I was just 6-years-old when I first visited Israel. My father, a university professor, often traveled to the country to give lectures. As a young child, I had the privilege to travel across the country. We even visited a village in the Gaza Strip — at the time it was still possible from Israel to drive to the Strip. Peace was in the air. But those days are long gone.
On European campuses, a reasonable pro-two state solution approach has been side-lined by one-staters of the BDS kind or of a right-wing Israel advocacy bent. Meanwhile, on the ground, Palestinians are stuck. On one hand, there is a corrupt, unaccountable leadership in Palestine that makes the two-state vision a dystopian one. On the other hand, they are faced with an increasingly chauvinist and right-wing Israeli political landscape. With such options available, it is easy to despair.
Also, the occupation is eroding Israel’s Jewish and Democratic ethos. It is making Israel’s friends and allies shy away, and has destabilising effects on inter-faith and inter-communal relations in Europe and the United States. Pro-peace views like mine are patronised and vilified within the larger pro-Israel community.
I don’t see the two-state solution as merely empty words. I want to see something done about it. That is why, after spending the summer of 2015 volunteering in Israel, I decided I would go and look for organisations that actively promote two states. As a non-Jewish student who has been involved in Israel-related activities for the past few years, what excites me about organisations like Yachad and the New Israel Fund (where I am currently New Gen Fellow) is that I can positively engage with Israel and Israelis without having to avoid talking about the occupation. And, at the same time, they promote dialogue with Palestinians without preconditions (unlike the current Israeli government).
This journey brought me to intern for Yachad this summer, where I had the chance to help develop Partners To Peace, a Yachad Youth campaign supporting the Holy Land Trust, Bethlehem-based NGO which promotes nonviolent Palestinian activism.
Holy Land Trust, founded by Sami Awad, is an organisation that strives to create a Palestinian Civil Society that resists the occupation through nonviolent means. The money raised will support two programmes which train and empower young and future civil society leaders through teaching techniques of nonviolence and leadership. When Yachad students spent time with him on the Yachad Student Trip to Israel & The West Bank last month, Awad clearly showed us the kind of person we in the pro-Israel community must reach out to. His relentless effort to connect with Diaspora and Israeli Jews who share his basic commitment to end the occupation, no matter how much they might disagree with his views, stuck with me.
When I hear the slogans of anti-normalisation campaigners on British campuses, calling for a one-sided anti-Israel stance, I think Partners To Peace is the best answer. When I see pundits defending the continued occupation of the West Bank and the siege on Gaza, using the justification that “there is no partner”, I believe it is our duty to amplify the voice of Palestinians who simply want to live their lives in dignity and want to reach out to us as partners. If they are not in the Palestinian Authority, then they surely are among the people.
No matters what your background is. If you want to prevent reaching a point of no return and end the occupation, the time is now!