Does the headline of this opinion piece offend you? If so, please do not automatically turn the page just yet. I write as a 20-year-old British Jewish student who couldn’t have had a more conscious upbringing learning about the state of Israel.
Many of my relatives live in Israel, descendants of pre-1948 olim. My close connection to the country is not just taught, but cultivated through frequent visits: holidays, family gatherings and Israel Tour.
However, as I grew older, I started to challenge an arguably simplistic outlook on the region. I questioned my father about his family’s experiences in 1930s’ Palestine.
It is my belief the need to understand the history of the conflict is indispensable to any future encounters with a country I knew only on face value.
It is this journey that brought me to Yachad’s youth campaign, Partners to Peace. I am one of 30 student campaigners from across the UK who are leaders in youth movements, synagogues, and on campus. The campaign is fundraising for the Bethlehem-based NGO the Holy Land Trust (HLT), which supports nonviolent Palestinian activism.
The importance of the trust should be understood in light of the protracted stalemate in the current peace process between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The optimism of the 1990s now feels in the very distant past, given the violence that has followed ever since.
Matti Friedman, an Israeli-Canadian journalist, referred to this as a mere consequence of ‘Middle Eastern style’, where only strength can talk in politics.
HLT, however, directly challenges this outlook by seeking to heal the constant cycle of trauma on both sides with proactive, nonviolent activism.
A key emphasis for Sami Awad, the founder of the trust, is community action. This principle is particularly important given the inescapable disillusionment felt towards politicians in this conflict.
I personally experienced this disappointment when speaking with representatives from the PLO’s ‘Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society’ (PCIIS) in Ramallah.
They often fell back on divisive language such as ‘Settler Colonialism’ and, when asked about Hamas, instinctively answered that they were “an integral part of our people but with different ideas”, without admitting past acts of terrorism.
HLT’s forward-looking pragmatism of a future of understanding between two peoples is far removed from this. The communal focus of HLT promotes a framework and environment for a solution to emerge among dozens of actors in this conflict, divided by regions, tribal ties and religious affiliation.
I think it’s vital for liberal Zionists like myself to find Palestinian partners who back HLT’s principle of nonviolence.
By supporting this organisation, we can demonstrate our Zionism of moral and political responsibility, promoting a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual, Jewish and democratic state of Israel.
I understand that seeking new political alignments may seem naïve to a despairing reality faced on both sides.
However, if politicians continue to treat only the symptoms and not the disease, we will see no end to violence.
We in Partners to Peace are trying, with small gestures, to break the cycle of violence encouraged by military occupation and political deadlock, so that two states can live independently.
To find out more, go to our website at partnerstopeace.org.uk