More than 60 years of violations of International Law. War Crimes, crimes against humanity. Twenty years of peace talks. Several peace treaties efforts have gone by; yet the current status quo does not offer great prospects for peace.
From the land which until 1948 was called Palestine, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs were displaced. In 1967, after the six-day-war, Israel illegally occupied the remaining Palestinian territories, violating International Humanitarian Law. It became clear that Israel did not intend to withdraw from the West Bank. Their argument – based on a promise given to their biblical ancestors – not only justified the denial of the Palestinians’ human rights but was also a cover for the Israelis’ desire to annex most of the Palestinian territories, if not all of them. Thus, in the occupied Palestinian territories, nearly every facet of life became controlled by the Israeli military.
The Israeli occupation is the cause of extreme suffering for more than 3.5 million Palestinians living under its subjugation. These policies not only restrict movement, but also isolate and harass the civilian population. As the occupation became more intrusive, and as a colonial Apartheid regime developed in occupied Palestine, Palestinian opposition grew and turned to resistance against the Israeli authorities.
For decades, by confiscating land, exploiting natural resources, building illegal settlements, erecting an apartheid wall, checkpoints, roadblocks, putting the Gaza Strip under blockade, and oppressing the Palestinian people, the Israeli governament’s policies prevented Palestinians from exercising their right to self-determination and establishing their own State, Palestine.
A perspective defined by Zionist nationalism has framed the Israeli collective memory based on the construction of mythic dangers, enemies, war propaganda, threats and patriotic images. War after war, through generations, Israelis have perceived national security as an indisputable value. The security of the land of Israel and its Zionist expansionistic nature in a topographic and logistical sense has shaped Israeli political decisions that were, therefore, conceptualized in terms of security. History was placed at the service of political interests. So, the past, in Israel, no matter if it is real or not, has always been used to legitimize the present.
The Voice of Youth
Today, young people from both sides experience daily injustce and violence. They are victims of an unreasonable political game, rooted in the past; and, ironically, they are also the ones responsible for many concerns of the future. “One of the most horrible features of war”, quoting Orwell, “is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting. It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda tours”.
Palestinian and Israeli youth can be portrayed either as passive victims or as active security threats. Re-engaging youth in positive development opportunities is a key step in the stabilization of conflict-impacted communities, and long-term peace and development are often predicated upon preparing these youth (some involved in conflict, others affected by conflict) for positive roles in the worlds of work, family, and community life.The recent increase in the number of Israeli peace activists – the vanguards, in a sense, of Palestinian struggles for liberation and voices raised against colonial oppression and injustice – is a case in point. In recent years, for example, various refusenik soldiers and officers have penned letters to express their opposition to serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, including in the latest Israeli attack on Gaza.
When dealing with long, protracted conflicts, peace can only emerge as a by-product of Justice, and Justice can only be in place if supported with principled, responsible leadership. Indeed, in conflict zones there are always young people who act in nonviolent ways to improve their communities. Decision makers should, therefore, value the role of young peace activists and their efforts in trying to break the cycle of violence. When Israeli and Palestinian leaders finally aknowledge peaceful reconciliation as part of a greater framework for transitional justice, the expectations of Israeli and Palestinian youth will start to be valued as the ultimate source of policy inititiatives.
Suhair El Qarra, a Rhodes Youth Forum 2014 participant, is a young Italian activist and researcher specialized in International Affairs. She was educated in Europe and the Middle East. El Qarra has extensive experience working in fragile and conflict-ridden areas, engaging with stakeholders in conflict prevention and post-conflict rehabilitation, including the encouragement of the sustainable peaceful settlement of conflicts and disputes. She earned a B.A. in European Institutions from the University of Milan in 2008, attended the postgraduate ASERI School of Global Politics at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart based in Milan and obtained her M.A. in International Relations and Diplomacy with distinction from the University of Jordan in 2011.