Israel at 70 years

Two countries, one homeland

Written by Jessica Balleer

70 years after the Israeli Declaration of Independence it is almost a miracle how well the state has developed. However, while the economy grows, politicians seem to be far away from a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But in the population hope starts to blossom. And new ideas for peace float.

(Diese Reportage ist auch auf deutsch abrufbar.)

Jerusalem/Tekoa – Naama folds pita bread with her fingers and dunks it in a bowl of hummus. The 23-year-old, rasp-short hair, wide clothes, alert look, has lunchbreak. She is with friends, sitting in a corner restaurant in the student quarter Nachlaot, in the middle of Jerusalem. “We talk almost daily about the conflict“, Naama says and bites off a piece of bread. For two years she had served in the Israeli army, before she started studying literature. “But it has been very quiet for a long time now.” Naama says this after a period of one month without a terror attack in Jerusalem – but while Israeli soldiers and Palestinians are fighting in the Gaza strip.

Naama doesn’t have Arabian friends or even knows any Arabs, although they constitute nearly 40 percent of the city's population. There has never been a possibility to get to know some, she says. „The problem is that people can’t trust if they don’t know each other“, the young woman says and swallows the last slice of pita. Naama is a child of the town and therefore also a child of the Middle East conflict. As grandchildren of the founding fathers her generation bears the responsibility for Israel's future.

This story could begin with the 2000 year-old anti-Judaism, with Jews being expelled from Palestine. It could begin in 1918, at the time when Great Britain granted their return to Palestine. However, this story begins with the 14th of May in 1948, the fifth day of the month Iyar in the Jewish calendar. David Ben-Gurion declared the birth of the state and became Israel's first prime minister. It is almost a miracle that Israel has got over wars against neighbouring states and has developed quite well in spite of the Middle East conflict.

The birth of Israel was a promise to all Jews on this earth. It became their life insurance after the Holocaust. However, in 1967 the state's face has changed. After the victory in the Six-Day War the settlement process began in the West Bank. Israeli self-defence became an occupation. The conflict with the Palestinians flared – and has endured until today. If one wants to understand how complicated the situation is, one has to go to Jerusalem.

Narrow lanes and lots of tourists. And right in the middle the families in the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian quarter of the Old City: Jerusalem is like a mosaic. Only when it’s complete, one can see the wonderful picture. But from the news many people only know terror and riots in this probably most special of all cities – which Ben-Gurion wanted to be the everlasting capital of Israel in 1949, but whose eastern part the Palestinians claim also as a capital of their state.

Jerusalem is the centre of the conflict. And therefore it’s the place where a peaceful future can begin. More and more people can be found who believe in this.

Courage and will to make peace seem to be absent in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanjahu’s government currently, however, during these days the most interesting political movement is growing in the town – at municipal level. It's called "Yerushalayim-Al Quds" (“Holy Jerusalem”). The initiators are Israeli author Gershon Baskin and Palestinian activist Aziz Abu Sarah. They want to put up an Israeli-Palestinian list for the local elections in autumn. Up to now 350,000 Palestinians had always boycotted elections. Baskin says in the Jerusalem Post: ''From Jerusalem will ring the bells of freedom and the message of hope. Jerusalem belongs to us all.''

Only a few minutes’ drive away to the south of Jerusalem, the village of Tekoa is located. Here, in the middle of the West Bank, a rabbi advocates a peaceful cooperation of Jews and Arabs, Israeli settlers and Palestinians.

Shaul David Judelman (39) hurries down the street in sandals, cloth pants and a brown shirt. "Hey there", he shouts and apologises for the delay. His three children (one, three and five years old) had been particularly reliant on care this morning – and the oldest didn’t want to leave to school. Judelman has been living in Israel for nearly twenty years. Grown up in Seattle, he immigrated at the age of 21. Tekoa lies between luscious hills and an imposing canyon. The only flaw: A barbed wire fence divides it. The northern part is home for about 5500 Jewish settlers, the southern for round about 9000 Palestinians.


