Last year, I worked in Israel with one of the country’s leading left-wing pressure groups; Peace Now. I spent August working between their offices in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I can comfortably say that the experience was incredibly interesting; it not only increased my existing knowledge of the Israel-Palestine conflict but also provided me with a number of valuable insights into Israeli society.
My main project for the month was redesigning and rewriting much of Peace Now’s English website. The website was outdated, lacking information and had a poor structure. Therefore, I was instructed to investigate different website styles and rewrite a number of aspects of Peace Now’s website. On a practical level, my writing skills vastly improved due to the large amounts of reading and writing that I was carrying out each day. Furthermore, I learnt about the history of Peace Now – they were founded in 1978 in the midst of the peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt and are now deemed Israel’s leading left-wing pressure group – in addition to gaining a greater understanding the real ‘sticking points’ of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Having now completed my internship, I have been able to take time to reflect upon my experience and what I learnt while working there. Firstly, I have a better appreciation of the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition to understanding more about the fiercely contested issues such as the fate of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugee problem, I was able to gain an understanding of how the Israeli psyche in relation to the peace process with the Palestinians poses as an obstacle to peace. After discussing the notion of ‘peace’ with several Israelis, including my colleagues, I sensed a genuine fear and lack of hope for a lasting peace agreement in the near future. Given Israel’s turbulent history, this mindset is completely understandable and is something I would fail to have understood had I not worked with Peace Now.
In addition, I experienced first-hand the extremely difficult task that Peace Now and others involved in Israel’s peace-camp face; trying to convince the Israeli public and government of the necessity for ‘peace now’. Despite Peace Now having had numerous successes, they are still continually faced problems; namely increased Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. While I was working, I witnessed the Israeli Supreme Court rule the evacuation of the Migron settlement in the West Bank on legal grounds after several years of lobbying from Peace Now. Migron was built illegally, according to Israeli law, and must now be evacuated by March 2012. Obviously, this was a huge success for those working at Peace Now. However, these celebrations turned sour after a government statement several days later announced new settlement construction in the West Bank was to soon take place. This highlights the extremely difficult tasks that these activists in Israel face in their pursuit of peace.
Despite holding little optimism for peace between Israel and the Palestinians in the near future, my internship gave me hope that courageous leaders do exist in Israel and peace can be made one day. As I investigated the history of the movement, I discovered copies of letters sent between then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) Leader Yasser Arafat. In September 1993, Rabin sent a letter to Arafat recognising the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, which ultimately led to the Oslo Accords (an effort to create peace in the region) being signed. Rabin is arguably an inspirational political figure; despite being deemed a traitor by a faction of his own people and risking not only his political future and his life, he took a courageous stance in order to try and form peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It is this type of courage therefore that must be present if peace is ever to be made between Israel and the Palestinian people.
To conclude, my time in Israel filled me with both despair and optimism. I do not think there will be peace in the near future. However, I am adamant that peace is not impossible and I admire all those involved with Peace Now and the work they carry out.
Ben’s blog: http://onebigbagel.wordpress.com/