As conflict rages between Israel & Gaza, men & women citizens work toward peace

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Bethlehem grafitti wall
A wall of graffiti in the old city of Bethlehem on April 26, 2011 shows a portrait of one of the founders of Maschom Watch, Ms. Hagit Back, with a butterfly on a red flower. Maschom Watch continues to work today to monitor for fair treatment of Palestinians at check points between Israel and The Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In the corner of the graffiti art work are the words, “A just peace for Palestine, means peace for Israel too.” Image: Cyrl/Michael Wrose

(WNN) Denver, Colorado, U.S., AMERICAS: As ongoing tensions under what has been called “the politics of hate” rises to a critical point today following the killing deaths of three teenage male Jewish seminary students who were hitchhiking in the West Bank, the region is reeling under military aggression. In addition to the murders of the Israeli youth, what is thought to be a ‘retribution killing’ of a 16-year-old teenage Palestinian boy, named Mohammed Abu Khaider, was discovered in Jerusalem as the teen was found dead on Tuesday July 1.

Six Israeli suspects have been arrested in the case, but this has not calmed the bombs that have been dropping into Israeli territory. In the meantime citizens on both sides have been trying to find a way out of the violence.

Operation Protective Edge (OPE) is the military campaign that began yesterday inside Israel to stop the waves of bombs coming from Gaza that number up to 200 missles. But the OPE, while deflecting a majority of the bombs, may also begin to include on-the-ground troops in Gaza if the conflict intensity continues.

“You are living in a state of fear. Palestinians are living in a state of fear every passing second,” outlined Palestinian human rights worker Muhammad Suliman during a television show in the U.S. on a CNN.. Suliman currently lives in Gaza.

During the televised conversation, Suliman’s statement conveyed the same mind-set a majority of Palestinians have conveyed. They want the violence to stop, but don’t know what other action is possible. Talking today with Israeli citizen Nissam Nahoom, who talked with Suliman on CNN from his location in Ashkalum, Israel.

In the CNN broadcast, anchored by news correspondent Ms. Hala Gorani, Israeli citizen Nissam Nahoom conveyed the same fears a majority of Israelis feel as bombs continue to rain down, or be deflected by the Iron Dome, in Israeli territory. But the conflict is not one sided. Israel is also sending over its own its own bombs with deadly causalities on the Gaza side. Reaching territories as far as Tel Aviv in a bombing campaign that has lasted for more than 48 hours, tensions within the region are high.

So far no casualties have been reported inside Israel. To date 81 Palestinian civilians, including 21 children under the age of 16, have been killed in Gaza.

“I ask you Mohammed, my friend, if you lay down your weapon [and] you stop shooting on Israel what do you think would happen?” said Nissan Nahoom to Muhammad Suliman.

Inviting Suliman to come visit his home in Israel “at any time,” Nissan said he hopes to talk with Suliman in more depth about the conflict in person. Hesitant, but saying yes to Nissan’s invitation, Suliman continues.

Bethlehem check point
What looks like prison bars walls off a check point on the entrance to the city of Bethlehem has up to 5,000 Palestinian workers come through each day. Image: Mazur/

“It’s a fine invitation. Thank you very much for it. But the thing is it’s not about me personally. It’s about 1.7 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip,” he said. “Would you be willing to allow 1.7 million Palestinians to share your land; to live peacefully with you?” added Suliman.

Perhaps these questions can never be answered. The desire of these private citizens from opposite sides of the bombing do not match the actions today of those in local and regional leadership positions in the Middle East. Currently Gaza’s borders are blocked from anyone coming in or going out, so a person-to-person visit would never be possible for Nissan and Suliman, at least not for now.

In May 2012 the Parent Circle – Families Forum (PCFF) brought together both sides of the decades old conflict as part of a peace program event called The Israeli Palestinian Narratives Project: “History through a Human Eye.” During the 2012 event after listening to the stories of those who have suffered through conflict, a remarkable 71 percent of all participants improved their level of trust and empathy for the other side.

68 percent of those participating also reported that personal contact with the other side is important.

One week ago a group of Israeli women human rights defenders, known as Machsom Watch, had an interesting encounter on the Barta’a – Reihan checkpoint in the West Bank. This group of women peace activists from all sectors of Israeli society describe their work as an opposition to the Israeli occupation and the denial of Palestinians’ rights to move freely in their land.

Their human rights advocacy work includes monitoring the actions of Israeli military security personnel at the many check points on the borders of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with Israel.

“He told us that he sometimes reads the reports on the Machsom Watch site and that he admires our work, especially since we all volunteer. He believes something good is coming out of it,” outlines a woman monitor from Machsom Watch, after talking with an Israeli security officer on the West Bank check point.

“On our question, what good things, he answered that lately they have opened three check posts at the terminal. He told us that he changed his opinion when he became a civilian and a student. He understood that a democratic state has to protect everybody’s rights and that the checkpoints violate the Palestinians’ basic right of free movement,” the Machsom Watch woman monitor continued.

“He also expressed his doubts,” added the unnamed woman monitor.


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