Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

When sitting at home is not an answer

Last week for me was insightful and inspiring. Instead of hanging around with fellow geriatrics I was lucky enough to be exposed to a range of opinions,suggestions and positive thinking.

On Sunday evening in Tel Aviv I was with a group of people invited by Combattants for Peace to meet  two gentlemen a protestant and a catholic, former intransigent enemies from Northern Ireland. They told their personal stories and we listened because we hoped to learn something about settling conflict with ones deadly enemy.

The story is far from over in Northern Ireland but at least there’s no more bloodshed and those that live there have reached a modus vivendi. Funnily enough later that week I spoke to a friend whose son lives in Southern Ireland and she told me that there was a possibility due to Brexit that both sides of Ireland could become united through  mutual committment to the EU? Her daughter in law had quickly intervened  “Oh no, we don’t want that lot coming in here” Muted racism or what?

I had the feeling after the meeting that apart from the human need to seek harmony and understanding there was little to learn. However  as long as ordinary people will pursue peace and mutual respect that’s a way to start.

On Wednesday I was invited to the Knesset by MK. Meirav Michaeli who with MK,s Michael Oren and Yaakov Perry had initiated a lobby to work towards enhancing and developing present economic,tourist and cultural  relations with friendly neighbouring countries.

After all these years in Israel I still get a lump in my throat as the bus passes  Shaar Hagai and climbs up to Jerusalem.The other passengers seem strangely immune to the ecstasy I experience, which in any case  is odd, for at the back of my mind is the reality of what is happening in that united city, which in my opinion is the “heart of the world”

I worked for many years with journalists and VIP’s from the UK and Ireland and it was they who first coined the phrase”heart of the world”. The city of the three monotheistic faiths which should be a peaceful and harmonious city and is anything but.

On arrival at the Knesset which for me during the 80’s was a place that I had reason to visit often I marvelled at the refurbishment of so many areas and smiled to myself at  the enlarged press photos all of which must have been approved by the PM, which lined the walls. Its certainly worth a visit whatever ones political inclinations. One could get the feeling that all is in order in Israel’s Parliament.

Some of us had journeyed from afar and found a welcoming reception table laid out with burekas, vegetables, fruit and drink outside of the Hall where the meeting was scheduled to take place.

I looked around and seeing familiar well known faces I envisaged a session which would be informative,encouraging and stimulating.

The opening remarks by Meirav Michaeli were  “Israel has been almost passive in the area of regional cooperation and that we should reactivate, since time is not on our side”.  Michael Oren quoted history and then went on to say,”Our relations do exist with major players namely Egypt and Jordan and some Eastern Mediterranean countries and the time is ripe to exploit the situation since we have a common enemy in “Dayish”.

The floor was then given to Minister of Tourism, Yariv Levin who waxed lyrical over the progress in building amicable relationships with whom we share borders and others in the region. He remonstrated that we were definitely not passive.  He was followed by Deputy Minister Ayub Kara who spoke excitedly about projects for the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley.

Then Ambassadors from Cyprus,Bulgaria and Jordan spoke enthusiastically and until then the atmosphere  was politically correct.The Egyptian lady who represented their Embassy was introduced but I have the feeling that she did not speak.

Then, Ksenia Svetlova from the Hamachanai Hatzioni introduced herself as an Arab speaker and expert on the region. She looked around and said “Someone is missing here” If this is about the region where is the Palestinian representative? Why is Madani the Head of the Committee for Interaction with Israeli society not here? How can we talk about anything positive in this region until the Israelis and Palestinians renew talks for a Two State solution?

From then on all of the speakers who followed felt free to say whatever they wanted.The question of water was raised and there were some comments from the Israeli side to intimate that they were developing projects to alleviate the situation

Among  the  guests around the table were a senior official of the US Embassy, UNESCO representative Judy Barrett who spoke with conviction and tact, Prof Uzi Arad who was not happy that the Foreign Office was not represented  quote “they should be major players”!

There were more including Kobi Huberman from Israel Yozemet and Zahir Malul MK and Ayelet Nachmias MK.  It was lively and well managed session on an important issue but the message came through loud and clear that  without a two state solution it would not succeed for the long term.  The summing up by Dr Nimrod Goren and Prof  Pardo of Mitviim who were the inspiration for this lobby, was excellent and I believe that everyone who was there whatever their objections to some of the ideas  would agree that  a sizeable  lobby will  keep the issue on a front burner.

Thursday,  I boarded a bus in Tel Aviv for Ramallah. More than 40 representatives from 20 groups working for peace were on board. The expectations were high despite the fact that two weeks previously when we attempted to  visit Mohamed Madani who has been denied access to Israel for a considerable  time, we turned back at Tapuach Junction.

This time however,we arrived to a warm reception.  Around a large table were Madani, Zaid Darwish a relative of the acclaimed poet and other men and women representing various mutual interests.

I will not write here every word except to say we all had a chance to present our point of view,ask leading questions and receive straight answers.  They talked about growing fear among the population on one hand, increased restrictions and the threatening huge red signs forbidding either Israelis to enter arab towns or “unauthorised persons” outside every Jewish settlement.

They also talked about what could happen after Abu Mazen? They see a re start of negotiations as imperative.

Fadwa who heads the Jerusalem Center for Women spoke about the need to give young people hope. She lives in Nahlin next to Efrat. She says “our children look out of their windows to see their land being confiscated”. They cannot visit relatives and they cannot go to the sea. Kids in Gaza have not been able to move outside ever.

When the question was raised about what will it take to get their President and our Prime Minister to sit together and who could put pressure on whom? The answer was” No one has to put pressure on Abu Mazen, he is willing”

They thanked us most profusely for coming.

On Friday with a personal invitation I attended the first screening in Tel Aviv Cinemateque of “Disturbing the Peace” the film made in cooperation with Lochamei Shalom – Combatants for Peace. I suggest you look into their website and within seconds will  experience the profound longing for peace, end to conflict and hope for future generations it reflects.The producers Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young who were there in Tel Aviv to take questions, are to be congratulated for their portrayal of humanity in its purest form.

Soon playing around the country ….go and see it,then have the discussion.

Yes it was an inspiring week……

About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.