Israelis and Palestinians work together
Israelis and Palestinians work together
Louisa Waugh speaks to activists in Israel and Palestine working together for peace.
Credit: Mohammed Zaanoun
Tuly is late for our call and when he joins us, he is a little out of breath. He has just rushed home after visiting his parents. ‘I haven’t seen them for 18 months because of Covid and it was my mother’s birthday yesterday,’ he says.
‘Ah, you saw your mother,’ says Rana. ‘Happy birthday to her!’
The surprising thing about this conversation is how normal it sounds. We are on a three-person WhatsApp call and we are all in a different country. Rana is in Bethlehem in the Palestinian West Bank, and Tuly is at home in Tel Aviv. I’m in Brighton, on the south coast of England.
Rana does not leave home much at the moment: the Israeli military are stopping Palestinians from moving in and out of the West Bank even more than usual, after weeks of protests in and around Jerusalem. 20 miles from Tuly’s home, the small Israeli city of Lod was recently the centre of street violence after Israeli attacks on Gaza. But Rana and Tuly greet each other not exactly as friends, but like friendly colleagues.
Until recently, Rana Salman worked as an activist tour guide. She spent 10 years leading alternative tours across the West Bank, telling visitors about the injustice of the military occupation. Then the pandemic came and the tourists stopped coming to Bethlehem.
Tuly Flint trained as a social worker specializing in mental health, mainly for military people. He is also a Battalion Commander with the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). He left his full-time job the IDF in 1992, but he is still an army reservist.
Both Rana and Tuly work for Combatants for Peace (CFP). Rana says it is, ‘Israelis and Palestinians working together to end the occupation.’
CFP has an office in the West Bank and another in Israel - in Lod, in fact. Rana is the Executive Director of the Palestine office. ‘I joined CFP because I wanted to continue my activism,’ she says. ‘The separation between Israelis and Palestinians is so extreme. Most people have never met someone from the other side, and certainly don’t know or understand them and their experience.’
‘Breaking hands and feet’
Tuly organises CFP activities in Israel and he has lived a very different life. When he was a teenager, his family moved to an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. He was happy to do his military service with the IDF and they sent him to Gaza during the first intifada, or protest, and they ordered him ‘to break hands and feet’. He didn’t follow that order. ‘I know and saw others who did,’ he says.
In 2014, during the Right of Return protests, he returned to Gaza for the IDF offensive Operation Protective Edge.
‘I was in Gaza maybe 20 times,’ he says, ‘But then I saw plane bombings that made the sky orange and red, I saw the ground shaking and the suffering of the Palestinians and the Israeli soldiers.’ He was badly shocked. ‘It was the suffering on both sides that pushed me to be an activist.’ He left Gaza and said he would never return to the occupied territories as a soldier.
Extremists and normalizers
A small number of Israeli NGOs have campaigned against the military occupation of Palestine for many years. The Israeli government often called them ‘traitors’. It is necessary for these organizations defend and explain their work.
‘For most Israelis the idea is that Hamas is suddenly throwing rockets at us,’ says Dana Moss, International Advocacy Coordinator for Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI).‘They are not seeing the real situation: the losing land and possessions.’
PHRI campaigns for human rights, medical ethics, and social justice. They have mobile clinics in the West Bank every week with Israeli and Palestinian volunteers. ‘For some Israeli volunteers, going to the West Bank for the first time really changes them,’ Dana tells me. ‘They see for the first time what the occupation actually does to Palestinians.’
CFP uses actions bringing Israelis and Palestinians together to remind everyone of the terrible costs of the Israeli occupation. For the last 17 years, its members and supporters have celebrated Yom HaZikaron together. This Israeli Remembrance Day is a day to remember Israeli soldiers.
CFP organizes an alternative ceremony to remember Israelis and Palestinians who have died through the violence of the occupation. The first time they did this was in Tel Aviv in 2006 when about 70 Israelis and Palestinians met. By 2019, there were around 10,000 people. This year, 2021, more than 280,000 people watched the livestream.
On 12 July 2021, CFP will hold its second commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba (or catastrophe): the broadcast will be live from Bethlehem, in the West Bank and from Israel.
These stories, like Tuly’s journey towards CFP, are amazing. Tuly is still an army reservist, but he has kept his promise to never return to Palestine as a soldier, and the IDF sees him as someone who refuses to follow orders. But Israeli protesters like Tuly need the trust of Palestinian activists like Rana for CFP to work. ‘We can’t just be the Israelis who say we know it all,’ he says. Or, as Rana says at the end of our call, ‘Anyone can fight for peace: it gives us the opportunity to work together to end the occupation, and to finally see each other as truly human.’
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(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)