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Category Archives: Internship at the Peres Center

Banging Your Head Against ‘The Wall’

Banging Your Head Against ‘The Wall’

This Wednesday morning I found myself on the Palestinian side of the Qalandiya check-point staring out across a section of Israeli-West Bank separation barrier. I know relatively very little of the Palestinian West Bank but I am sure that there are few places as bleak and depressing – especially on an uncharacteristically dark, grey and cold winter’s afternoon. It’s at moments like this where you can’t help but feel disheartened that all attempts to change the status quo and the occupation have been seemingly futile and ineffective. Where to go from here…?

Thankfully the rest of the day in nearby Ramallah was more uplifting as we spent the morning finalising the work plan of a € 220,000 Palestinian business project (improving export capacities) with PalTrade, the Palestinian Trade Center. It might not change the situation much, but at least it’s something…

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Meeting the President

President Shimon Peres made a short visit to the Peres Center to toast in the Jewish New Year and meet employees at the Center he founded. Whatever your opinions of him are, it was still a special day to see him in the flesh, shake his hand and have my photograph taken with him.

I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see the founder of the organisation I am interning with make an appearance for one of the Jewish calendar’s biggest celebrations, Jewish New Year (we’re now in the year 5772). Asking around the office though it seems his appearances at the Center are few and far between nowadays.

Shimon Peres and The Peres Center

At the ripe old age of 88 and with plenty of official duties to carry out as the President of Israel it’s understandable that he’s no longer deeply involved in the Center’s work. Cynics might argue that it’s no longer politically rewarding for him to be associated with projects aimed at bridging the Israeli-Palestinian divide. A far cry from the days when the Peres Center was founded in 1996 when prospects for peace were as high as they have ever been: the Oslo Accords, a peace treaty with Jordan and Shimon Peres with the political capital of a Nobel Peace Prize. How times have changed…

Although it’s undeniable Peres in his times as Prime Minister and in government was tied to the Israeli occupation of Palestine as much as any other Israeli leader he is now seen, at home and abroad, as the ‘moderate’ Israeli face – in stark contrast to the hawkish and right-wing traits of the current Netanyahu government.

So although his involvement in the Center is now minimal his name in the organisation’s title is a priceless asset when it comes to opening doors and attracting funding, here in Israel and abroad.

A Political Leader, or a Human Wax Statue?

After an initial tour of the premises, a few brief speeches and the celebratory toast it was time for him to be wheeled off to his next assignment. In an tortuously slow escape for the exit, row after row of employees and assorted family members gathered around him, in hope of catching a single photo alongside the old man.

Okay so I was as guilty as anyone for trying to get a photograph next to him but I couldn’t help but feel slightly awkward about it all. After decades of highly influential political life it seems his role in Israeli public life is to act as a human wax statue for people to take their photographs with. Has it come to this? And on the occasions that Netanyahu ships him off abroad things aren’t much better. His role – to placate foreign leaders with conciliatory views and assurances that we all know, Peres included, Netanyahu has no intention of ever keeping.

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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in Internship at the Peres Center

 

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50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State

Last week, the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum launched a new campaign: “50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State” Their aim: to garner Israeli public support for the ongoing Palestinian UN bid for statehood and the 2-state solution. After a summer of energized activism on social issues (Israeli social justice protests), unseen in modern Israeli history, it’s time for the country to re-engage with Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State

We Already Live in 2-States

Okay, so it’s a hard sell. Israeli society has become so detached from the Palestinian issue that it’s a tough to ask getting the average Israeli to proactively engage with the issue.  With the social justice campaign the average Israeli didn’t need an NGO manifesto to realize that they were suffering – the growing inequalities in Israeli society are easily visible.  But for most Israelis, the Palestinian issue is a distant one that has little or no influence on their daily lives. For them, even though they might not admit to it, the partition between Israel and the West Bank & Gaza (physically and mentally) is so stark that it’s almost as if we live in two separate states. Unfortunately it’s only the Israeli side that can enjoy the freedoms that go hand-in-hand with being a fully sovereign and independent state,

For this reason the campaign has produced a list of 50 reasons why a 2-state solution is worth fighting for; not only as means to end the conflict  but also – in my opinion – to highlight how the more popular fight, the struggle for social justice in Israel, is both unachievable and unsustainable without the succesful creation of a Palestinian state.

