A tour of the Samarian mountains led to an unusual conference at the European Parliament in Brussels. Sheikh Jabari of Hebron spoke of trust between himself and the Hebron settlers, and the Vice-Chair of the (European) Union related his positive impressions of coexistence in Barkan and at Ariel University. Not a word about occupation or apartheid.
by Asaf Gabor, Brussels
(Makor Rishon, “Yoman”, p. 20)
The Bibi-Mofaz trick that produced a unity government instead of elections, again brought to the fore the issue of contacts with the Palestinians. PA head Abu Mazen sought to return to dialog, but conditioned it on stopping construction in the settlements,agreement to form a Palestinian state within the ’67 borders and release of prisoners. Attorney Yitzchak Molco, the Prime Minister’s emissary, sent a letter to the Palestinians making Netanyahu’s position clear, that he is willing to return to negotiations without preconditions. In the end, the usual political ping-pong ended with a promise to hand over 100 terrorist corpses to the Palestinian Authority as an Israeli gesture.
As if divorced from the political reality on the ground and from the cycle of negotiations sunk deep in the mire, the European Union this week decided to ratify Barack Obama’s two-state solution.
On Tuesday, a day after the Union’s decision, a historic visit by a remarkable delegation took place at the home base of the Union in Brussels. No, not another delegation of human rights or Israeli leftist organizations, together with members of the PLO Executive Committee or senior officials of the Palestinian Authority. This time, it was a unique group of people who daily live with the problems and challenges in the area.
The chairman of the Samaria Regional Council, Gershon Mesika, was an unusual character on the European Parliament scene, being the first settler to speak from the conference stage. Another figure attracting the eye of the Europeans was Sheikh Farid al-Jabari,”leader of the Palestinians in Hebron”, according to the description of him in the program. The conference, titled “Peace in the Middle East”, for the moment abandoned the terms “occupation”, “territories”, “illegal construction” and the rest of the terminology routinely bandied about in the European dialog on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and turned over the stage to the parties who live side-by-side.
The special get-together was directed by the Vice-Chair of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of the European Union, Fiorello Provera. He opened the conference with a purview of the chaos in Arab states after the revolutions, and the threat of extremist Islam prevailing in those countries – as well as in ever-expanding areas in European countries. “We see ourselves as fighters for human rights and democracy, and at the same time we in Europe are being threatened by extremist Islam”, said Franz Obermayr, a member of the European Parliament, before the conference. “Israel is in a reality of perpetual threat from the terror organizations, and this reality needs to be solved, but the solution of two states for two peoples is making headway everywhere, so we must try to find alternative ways.”
Small Steps on the Ground
At the dinner preceding the alternative summit conference, one could have the personality of Provera dominate, as an Italian from the province of Portalina. It was evident that he believes in people. His warm Italian temperament blended in with the Middle Eastern temperament, the Arabic on one hand and the Israeli on the other.
Later on, wearing a necktie, Provera explained on the speaker’s platform how he sees the conflict: “Contrary to the popular opinion that we hear all the time, the suffering of the Israelis and the Palestinians is not caused by arguments over land. The fact is that the steps Israel has taken, such as the Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and from the Gaza Strip in 2005, have not brought it any closer to peace or improved the lot of the Palestinians. The reality in the Middle East will not necessarily change with the help of territorial compromise, but with confidence building steps taken by people.”
Provera, who four months ago toured Samaria, underwent an “awareness revolution”, according to the definition by the Strategy Unit of the Samarian Regional Council. The Unit deals with public relations, spokesmanship, visits and tours in Samaria, and in the words of Unit head Yossi Dagan, “everything that is out of the box”. The Liaison Office, which operates under the auspices of the Strategy Unit, has maintained contacts for a year and a half with tens of European Unity Parliament members. Thirty of them, belonging to the conservative stream, came for a condensed visit. Twenty more, among them Provera, came for a private visit. “He’s a very busy man. In the original plan, he agreed to dedicate half an hour to a tour, no more”, says Dagan. “We decided to take him straight from the airport on a 20-minute trip to the observation point in the town of Tzofim in Samaria. From there, he could see the lights of the Samarian settlements on one side, and on the other side the lights of Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion Airport. He was astounded, and he immediately called to cancel the meetings he had planned during the next two days. We took him on the routes that we take for senior media officials, leading opinion makers and foreign leaders. The reaction was the same. At first, people’s eyes are opened to a reality that they were not familiar with. Afterwards, their minds open up to different ideas, which become clear to them once they feel the reality on the ground.”
