Op-ed: Pro-peace: Coexistence in Israel

Nate Turk | Class of 2019

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex, and full of history, terminology, passion, heartbreak and anger. One term I’ve been mulling over lately is the idea of being “pro-peace.” But what does being pro-peace actually entail?

The term “pro-peace” is thrown around a lot in discussions surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet it is often used without clear definition or meaning. At first glance, it may seem that Israeli history is only comprised of a few moments of peace. But digging deeper, Israeli history itself can be defined as a quest for peace.

From its founding in 1948, Israel has been on a quest for peace with the Palestinians. In 1947, the United Nations proposed a two-state solution with the passage of Resolution 181, which Israel accepted, and the Arabs rejected. Shortly after, Israel declared its independence and came under attack from several neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt.

Israel managed to persevere through those attacks, but unfortunately this did not prevent other conflicts from breaking out in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 2008, 2012 and 2014. Although many additional conflicts have taken place, Israel’s government has still made efforts to achieve peace with its neighbors. In some cases, it has succeeded, such as with the signing of the landmark 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty and the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty.

In 1993, as part of the Oslo Accords, Israel, in search of peace, agreed to gradually withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, territories it had conquered in the 1967 war, to allow for the creation of a Palestinian state. In 2005, Israel eventually disengaged from the Gaza Strip and removed all 10,000 of its citizens who had been living there, hoping that Palestinian elections would bring a peaceful government into power. Instead, the terror group Hamas took over and launched thousands of rockets towards Israelis, which provoked Israel into war on three separate occasions. Still, efforts for peace continued, including in 2008 when Israel offered to withdraw from 93 percent of the West Bank, which was rejected by the Palestinian Authority.

With this historical context, the term pro-peace has a deeper meaning that is both remarkable and heartbreaking. It’s remarkable that Israel has achieved peace with neighbors who originally vowed never to recognize it as a country, yet heartbreaking that peace negotiations with the Palestinians have repeatedly failed.

Still, after 70 years of failed peace talks, examples of peaceful coexistence on the ground in Israel are anything but unique. Many Israelis have created and become involved in grassroots efforts towards engaging in peace and coexistence with their neighbors, contrasting with the complex, heartbreaking history of the conflict that I have outlined until now.

In the face of stalling peace negotiations, The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies offers a space for Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian students to work together on solving environmental problems, which they all face as people living in a water-scarce part of the world. The Arava Institute helps to foster cross-border cooperation through leading sustainability research. It also provides its participants with resources to form friendships and develop skills that will enable them to lead their region—and even the world—in solving some of today’s most pressing environmental challenges.

While Hamas has provoked Israel into conflict and spent millions of dollars on terror tunnels to kill Israelis, the Parents Circle Families Forum, a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization, does important work with more than 600 bereaved families who have chosen a path towards reconciliation. The organization helps Israeli and Palestinian families that have lost a close family member to the conflict by providing them with a platform to engage in open dialogue and understanding of one another. Together, its members facilitate discussions in Israeli and Palestinian high schools and lead youth programs and women’s groups geared towards understanding each other and achieving coexistence.

As the Israeli government further expands settlements in the West Bank against Palestinians’ wishes, and as the Palestinian Authority rewards terrorists monetarily, The Alliance for Middle East Peace is working with thousands of Israelis and Palestinians to promote peaceful dialogue and cooperation. They created a network of 100 organizations to inspire people to collectively work towards peace in the region.

And as Israeli society becomes more polarized, the Shimon Peres Center for Peace is operating several programs which bring together Palestinians as well as Jewish and Arab Israelis. The initiatives often pertain to healthcare, the environment, business and peace education. For example, the organization’s Medicine in the Service of Peace initiative has trained 250 Palestinian physicians and medical personnel who now treat patients in Israeli hospitals. Additionally, through the center’s Peace Education Program, over a million young people have joined their peacebuilding movement online, and 30,000 youths have been brought together to promote peace through sports, the arts and technology.

Though the peace process, when discussed on a historical level, may be tragic, and though peace may seem even farther away than ever before, coexistence efforts on the ground demonstrate that Israelis and Palestinians want peace. Organizations such as the Arava Institute and the Shimon Peres Center for Peace prove that peace is achievable. If Israelis and Palestinians can reconcile their differences and cooperate under environmental issues or in education systems, there still is potential for peaceful coexistence in the future.

It may be a long time until the Palestinian Authority truly accepts a resolution for peace and two states. It may be even longer before all Arab countries recognize Israel’s right to exist. And even though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports peace through a two-state solution, these words do not match his actions. Yet past failures of the peace process do not take away from the current coexistence efforts being made on the ground by Israelis and Palestinians. So, for now, pro-peace, to me, means being pro-Israel. It means being pro-two states, pro-dialogue and pro-education. But most importantly, it means being pro-coexistence.