Palestinian and Israeli resistance activists met late Sunday night in the Arab community of Hizme to discuss cooperation and the creation of a new peace initiative.
The gathering, organized by the Semitic Action movement, was unique in that it brought together Jewish and Arab residents from what some participants called “Samaria” and others the “West Bank.”
The meeting was not the first of its kind but a sign of growing trust between two often mutually hostile populations living in close proximity to one another.
While most efforts at dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians generally include more westernized Jews and organizations funded by foreign governments opposed to a Jewish presence in the territories captured by Israel in 1967, Sunday’s meeting included Jewish advocates for their people’s claim to all land between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River.
Early in the meeting, the Jewish activists asked not to be referred to as “settlers” as they explained the term to be offensive due to its implication that they are “foreigners who do not belong in the country.”
“These Jews are our neighbors,” one Palestinian participant told Indy News Israel on condition of anonymity. “Talking and reaching agreements with them accomplishes more than a thousand pleasant meetings with the Jews of Tel Aviv.”
“The first step towards achieving peace is for both populations to learn to be good neighbors,” explained activist Yehuda HaKohen at the start of the meeting. “And this is less relevant to people in Tel Aviv than it is to ethnic Jews living here in Samaria.”
“Both populations need to learn to see and accept the other as indigenous and belonging here,” HaKohen continued. “The closest people in the world to the Jewish people are the Arabs. Any hostility between our two peoples is completely unnatural and the result of foreign powers exploiting both populations.”
The Israeli and Palestinian activists agreed that peace needs to be achieved “from the bottom up” and that both populations have suffered greatly as a result of the Western-imposed Oslo Accords and all its derivatives since the early 1990s.
“If we examine the last two decades,” said HaKohen, “We see that thousands of people have been killed on both sides and that our two populations have been forcibly segregated.”
“Both peoples have also suffered several other injustices,” he continued. “Thousands of Jews have been forcibly expelled from their homes and turned into refugees. Entire towns and villages have been destroyed. And Arabs have their freedom of movement restricted by a military bureaucracy every day of their lives.”
“Before Oslo there were no checkpoints or walls here and everyone could travel wherever they liked. Peoples lived together in a situation that may not have been perfect but was still much better than the situation we see today.”
Hizme is legally defined as Area B, falling under the municipal control of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority while remaining under Israeli jurisdiction in matters of security. It is one of the many Palestinian towns that has been impacted by Israel’s massive security barrier in recent years.
Located half a kilometer from the northern tip of Jerusalem, a large portion of Hizme’s land has been appropriated by Israel for the construction of the wall, leaving a number of Palestinians trapped on its western side and restricted in their movements to other parts of their community.
The Jewish activists at the meeting all expressed opposition to the wall and spoke of their desire to see both peoples living together in one country undivided by walls or checkpoints.
The Palestinians agreed with their Jewish counterparts that most problems between the local populations are the result of excessive meddling by foreign governments with imperialist agendas for the region.
The participants agreed on the need to create a grassroots united front against the exploitation both peoples suffer at the hands of Western powers but an atmosphere of uncertainty still permeated the meeting due to fears that Arab participants could be persecuted by Fatah if their attendance at the meeting or future events became known.
“The Palestinian Authority is like a police state without a state,” said one Arab activist. “If they discover what we are doing, that we are meeting with these Jews, they would arrest us and accuse us of collaborating with the Zionists.”
One Hizme resident cautioned that the risks involved in creating a united front with the Jewish activists are very great and that in order to move forward certain guarantees are necessary.
“While we appreciate our Jewish friends extending their hand to us,” he said. “We are risking much more than they are by participating in these activities. Because the Jews live in a freer society, they have very little to lose. But if we are discovered, we could face accusations of treason, which would likely be followed by imprisonment and torture. These activities could ruin our lives and the lives of our families.”
One Israeli participant expressed appreciation for the risks being taken by the Palestinians but insisted that unless they display the necessary courage to stand up to the Western-backed Fatah regime, their situation will never improve.
“We would like to see the Arab Spring revolution spread to here,” he said. “But it can’t come from us. It needs to come from the people living under the PA.”
When asked how they envision a political solution to the conflict, both the Israeli and Palestinian participants agreed that the first step is to undo everything that took place as a result of the Oslo Accords.
“The first step is to return to the situation that existed here before 1993,” said one Hizme resident. “When the checkpoints and walls and the Palestinian Authority are gone we will be able to discuss everything else.”