Sunday 10 January 2010

Blog-log day 12 - that dialogue over that fence over there

Two days ago I got the number 18 bus from East Jerusalem Bus Station, Nablus Road, and went to Ramallah - it was only brief and I hope to go back this week. But what I saw was full-on city - with an economy, with ambition, with potential. If it were (and this risks sounding trite) a part of London you would call on the council to take it's responsibilities seriously and crack on with the physical and economic regeneration that would move it forwards in leaps and bounds.

But whilst the government, people and army of Israel feels compelled to defend itself then the whole thing is depressed and maintained at a level that cannot and will not thrive.

The over-riding topic in Israel and on the West Bank in political conversations is that of security - and yet there is a curious double existence with the religious pilgrimages going on all around from Christians, Jews and Muslims.

This photograph of the security fence around the West Bank is taken from Mount Zion (Ironically I was visiting Oskar Schindlers tomb). It wasn't a clear day, but you can see the dominance of the Israeli security fence.

For a long time I have held the instinctive position that constructing walls between communities is wrong, that use of violence is wrong, that human rights are fundamental. Much of these 'western values' emerged from the wreckage of World War II and are principles that my grandfather's who fought in that war would recognise.

We tend to view the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as a conflict that just needs sorting out. But here it is a battle for survival. There are groups, movements, armed individuals, groups and even countries that don't want Israel to exist. But the right for Israel to exist is now a permanent one and is now accepted in most Arab capitals.

So if you accept the right for Israel to exist, and then regret the existence of the walls and fence and the conflict you still have to handle the fundamental issue of security. And this it seems is where the mainstream debates in Europe and Israel differ. This week in one of the papers here, the former Israeli Ambassador to Germany described Israel and Europe of having two monologues instead of one dialogue and it feels to me like that's an accurate call.

There are countless community peace initiatives - in the UK, in Europe and even here in Israel - I saw the joint music centre in Ramallah - but it seems to me that these community led initiatives will count for nothing whilst the wider concerns over security exist. This is where Europe seems to part company with Israel. Whilst Europe's assumption is that that peace will come through trust, it feels like a pipe dream here. Neither side is going to stop it's current conduct. If anything it feels more likely that it will escalate. Israel will do anything (almost literally) to defend itself, it's people and it's existence - here on the ground I see and understand that. And the concerns over human rights, over atmospheric tension, over the effect on the next generation of Palestinians are put to one side.

The task for those of us who care about this is to reflect the concerns over the future of statehood - for both sides - understand the scale of passion on the need to defend yourself and security, security, security. Then and only then can a dialogue start that might enable real borders (not fences and walls) and then move into ordinary economic and human rights work. If this was easy it probably would have progressed - but it is not - and on the ground I guess I just understand the impossibility of the situation and the passions aroused by religion and borders and statehood. You end up trying to decide whether to try and make a difference or whether to walk away and try something else in another sphere of the world.

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