Don’t Lobby at the UN; Lobby the Israeli Public

Re-hashing the 101 arguments for and against the Palestinian UN bid is pointless. Everyone knows that once the dust settles and the Israeli and Palestinian leaders return home, with or without some form of UN recognition, the facts on the ground will remain much the same. Of course gaining the support of the international community will provide the Palestinians with added leverage in future negotiations, but the UN decision is essentially a side-show, a distraction. Why are we getting worked up over whether far-away countries like Gabon or Colombia vote for or against Palestine? The real decision-makers, the parties all proponents of the 2-state solution should be lobbying intensively are not hidden away in the bowels of the UN, but right here, down on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and up and down this fraught land. Only an Israeli public convinced of the benefits of a 2-state solution can truly grant Palestinians the state they legitimately demand – any amount of international pressure and isolation will do little to change the current inflexible Israeli position.

Of course trying to convince the Israeli public to support a 2-state solution is a different matter entirely. Whilst polls indicate that a majority of Israelis are willing to accept some form of 2-state solution getting any percentage of this majority to demand of their government an end the occupation has failed – hence the ability of the Netanyahu government to continue, with ease, the policy of maintaining the status quo.

It’s for this reason that campaigns such as the “50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State” are so important.

The Reasons:

Here are just some of the reasons – the full list can be found here: 50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State). They also have a Facebook page.

The Israeli Peace NGO Forum is launching a campaign in support of Palestinian statehood leading up to the Palestinian Authority’s request for recognition in the UN General Assembly, planned for September 20th 2011.

3. We will be available to nurture social solidarity and rehabilitate Israeli society.

5. The establishment of a Palestinian state will open the door for all of Arab world to recognize Israeland implement the decision of 22 Arab League member states to normalize relations with Israel.

9. The establishment of a Palestinian state will end the occupation that corrupts us and harms Israel’s strength.

11. The Palestinian state will allow a dramatic improvement in relations between Jews and Arabs inside Israel, allowing us to engage in processes that will bring equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

14. Establishing an agreed upon Palestinian state will silence those who are using the Palestinians as a reason for war and boycotts against us.

19. In Tel Aviv, Ramallah,Cairo and Damascus a young, secular, technological generation is growing, that believes in its own power to affect change and despises governments’ falsely injected fears.

21. Only a Palestinian state can prevent us from becoming the next apartheid state.

26. Establishing a Palestinian state is an act of justice. Palestinians are a people and deserve a state.

31. The two-state solution is supported by both Israelis and Palestinians in all surveys in recent years.

32. It will create great economic opportunities for Israelis and the entire Middle East that do not exist today because of the conflict.

40. If South Sudan can have a state, why not Palestine?

42. Because you can not demand rights for Israelis and not recognize Palestinians’ right to a state.

46. We will finally live in a democratic moral country which respects its minorities with equal rights.

48. Because a situation of military occupation and the ‘settlers’ state can not continue forever, it endangers us, and does not correlate with universal humanistic Jewish values.

50. Because it is the only viable solution, and you know it.

 

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Overlooking the Mediterranean

Entering into my 3rd week in Jaffa and I thought I’d better share with you these photos of my workplace. The first is of the Peres Center itself, the second one of the sea view from just outside the office. Stretch my neck slightly and from my desk I too have clear view across tops of palm trees and out over the bright blue Mediterranean Sea.

The Peres Peace House (home to the Peres Center for Peace)

 

The Mediterranean Sea

 

It’s still somewhat of a mystery, to me at least, why the Peres Center is located here in Jaffa. Most Israeli-Palestinian peace NGOs are located up in Jerusalem and Ramallah, the natural epicentres of the billion dollar aid industry in the region. That said there is definitely some symbolism to it being located in the heart of Tel Aviv’s Arab neighbourhood – a neutral meeting place for Israeli and Palestinians. Yet, it is still a bit of an anomaly to see this grandiose building in the middle of this relatively run-down/neglected part of town; quite a contrast from the central Tel Avivian sea-front with its glitzy high-rise hotels and wide tree-lined boulevards. And for all the scepticism there was towards the Center for re-locating here a couple of years back (Aesthetic Dispossession in Jaffa) it does seem that it’s doing its bit to engage with the local community and earning its right to be here (Community Activities in Jaffa).

 

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