives such as the Good Water Neighbors project are especially valuable because they encourage the cooperative efforts that are needed to address shared water resource challenges.
In my opinion, one of the worst things that can happen is for both sides to view each other’s viewpoint as immoral and each other as evil; something which seems more prevalent in the internet age. Never forget that there is a world of good being done, especially at ground level between everyday citizens. The arguments that I see across the internet are not representative of my personal experiences, so don’t read the comments.