Shaul David Judelman (39) Foto: Jessica Balleer

Judelman says that there are parts of the fence where people can cross. But permission of the security forces is needed to drive on the mountain road to the foreign part of the town. And then Judelman talks about the movement "Roots" which intends to change this. About 30 Israelis and Palestinians from Tekoa are involved, but have reached already more than 16,000 people in Israeli and Palestinian towns. “At Roots we envision a social and political reality that is founded on dignity, trust, and a mutual recognition and respect for both peoples' historic belonging to the entire Land”, Judelman says. His children for instance, they sometimes play and interact with kids from Palestine. “We organise exchange between people and offer possibilities for getting to know each other.” This isn’t always pleasant: On Independence Day they invite to a meeting which is about Nakba and Alijah. This means: Palestinians talk about family members who were expropriated or expelled in 1948. Israelis tell how grandparents returned in the native country of their forefathers. “Dialogue also has to do with confrontation and understanding each other.“

Even the rabbi himself calls it a “crazy idea” that religious colonists appear as peace ambassadors. Then he reports about members of "Roots" who have withdrawn because they have been threatened – only on Palestinian side. The terrorist organisation Hamas lies behind, also mighty family clans, he guesses. Judelman has not experienced hostility, but his friend Shmulek likes to remind him: “You’re a dreamer, Shaul!“, he says. “With those people one can’t make peace at all!“ Many people change their minds if it comes to incidents. The "Roots" do not stick to a certain peace plan. Nevertheless, Judelman finds the idea of the modern peace process interesting: "Two countries, one homeland" it is called. Two states in the borders of 1967 should be led by a common government – according to the utopia. Ali Abu Awwad also believes in it: “Fear is the enemy whom we have to defeat“, the activist says. Awwad has attained fame as the „Palestinian Gandhi“.Even without agreement on what will be the political model, the activists of Roots know that without their work on the ground, "all the hopes for peace fall flat", the rabbi says.

Grassroot movements prosper in Israel, like fruit and vegetables in the Golan Heights. In the discussion forum “Path of Hope and Peace“ Palestinians and Israelis discuss and interact online. The initiative “Women Wage Peace“ is special, it intends to have women participate in the peace process. „In the end, mothers have to send their children to army and war“, activist Shlomit Ashkenazi explains. On mondays some of these women demonstrate in front of the government Knesset for the admission of peace talks. It’s their objective to place the option of a political resolution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the top of the Israeli public agenda.

Though on the domestic front corruption, high cost of living and social problems (which the unorganic increase of the number of inhabitants on 8.5 million people brought with itself) are restraining the country. And even on the 70th anniversay Palestinian protesters demonstrated. But on the other hand there is a growing economy and tourism in Israel. The peace with Jordan and Egypt has continuance. And in Germany and the US the Jewish state knows two mighty friends on its side.

For the 70th anniversary it probably remains to keep our fingers crossed for Israel. To say "Mazel tov!" that temperate wins against nationalism, and wisdom against enmity. This is also valid for Palestine – already before the first birthday of a state, which must and will come. There’s a saying almost every Israeli knows and Ben-Gurion repeated many times: Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles, is not a realist.

Erinnerung und Verpflichtung

Yad Vashem - Die Gedenkstätte auf dem Berg der Erinnerung in Jerusalem wurde 1953 als ein Zentrum für Dokumentation, Erforschung, Pädagogik und Gedenken an den Holocaust gegründet.

Freundeskreis Yad Vashem - Die Initiative fördert Projekte in Israel und Deutschland im Bereich der Erinnerung. Sie hat es sich zur Aufgabe gemacht, „die Arbeit der Gedenkstätte finanziell und ideell zu unterstützen“, sagt der Vorsitzende und Ex-„Bild“-Chef, Kai Diekmann. Im Vorstand sind „Tagesspiegel“-Chefredakteur Stephan-Andreas Casdorff und FDP-Fraktionsvize Alexander Graf Lambsdorff. Ex-NRW-Ministerpräsident Jürgen Rüttgers ist Kuratoriumsvorsitzender. Jeder kann Mitglied werden.

Projekt - Auf dem Herzlberg soll das „Heritage Building“ entstehen: ein neuer Gebäudekomplex für die zahlreichen Artefakte und Nachlässe Holocaust-Überlebender.

Cover: Carla Schneettler, Phil Ninh, dpa
Bilder: Jessica Baller, Marlen Keß, dpa
Video: ARD, arte, Bayerischer Rundfunk, euronews, NDR, phoenix

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Von Jessica Balleer (Recherche und Text), Christina Rentmeister (Grafik), Phil Ninh (Design und Programmierung)

RP ONLINE, 27.09.2023

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