A bridge between reality and peace

Fouad Abu Hamed, May 28, 2007 / imeu.net

A Palestinian man shows his identity papers to an Israeli soldier at a military checkpoint in the occupied West Bank. (Maan Images)

I have watched on Israeli television the concern that animal rights have generated. In Israel, there is a problem with the elderly abandoning their dogs, so an activist group opened a shelter for the abandoned animals. As a Palestinian, I watch this and, in the same moment, I see my children, Palestinian children, killed, arrested and going without food. They have lost their homes and have never known a homeland.

Here, then, there are animal rights but not human rights. Sometimes, I find this too much to bear.

In my village, there are 15,000 people living under Israeli occupation. We are not Israeli Arabs. We are Palestinians. The problems here, like the problems in many Palestinian villages in Israel, are elementary. Our water is not good, our streets are not clean or cared for, and there are not enough schools for our children.

From the top of the hill of Sor Baher, my village, you can see the security fence that has separated our village from our families and friends in Bethlehem. This fence has not just cut my village off from our people, but it prevents us from being able to access hundreds of hectares of olive trees, which had been previously an important source of income for many families. The fence has cut us off, too, from the vestiges of our culture. We are surrounded by Jewish areas on every side. Not this year, or the next, but soon our children will assimilate and forget what it means to be a Palestinian.

I am a peaceful man and I want peace. I want my children to grow up in safety and security. Yet, this can only happen when we are on equal terms with the Israelis at the bargaining table. Until Israel is willing to make serious compromises on Jerusalem and the right of return, and pull back to the 1967 borders, there can be no progress toward a workable solution.

Living under occupation prevents the Palestinians from being able to negotiate equally, and this is our first demand. First, we must have a land and a government, and then we can work toward negotiating peace with our neighbors. As a Palestinian, I want my independence. We, as a people, demand the right of self-determination. Palestine must have a capital and its own soldiers, who are allowed to train and bear regular arms. After that, we can sit at the table with the Israelis and negotiate as partners.

At the end of the day, I want Israelis to come to my home and I want my children to play with theirs. But, until we can be neighbors, there can be no peace.

Israelis have concerns about security. Unfortunately, they do not understand the origin of their security problems, which stem from their occupation of our land. Israel cannot sit here on my land and say to my people, “You cannot have a homeland because of our security concerns.” Until we have a homeland, there will continue to be security problems.

Another fundamental problem in Israeli society is that many Israelis know nothing about Palestinians. They only know what they have heard – and they hear that we are dirty and violent. There must be an effort on both sides to change perceptions about the other.

When I worked with Magen David Adom as a volunteer and with B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, the Israelis I met would say, “You are so much like us. You must be one of the good ones.” I am no different from my people. We are all human. We all have the capacity to be “one of the good ones.

“For perceptions about the Palestinian people to change, the process must begin with the Israeli government. The government must understand that Palestinians are human beings and have minds and hopes and dreams just like Israelis. There is no violence in my home and I do not want my children raised in an atmosphere of violence either.

There has been a change in the Palestinian people since Oslo. Now, there is a willingness to speak for peace. Before, fear led many to doubt that the Israelis would follow through with the promises made to us.

Unfortunately, Israel forced us into a corner politically and socially. This is one of the fundamental reasons for the Hamas victory in January 2006. It is not because, at the outset, they had the overwhelming support of the Palestinian people. We are living in a time of occupation and needed a change that Fatah could not, and did not, bring about.

When we have our own state, the conflict will become internalized. It will no longer be a conflict between Israel and Hamas. The conflict, for Palestinians, will take shape around our own internal political problems.

The window of opportunity for finding a solution is closing. If Israel refuses to negotiate with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, there will be no way to continue the peace process. Further, if Abbas is forced from power, due to Israeli action on the ground, we will be back to zero and we will go back to war.

In some ways, however, Israel has had a positive influence on the Palestinians, particularly in terms of democratic processes. I am free to say whatever I want. In Jericho, where my wife’s family lives, I hear people on the street criticizing Hamas, as well as Israel. This is a luxury not afforded to most in Arab countries. I am confident that the Palestinian will continue to take the positive aspects of Israeli society and integrate them into our own, when we have our own government.

I am optimistic. One day, there will be peace. To get there, we must work within Palestinian society and the problems that plague us. Then, we can develop a good, working peace between ourselves and the Israelis.

In the end, there must be a bridge between the reality of this situation and our dreams of peace. Israel must give my government a chance to develop a creative and practical solution that will be productive and meaningful for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. There is no alternative. War, if it comes to that again, will only destroy us all.
Fouad Abu Hamed runs health centers for Israeli Arabs in East Jerusalem. A former worker for human rights group B’Tselem, he and his family live and work in his hometown of Sor Baher. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.


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