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A topsy-turvy year for Israel and Palestine - Christian Socialist Magazine - Feb 2004

Friday, January 16, 2004

Last year was a topsy-turvy year for hopes of a better future for the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  It was the year of a new peace plan - the roadmap - and a growth in anticipation that the United States of America, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, would be able together to exert sufficient pressure on the main parties to make progress. However the early hopes have not been realised and the old hatreds re-surfaced.

Last summer I visited Israel and Palestine and was able to talk with leading Israeli and Palestinian politicians and officials about the peace process. I gained a sense from a number of Israeli politicians that there is an urgency to move to a peaceful settlement. After three years of terror the population are mentally exhausted and the economy is in tatters. Likewise, Palestinian politicians are eager for a just settlement giving them not only their own land but a proper parliament.

I also came to understand something of the pervasive fear throughout that area. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv I saw sites where there had been suicide bombs - any caf?, any night club and any bus could be blown up at any time. The economy has been severely hit over the last 3 years and businesses can’t afford to lose custom.


In Palestinian areas it was like seeing a poor country set in the middle of a westernised one. Passing through Israeli check points is such a long process. For many Palestinians these controls are an encroachment on liberty and have severe effects on a population who already earn significantly less than their Israeli counterparts. Many Palestinians live on less than $2 a day and the conditions they live in are a scandal.

Trust is vital to any peace process, yet the very nature of this conflict means it is in short supply. The experience of many Palestinians is summarised by a view that I heard expressed, that the Jewish people want to take their land and get rid of them. I also heard heart breaking stories from Israelis who had family members killed by suicide bombings - small children killed and orphaned in a horrifyingly random way. However I also saw co-operation between the two peoples with a joint community and arts project in Haifa.

The journey towards a lasting peace is indeed a contradictory one: Israeli troops are pulled out of Jenin, lifting a blockade imposed since August 2003; the Israeli President invites the Syrian President to visit Israel to discuss a peace treaty for the Golan Heights. At the same time the Israelis continue to build a wall to separate themselves from the Palestinians that takes in large sections of Palestinian territory and yet again the suicide bombers have returned to kill and maim. As we know so well from Northern Ireland, a peace process will suffer setbacks, there will be difficult compromises and people are called upon to put behind them the injustices of years in order to move forward. We should do all we can to help and support those engaged in this difficult and dangerous work to make a just peace a reality.

I am left with so many images of a beautiful and historic land; the pain of the Jewish and Palestinian people affected by terror and poverty and the injustice of years. I will also remember one evening by the Sea of Galilee, may be it was partly its religious significance, but as a warm evening wind blew and the sun began to set it felt so peaceful.

Meg Munn MP


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