It has been an intense few days. A meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon that started out polite and soon became a “spirited exchange”. We talked settlements and J Street and the meaning of pro-Israel. To be honest, there wasn’t much of a meeting of the minds.
We also held several tough sessions with leading Palestinian citizens of Israel – MK Haneen Zuabi of the Balad party, Mohammed Darawshe of the Abraham Fund, Hassan Jabareen of Adallah. We discussed the demands for equality of Israel’s Arab citizens – not only on the individual and municipal level, but as a national minority as well. We found some common ground and some reasons to believe that solutions can be found, but we also learned that the path won’t be easy. Lots of dialogue will be needed.
We spent a day in Ramallah, the central element of which was a 45-minute meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad. Fayyad’s talk was uplifting – he advanced a vision of a Palestinian people ready to take on the responsibilities of statehood and of good neighborliness. For peace to happen, he said, the Palestinian people must be neither submissive nor belligerent – but empowered.
A half-day on the Golan included a meeting with Dr. Yigal Kipnis. Dr. Kipnis is a resident of the Golan who advocates a peace treaty with Syria in exchange for a full withdrawal from the Heights – a withdrawal that would also oblige him to leave his home of 30 years. But Dr. Kipnis stressed that Israel’s welfare, its future, outweighs the needs of individual settlers.
We also got up at 5am to be observers on the Palestinian side of the Kalandia checkpoint, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, together with Hanna Barag of Machsom Watch. It’s hard to describe in words what we saw there, so I won’t try. But it was an important experience for anyone who wishes to understand the human dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy.
And we had dinner with the leading members of the Israeli human rights community – from B’Tselem and ACRI, Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights. They told a tale of concern about where Israel is heading and the threats to the human rights organizations, but they also displayed a courage to continue their work despite the harassment from the government and the hostility of the majority of Israel’s citizens. They are Israeli patriots who refuse to give up. Israel and its citizens deserve a better future, they insisted.