On their arrival in Israel, delegates attending the latest in a series of ‘Middle East Peace Initiative’ visits met with the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, who welcomed them to the Holy Land. Conference sessions began the following morning and those taking part included the Editor of Haaretz newspaper, Akiva Eldar, a retired Israeli General Freddie Zach, Professor Sammy Smooha from the University of Haifa, former Knesset member Walid Sadik, Dutch politician Dr Pietre Beelarts, international relations consultant Drora Bendov and Richard Younger-Ross MP from the United Kingdom.
Amongst various ideas to emerge was a launch of ‘Madrid Talks 2’ as follow-on from the first Madrid talks, which had led to the Oslo agreement of 1993 that had ended the first intifada. Another idea raised was for a new quartet to be made up of Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Jordan as a grouping to promote successful negotiations. Dr Yossi Beilin, Member of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) also spoke of a hopeful initiative brought about by European Foreign Policy leader, Javier Solana and the Foreign Minister of Finland, Mr Erkki Tuomioja who have invited him to Brussels to discuss an international force on the Gaza border.
Film producer Gary Cohen then spoke about his recent documentary ‘Judea and Mohammed’ that had been shown on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom and Professor Alean Al-Krenawi of Ben Gurion University explained his project for reconciliation among students from Israeli and Palestinian backgrounds.
Throughout the remaining days participants were also able to hear the views of Daniel Seidemann who is the legal advisor to an organisation called Ir Amin which deals with Israeli-Palestinian relations in Jerusalem and Gershon Baskin of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information that covers the issues that need to be negotiated for a resolution of the conflict and Israeli politician Ran Cohen MK discussed the political situation during and after the war.
Dr Hadi Abdul Mahdi who is Chairman of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs provided an in-depth analysis into the Palestinian perspective of the conflict. Dr. Emil Jarjoui, a Fatah Palestinian Legislative Council member, joined him.
A visit was organised to the Dehaeshi refugee camp where some twelve thousand people live just outside Bethlehem, many of whom have been there since the 1950s. The guide had lived there all his life and said that most Palestinians had experienced Israeli jails at one time or another. The Deputy Mayor of Bethlehem, George Sa'adeh, and the Mayor of Beit Sahour, Hani Al-Hayek, explained the situation of their towns under the financial crisis.
The group then met with members of a Bereaved Family Forum who promote reconciliation rather than revenge and former Knesset Member Moses Erez elaborated about an ‘All for Peace’ radio service.
There was also a visit to Haifa where people had been killed or injured by Katyusha rockets as was further evidenced by a spray of ball bearings lodged in its surrounding walls and a visit to Bnai Zion hospital where civilian casualties had been taken
During their stay, the schedule had also enabled participants to take in the historic sights of the Old City of Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem.