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The night that rekindled my faith in two states

They said the two-state solution is no longer relevant, that we cannot evacuate settlements, that there is ‘no partner for peace.’ Then I heard Iyad speak to a group of Israelis in a Tel Aviv bar.

By Yael Burstein

Iyad Othmani speaks to a crowd of Israelis in a Tel Aviv bar. (Ihab Sayag)

Iyad Othmani speaks to a crowd of Israelis in a Tel Aviv bar. (Ihab Sayag)

Neither of us could hide our excitement as he stood up to speak before a crowd of over 120 young Israelis in a Tel Aviv bar. While in his childhood Iyad Othmani was forced to wait for hours at checkpoints, while soldiers made sure over and over again that he could cross to go to school, on this night — he was the keynote speaker.

We worked for months to ensure that Iyad could come speak before Israelis — what we believed would help break a few bricks in the wall, and look past this Green Line that everyone is always talking about, yet do not know where it is located, what it symbolizes, and why the hell it’s green in the first place.

I met Iyad for the first time at a meeting organized by Geneva Initiative activists in Jerusalem. I understood that we know so little about what is happening on the other side of the Green Line, and that if only we could understand the real difficulties plaguing the other side on a daily basis, perhaps we would be able to cause things to turn out differently, to cause people to think differently.

Things we do not know

They say that millennials are focused solely on themselves, that we are always looking at the screen, that we no longer believe in that concept that the “adults” have been talking about for years — we long for it, yet we do nothing to advance it. But the participants who came to hear Iyad talk about his life in Ramallah as a young Palestinian proved otherwise. With patience and hardly any interruptions from the audience, with smart questions and a real desire to learn and know, we laid the cornerstone of a bridge that will be built over the gap of narratives.

While 70 percent of young Palestinians claim no political affiliation, Iyad heads three different projects with the goal of sounding more and more Palestinian voices calling for the end of the conflict and separating into two states, based on the Geneva Initiative. When over 20 percent of the 2.9 million Palestinians are unemployed and 14 percent live below the poverty line [Hebrew] — doing so is no small feat.

Israeli and Palestinian demonstrators, including Joint List MK Dov Khenin, take part in a march against the occupation, Beit Jala, West Bank, March 4, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli and Palestinian demonstrators, including Joint List MK Dov Khenin, take part in a march against the occupation, Beit Jala, West Bank, March 4, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Most Israelis, says Iyad, think that the Palestinian Authority exists independently and that the checkpoints exist only in the area between the PA and Israel; they do not understand the difference between passing between Israel and PA-controlled areas and crossing any other border. But this is not the situation. The checkpoints are spread out across the West Bank, separating between cities, villages, families. They make people’s lives miserable and hopeless. Want to know why Palestinians don’t want to speak with Israelis? Precisely because of this. A home that is destroyed, tear gas that breaks up a gathering at a local community center because someone threw a stone, administrative detention — all of them bring us further away from dialogue and strengthen extremism.

For you, Iyad adds, this is just another item in the newspaper. For us it’s a way of life.

He turns to the crowd and asks: “Did you know that we are allotted only 14 percent of the water in the West Bank — even less than the little that was promised by the Oslo Accords? According to international law the water belongs to the Palestinians, and yet the PA is forced to buy its water from Israel’s national water company. The rest goes to Israel.”

This is just a small example of a problem that will be solved when a Palestinian state is established, he says. “Give us the opportunity to worry about our water sources, to have our own Internet providers just like you do (Israel limits 3G services in Palestinian areas of the West Bank, despite an agreement signed last November between Israel and the PA that was supposed remove these limits). Allow a Palestinian policeman to stop me and check my ID, not one of your soldiers. I am even willing to wade through the bureaucracy — but in my state, where I am an equal citizens. Just like you.

Before my Zionism turns into cynicism

Iyad finished his talk and I was left along with my thoughts. They say the two-state solution is no longer relevant, that the present reality simply won’t allow for it to happen, that we cannot — once again — remove people from their homes in the settlements, that there is “no partner.” Meanwhile, however, we continue to struggle for creating our own boundaries, since we understand that without them, things can only get worse.

I understood that we need a new definition that will allow us to know where we belong, to connect us to a community, will give us some kind of attachment that goes beyond land. In the name of Judaism or Zionism we continue to look for anything that will help us define ourselves, meanwhile we have prevented the Palestinians from doing that very thing for nearly 50 years.

How did we forget, along the way, to allow them to take responsibility for their lives, to build a generation of leaders who will promote dialogue rather than extremism, who will see the person standing before them, and not only the one who mans the checkpoint?

Just a moment before I let my Zionism turn into cynicism, that summer night in the middle of July allowed me to imagine something different — to look reality straight in the eye without blinking or becoming confused, and to dare and say the word “peace” once again.

Yael Burstein is an organizational consultant based in Ramat Gan. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. i_like_ike52

      The creation of an independent Palestinian state “side-by-side” with Israel would’t begin to solve the Palestinian problem. What about the refugees? Why do you think any Palestinian leader, including Abbas, CAN NOT give up an unlimited “right of return” of the refugees? If they insist on this, there will be no agreement and no Palestinian state. People like Tzippi Livni and Ehud Olmert claim that the refugees will be resettled on the West Bank. The Palestinians will never agree to such a thing because there is no room for them, they are viewed as aliens (just as the West Bank Palestinians view the Palestinians living in Gaza) and bringing them in would completely overturn the existing social and political structure of the West Bank, and would inevitably lead to a Syrian-style civil war. Don’t forget that Livni and Olmert and many others repeat ad nauseum “It will be very bad for Israel if there isn’t a Palestinian state (that isn’t true but will we use it for the sake of argument)”. Do they expect Abbas to tell his fellow Palestinians “we had better hurry up and make the unbearable concessions necessary so that we can get a Palestinian state in order to help Israel”? Of course not. They believe the status quo will eventually lead to an Israel collapse (it won’t) and that is the policy they are carrying out.
      No independent Palestinian state. Get used to it, because that is the situation the Palestinian leadership , both HAMAS and FATAH, are carrying out.
      Therefore, you are just going to

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    2. Bruce Gould

      “Commanders For Israel’s Security”:


      It might be worth examining what the Israeli security establishment (or at least a non-trivial segment of it) thinks about what needs to be done, and what they think of the possibility of a Palestinian state.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      Ike52, you absurdly claim to just know all these things that the Palestinians all think but you really have no idea. You’re just conjuring a fixed unchanging phantom, a boogie man, tailored just so, to fit your agenda. And you inject a heavy dose of anti-Arab racism and Jewish Nationalist condescension. I have to laugh at the attempt to tell us how much the Palestinians would fear a two state solution that would “overturn the existing social and political structure of the West Bank.” As if the vast majority of Palestinians do not despise but instead love the existing structure as you and your fellow settlers do. Again, the narcissism. Israelis whine about “delegitimization” but it is they who constantly delegitimize the Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Average American

      Israel is the king of diversion and delay. The country doesn’t even have borders, still in “dispute”. Meanwhile Israel expands its territory by declaring “security zones” and “settlements”. Water rights in West Bank? Still in dispute. Meanwhile Mekorot makes a profit selling water to PA. Two states? Dispute. Meanwhile Israel goes on trying to intimidate all Arabs out of the country so there can be enough of a Jewish majority that there is no need for a Palestinian state. Israel is a tactician, a manipulator, and that breeds distrust.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Fiuna

      Hello, I would like to enter in contact with the author of the article, Yael. Kindly forward this request. Kind regards, Fiuna

      Reply to Comment