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Middle East Peace Programs

Fact-Finding Trips to Israel and Palestinian Territories

UPF's Middle East Peace Initiative programs from 2005-07 included fact-finding tours to inform participants of the perceived prospects for a peaceful resolution of the conflict from a range of informed opinions from both Israelis and Palestinians. MEPI facilitates dialogue between influential figures in Israel and the Palestinian Territories and overseas by arranging appointments, briefings and visits. Participants observe constructive projects and activities that are contributing to building peace and are worthy of support by individuals and institutions.

Participants in fact-finding trips met with Israeli members of the Knesset (the parliament), scholars, diplomats and journalists. On the Palestinian side, MEPI groups have met with members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and mayors of cities.

A number of eminent Israeli speakers voiced a deep desire to see the impasse resolved. David Hacham, the Arab Affairs Advisor for the Ministry of Defense, spoke several times to MEPI groups to answer their questions. Oded Ben Haim, the Director of the Palestinian Affairs Division of the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs addressed a large MEPI group to present current Israeli Government policy on the prospects for peace in the region.

Politicians from a variety of parties gave their perspectives on Israel’s complex relations with its neighbors. Gen. (Ret.) Dany Yatom, the Deputy Leader of the Labor party and former chief of Mossad (Israeli intelligence), explained his view on negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and threats from neighboring states. Itzhak Ziv, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset from the Gil Party, said “Dialogue can’t be done with enemies. Yet if you wait till we are all friends, dialogue isn’t necessary. Peace comes naturally between friends. We must enter into dialogue.” Ran Cohen, Member of the Knesset from the Meretz-Yachad Party, said, “The problem is to build reconciliation between the Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab nations.” Citing the stakes for all, he said, “It’s not just dangerous for us; it’s dangerous for the world.”

The diverse membership of the Knesset includes Arabs who are Israeli citizens, and they offered insights during briefings. Nadia Hillou spoke about budget allocations that have not always treated Arab-Israelis fairly. Taleb El-Sana, a Bedouin, pointed out that the only people who can guarantee Israeli security are the Palestinians, and the only people that can guarantee freedom for the Palestinians are the Israelis. Former government minister and Knesset member Walid Sadik spoke of the desire for a legacy of peace: “I am devoted to peace for my neighbors. The more things we resolve, the better the legacy we will give to our sons, our children and ourselves, too.”

Former Israeli ambassadors gave briefings to MEPI participants. Ambassador Ilan Hartuv talked about the need to go beyond painful personal loss and continue the work for peace. Ambassador and former MK Emanuel Zisman voiced concerns that failing to sustain the peace momentum may lead to a new vicious cycle of bloodshed. Ambassador Arie Oded highlighted Israel’s work in Africa as an example of its effort to make good relationships with other states.

A member of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s negotiating team at Camp David in 2000, Professor Moshe Amirav gave his perspective on the search for peace. “The two people are very much afraid of each other,” he said. “Two people, both not really religious, are fighting over the holy places! We need courageous leadership on both sides for peace.” Retired generals and professors on the staff of the Herzilya Inter-Disciplinary Center also spoke at conferences and briefings.

Kamal Manzur, president of Israel’s special advisory group on Non-Jewish Religions, said, “In the Middle East we don’t have logic. If we did many of our problems would have already been solved. Today in this world, we speak with each other but we never listen to each other. God made us with one mouth to speak once, but two eyes and two ears to hear and see twice. It is a fact of life that Jews and Arabs will live here forever.” He suggested that Jews be encouraged to study Arabic, on the basis that Israel is a part of the Middle East.

Going to religious and historic sites throughout Israel gave participants first-hand experience with its bustling urban life, cultural centers, agricultural projects and diverse ethnic groups.

Visits to the Daehashie Refugee Camp and meals with Bethlehem Christian families offer some insights into the daily challenges faced by Palestinians. "No aggression will solve our problem,” stated Dr. Emil Jarjoui, an Arab Christian who is a member of Palestinian Legislative Council with Fatah Party. “Walls are not the solution. We need bridges,” he said. “We are fed up with wars and funerals and blood. We want to live like any other people under the sun and in the world. We should work hand in hand to achieve peace. But to do this we need for both parties to sit together as friends, as neighbors who can decide the future.”

He hosted meetings with officials such as the mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarset, and the mayors of the neighboring cities of Beit Sahour, Mr. Hani Al-Hayek and Beit Jala, Mr Raji Zeidan. They expressed the difficulty of living under occupation and the problems of financial crisis. Meals with Arab families, visits to the Deheisha Refugee Camp, and visits to orphanages gave further glimpses of the daily life.

Dr. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Chief Negotiator, discussed shared his experience negotiating with Israeli Governments over many years. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, the former Minister of Communication and Presidential candidate, briefed a MEPI group on the current situation in the West Bank. President Mahmoud Abbas met with MEPI leaders to share with them.

Visits to hospitals in Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem have highlighted the both the difficulty of health care in the West Bank and the possibilities for building on the existing medical cooperation. Dr Adnan Masri, the then Palestinian Deputy Minister of Health, escorted a MEPI group on a tour of Ramallah hospital in February 2007 while explaining the difficulties of health care under occupation and sanctions after the election of a Hamas Government. Following MEPIs included visits to Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem, and Amira Alia Government Hospital in Hebron  with a plan to support a collaborative health project of Israeli and Palestinian Doctors supported by international Ambassadors for Peace. In Ramallah, Azam al-Ahmad, Deputy President of Palestine and a member of the Fatah Party, said, “We want to cooperate with the Israeli state and live at peace with Israel.”

In Gaza, in May 2005, Abu Ali Shaheen, a Fatah Party member of Palestinian Legislative Council, said, "We are in the Holy Land where God sent His three main messengers. All these religions emphasize peace. We are the trustees of peace and the road to peace. In spite of all difficulties, we are determined that we should have peace. This does not mean neglecting the rights of people living on the land — Jews, Christians and Muslims." In Gaza MEPI participants saw the diverse landscape of donkey-pulled carts, orange groves, and destroyed buildings juxtaposed with new apartment buildings being built with foreign investment.

MEPI participants visited the Jewish settlement of Gush Katif in Gaza after it was announced that Israel would withdraw its settlers and demolish the settlements. Showing the international visitors her family’s greenhouse, one settler spoke of her sense of mission to develop the land where her family had lived for three decades, but she was being forced to leave it. She talked about a family in their settlement killed in a terrorist attack. MEPI fact-finding groups have also visited residents of Sderot and Gush Etzion.

Journalists offered insights based on years of covering relations between Israelis and Palestinians. Ehud Yaari, a television commentator representing mainstream Israeli views, called the two states for two nations policy “politically sound and morally correct.” Akiva Eldar, editor of Ha’aretz newspaper, called the 2007 Arab peace initiative the best basis for normalization of relations between Arab nations and Israel.

Direct contact between Israelis and Palestinians is somewhat limited. The fact-finding tours and briefing sessions offered opportunities to listen to the humanitarian concerns of all sides and communicate them to others.

“You are performing a sacred work,” commented Yona Yahav, mayor of the city of Haifa. “You give us so much hope by coming here in these so very difficult days.”

For a map of places visited on MEPI trips, click here.

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