December 4th - 9th European Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) group visit to Israel and Palestinian Territories. This programme seeks to show a range of opinions from both sides of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict and to promote the positive efforts of NGOs who are working for peace in the region.
We visited Bethlehem on December 5th to see the Church of Nativity and then the Bethlehem Peace Centre. Later we walked through, and talked with, residents of the Daehashie Refugee Camp where there was a fundraising craft event for those Palestinians who have a disability.
We spoke with Dr. Emil Jarjoui, the Mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarset and the Mayor of Beit Sahour, Mr. Hani Al-Hayek. They expressed the difficulty of living under occupation and the problems of financial sanctions. The Mayor of Beit Sahour told the group that there are now 70% below the poverty line in his municipality.
Rami Elhanan, an Israeli, and Shireen Essawi, a Palestinian, from the Bereaved Family Forum (BFF) spoke to our group in the evening. They have spoken together in both communities about reconciliation and overcoming revenge.
Mr. Fayez Saqqa, a Fatah Palestinian Legislative Council member, spoke about the prospects for peace in the region. We also visited PARC, an NGO that has done much to develop the agricultural base of Palestinians.
It was valuable to have the opportunity to raise the grievances that were expressed by Palestinians to Israeli political and media figures, and vice versa, as direct contact between Israelis and Palestinians is limited.
On Wednesday 6th of December, while visiting the Israeli Knesset, Gen. (Ret.) Dany Yatom MK, the Deputy Leader of the Labour party spoke to us to explain his view on negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. He spoke of the threat from Iran to the state of Israel adding that Israel could not allow a nuclear armed Iran. He said he supported the development of negotiations with Syria. Following this Nadia Hillou MK spoke to us about challenging discrimination in the budget that has not always treated Arab-Israelis fairly.
The group went to see Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. Later they met Professor Moshe Amirav who shared with the Europeans about his long experience in the search for peace in the Middle East. He also shared ideas on how to resolve the humiliation felt by Palestinians.
The Saudi Initiative, accepted on March 28th 2002, by the Arab League, Akiva Eldar said, was the most important document since the Balfour declaration. He believes that it is the best basis for negotiations for the normalization of relations between all nations of the Arab world and Israel. He said he wants to visit Syria to speak to President Bashir Asaad.
Dr Muli Peleg as chair of One Voice Israel he and others have tried to build the peace from the grassroots up rather than the top down.