The visit to the European Parliament is in fact a reciprocal visit by the Samarians. That visit certainly left its mark, according to Provera’s words. The senior European parliamentarian went on with his speech, relating his experiences in Israel: “During my latest trip to Israel I visited extensive areas of Judea and Samaria, and also Ariel University, where I saw scenes that many of those who speak of a two-state solution don’t see. Jewish and Arab students studying side by side there, working on joint academic projects which in the end will improve their economic situation. At the Barkan Industrial Park I saw enterprises where Palestinians and settlers worked together in one factory. As opposed to that splendid reality, the head of the Palestinian Authority Abu Mazen is working with all of his might to prevent joing projects between settlers and their Arab neighbors. Ever since Sala’am Fayad’s call to boycott goods produced in the territories, many Palestinians who used to work in such places, have joined the ranks of the unemployed and sit at home doing nothing. In my opinion, small steps towards partnership such as these, lead to far more significant progress than speeches about far-reaching agreements.”
“The Oslo Agreements have failed”
Sheikh Farid al-Jabari, a man of action, not words, attacked the Oslo Agreements that in his view have failed the test of reality, taking their toll in blood from both sides and leading to a worse-than-ever state of affairs for the Palestinians. “To our dismay, for the last 20 years we have not succeeded in making peace, and the two peoples have paid a heavy price in blood and loss of life. The Oslo agreements have proven themselves to be agreements leading only to conflict. The fact is that every five years there has been either a war or an intifada. For 64 years we have tried all different ways to defeat each other in war, conflicts that led to loss of life and in failed talks, too. War will not lead to a solution, and neither will terror. We want peace with dignity”, said the Sheikh.
A few days before the Brussels summit, Jabari invited me to his tent in the Ziv desert and let me in on his preparations for the meeting. “The reality is that we live without basic medical services, money to feed our children, and most importantly – without dignity. The corrupt Palestinian Authority plays a significant part in this. The money sent by the European Union to the PA does not get to us. The only hospital in the Hebron area has no basic equipment, such as ultra-sound.”
A few days later on the Brussels stage, the Sheikh announced unequivocally: “I deny the view that land justifies killing innocent people. We cannot negotiate about this land, because it does not belong to Arafat, to Abu Mazen or to me. This land is holy according to religious faith. Islam teaches us that you cannot cancel me out and I cannot cancel out your reality. If this is the reality imposed on us, then let’s learn how to live in real peace, not with the illusions that people coming from outside try to sell us, in the wake of the Oslo Agreements.
“Education of our children needs to be changed on both sides. We must build trust, not slogans. When you guard the honor of the other person, you are preserving your own honor. The Jews living in Hebron have been labeled with the stigma that they are the most extreme Jews in the State of Israel. In spite of that, we have proven that we can come to a mutual understanding, and today they say that if the Sheikh says something, we stand behind him. I respect their leadership’s word, too. When people want to live together, it’s possible to help one another. Problems can’t be solved by filling pockets with money and hoping the reality will change and that the “other” will just disappear from the scene. We are here together, let’s learn to get along together in one state.”
The words of the Sheikh and of Fiorello Provera stirred up the Parliament members. The conference, which at first went smoothly, took on an interesting and exciting nature, and the extraordinary words spoken caused those present to sit up straight in their cushy seats.
“Turn off the faucet”
Gershon Mesika opened by making it clear that just like the speakers from the Palestinian side, the settlers are also working against the security fence, which is hurting the settlement movement and is forcefully attempting to change the reality on the ground. He clarified before the attendees the strategic importance of Samaria from an Israeli viewpoint. “This is the cradle of the Jewish people’s homeland, a place of strategic importance to the State’s existence. Israel’s width from the sea to the river is only 70 kilometers. Of this, Samaria takes up 55 kilometers. Whoever visits Samaria – and some of the distinguished MKs were with us on tours of the area and can confirm my words – sees with his own eyes Samaria’s importance as the safety belt of the State of Israel. Those in Europe who are pushing the idea of forming a Palestinian state, are in fact sticking a knife in Israel’s heart and putting Israel in real existential danger. Just like what happened with the expulsion from Gush Katif, when we settlers leave, terror comes in to replace us.
“Israel is the only democratic country in the region, and it is essentially the dam that blocks the Islamic flood threatening Europe, too. Without settlement in Judea and Samaria, the existence of the State of Israel is not feasible.”
Mesika also asked the representatives of the European Union to turn off the faucet to the extreme Leftist organizations working against the settlement enterprise. “These are extremist organizations that have a minimal influence on the public, trying with all their might to incite the world against the State of Israel by means of false accusations against it. The funds that the European Union sends them for purposes of peace, in fact are used by them as weapons against the State of Israel. I don’t see the logic, in a difficult economic reality where some European countries are on the brink of collapse and their stronger cohorts are forced to part with considerable funds to rescue them, that specific bodies in Europe consider it right to spend billions of Euros on the activities of these organizations”, said Mesika.
The children of our father Abraham
During the coffee break, people walked all around us - the strange ones with kippas on their heads, people thirsty for information. The size of the population in Samaria, the height of the mountains, water problems in the Hebron area and the cooperation between the settlers and Sheikh Jabari – all of these topics replaced the usual dialog on the ’67 borders, apartheid and occupation.
“The reality you are experiencing today in your home country, already exists in specific areas by us, too”, says Carla, an intern in one of the European lobbies. “The policy of two states for two peoples is still the leading policy of the Union, but the internal Islamic problem is starting to cause young people to speak and to see the problem in a different way.”
Right before MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas), who was also present at the event, raised the painful issue of the Jewish refugees who escaped from Arab countries and left behind all their possessions, Gershon Mesika related in his speech the story of his two older brothers who perished in the Holocaust in Libya: “I, Gershon the son of Yosef and Gita Mesika, whose two older brothers Amos and Ya’akov were murdered by the cursed Nazis in the Jado concentration camp in Libya, stand before you and declare to the whole world that the Jewish People have a state of their own, and not only are we not selling it out, but we are buying it again and again with our blood and are paying for the right of our state to exist, to protect it and to settle it.”
Ze’ev spoke about the Arab Spring and the chaos prevailing in the Middle East, in the context of the Union’s position on the Israeli-Arab conflict. “The European Union needs to take their blindfolds off and look at the realities before them”, he told the MKs. “There is still education towards violence and terror. The leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniya, announced that his organization has no intention of honoring any agreements signed with Abu Mazen. Therefore, the European Union should understand the complicated situation and not make the general-regional solution dependent on the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Ze’ev emphasized that the Arabs in Israel today enjoy security and possibilities for development that don’t exist for them in other places, and certainly nowhere else in the Middle East. “We can’t ignore the fact that in Arab countries there is poverty, corruption and violence by the authorities. This is the main obstacle to the peace process, not the building of a balcony in Ramat Shlomo. The European Union must recognize the rights of the Jews to the Land of Israel as the children of father Avraham who was in Israel long before Islam.
“Just as it cannot be that an outside country decides that a specific region in Europe does not belong to Europe, it also cannot be that outside countries will decide that Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem are outside the homeland of the Jews. They must encourage the Jews and the Palestinians to come to an agreement that will satisfy all the children who live in the region. Two million Arabs live safely within Israel. There is no reason that Jews cannot live on their land, in the cities mentioned in the Torah – Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Hebron.”
Sheikh A’ataf Krinoway of Rahat, spoke of the ability of the Beduins to serve as a bridge between Israel, Egypt and Jordan. “Peace is made with people, not with politicians. We ourselves need to work for the sake of peace”, said Krinway.