As usual, I was working at the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign stall on a Saturday. We hung a a banner at the front of our table showing the fragmentation of the West Bank by Israeli settlements, military zones, checkpoints and so on. It worked wonders because it was visual, and many people would stop and look.
Among these people was a group of three, one of whom crouched and took a picture of the banner with his phone. I thought that, due to his looks and his interest he might be Arab. But he and two of his friends turned out to be Israeli. I was relieved that they didn’t overturn the entire table in rage (apparently something like that happened before but I never experienced it myself). And instead of shouting in our faces they were willing to listen. I think that may have been because they were from a younger generation, although I am not sure.
Firstly, me and my colleagues spoke to all of them at once, and when one of us mentioned a possible “One-state solution”, one of the Israelis said “but the Palestinians don’t want us here”. Of course, as a Palestinian, I stepped in and said that I in fact Do want them there, and for a few seconds they were dumbstruck.
Anyway, the conversation moves along, me and another Israeli start talking. After telling him that I have no problem with Israel existing he said (this is paraphrased of course)
“But I never hear your voice, you see. I am still afraid that if I go to Mahmoud Abbas (Palestinian president) I will get bombed. The Palestinians elected Hamas as well…but I never hear your voice”.
It was worrying but to be expected. Hamas is the new bogey man (well relatively new to the “Communist threat” before), he didn’t even know that the settlements and settler movements gain government support and subsidized housing, he thought they were private!
Even after mentioning the settlements, he also said that “Arabs live in our neighbourhoods, go in our malls, but I never see Jews live in the West Bank”. Well some of them sure live there. Not to mention one of my professors who is Jewish, and went there during the first Intifada in 1987.
But I should have told him that my voice is the voice of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. It was a call by the overwhelming Palestinian civil society for peaceful resistance for a just, two-state solution which recognized Israel’s right to exist. Hamas’ victory over Fatah by a small percentage, coupled with tactical voting against the PLO and the complacent Palestinian Authority is one reason why they just about won. Not to mention how Hamas is actually charitable in terms of supporting schools and hospitals which greatly appealed to the poor.
It was clear what I saw in this group of Israelis. Although open minded, they are victims of the politics of fear. The only times they were in the West Bank was when they served in the Army and stood at checkpoints, as one himself said. Ramallah is only a twenty minute drive from Jerusalem, especially if you are an Israeli, but it might as well be light-years away. It is a distance of fear, not a physical distance.
If you are Israeli and are reading this, I encourage you to go to the West Bank. Talk to Palestinians inside and outside Israel itself face to face, and get to know your neighbours.