Passersby in Jerusalem’s busy Hamashbir Plaza near Ben Yehuda Street on Friday morning could not ignore the deafening sounds emanating from the enthusiastic crowd gathered around the white tent. Present inside this conspicuous tent in the middle of the plaza were an Israeli and Palestinian delegation attempting to hold a mock peace treaty-signing ceremony. Unsurprisingly a few far-right, national religious groups had shown up to express their opposition (for video click here).
Exchanges of verbal rage between supporters and opponents of the Two-State Solution are of course to be expected at these types of events, especially at one being held in a crowded location at the epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At this particular event however, even words were apparently considered too accommodating, for the hecklers seemed to prefer blowing whistles rather than arguing with the ceremony’s participants.
After two days of negotiations sponsored by Minds of Peace—an organization that claims to work to “create the social conditions for peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by a grass-roots effort to involve the public directly in peace negotiations”—members of the Israeli and Palestinian delegations were beginning to shake hands one by one as an agreement was near.
Representing the Israeli side were an Orthodox Rabbi, a religious settler, an ex-Likud politician, a senior editor at Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli that lost his wife and child in a terrorist attack, and the pilot that led the Israeli attack on the nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981. Opposite the table were an array of Palestinian businesspeople, academics, educators and students.
As the peace talks unfolded, spectators and negotiators alike struggled to listen over the earsplitting noise of the incessant whistleblowing. Protesters without whistles took to yelling at the top of their lungs. Young men wearing large kippot typically associated with the settler movement paced around with whistles in their mouths as the negotiators took turns walking up to the police barricades separating them and the crowd to try to reason with the hecklers.
The evening before, organizers had chosen to leave the barricades aside, and the negotiators were quickly surrounded by youths whistling in their ears for the duration of the session.
Occasionally when the hecklers took a break from the yelling and whistleblowing, they attempted to drown out the negotiators with chants labeling the Israelis as traitors and Palestinians as terrorists. One Anglo with a yellow Kahane shirt even stopped shouting to have a conversation with the Israeli settler negotiator who, by both of the men’s change in body language, had apparently discovered something in common.
In the end, Israeli embraced Palestinian as the successful mock negotiations drew to a close. The ceremony, which Minds of Peace has already organized multiple times including in the exact same spot two months ago, will surely be dismissed by many as an agreement between left-wing idealists (though its roll call would indicate otherwise).
As some of the whistleblowers stubbornly tried to silence discussions between pockets of curious protesters who had finally decided to engage with the exiting negotiators, it became clear who were the victors of the morning’s public spectacle.
Neither can the highest pitch mask the sound of fear, nor can the shrillest attempts at vocal despotism derail the progress of dialogue. If those opposing the real talks currently underway would like to have their opinions considered, they might be advised to use their voices for speech rather than silencing them with plastic instruments. As for the real Israeli negotiators—Netanyahu and his team—perhaps it is time to treat the cries and threats of the vocal far-right minority as the impotent fits of desperation they really are.