A hopeful end to the Vision Camp for Israel-Palestine in spite of continued bombing
Bombs that reduce play areas, refugee camps and entire streets to ruins. Children that bleed to death in these ruins. Ten thousand people looking for shelter. Overcrowded hospitals and exhausted doctors. Operations that are carried out by the light of mobile phones because, since the destruction of the only power station in Gaza, there is no electricity. On the other side the age-old fear of an entire people is activated in the face of tunnel systems, attacks and the threat of extermination. 85% of the Israeli population are, according to the polls, pro war. Dehumanization, demonization and hatred on both sides. A completely marginalized peace movement, powerless, abused, threatened. And then economies such as the USA or Germany, which have increased their arms exports by up to a quarter in the last year and an airplane with medicine for Gaza that is refused landing permission in Egypt.
On hearing this news, anyone with an open heart, cannot but act.
Amidst this seemingly hopeless situation Sabine Lichtenfels, co-founder of peace research center Tamera, Portugal, initiated a vision camp in the West Bank (together with the team that plans a peace research village – PRV in the Middle East). It had one main goal: to create and sustain humanity, trust and exchange between both sides. Even the international flight cancellations to Tel Aviv could not stop her; she did not give up until she and her team had managed to get the last places in fully-booked Israeli plane. Finally, 50 peace workers from Palestine, Israel and other countries met from July 24 to 29 on open land near Bethlehem.
On the first day of the meeting, in a parallel action, the population of the West Bank rose; ten thousand people marched from Ramallah to Jerusalem. In violent clashes with the military several Palestinians were shot, three of them in sight of the camp. “They were terrorists”, said the soldiers. “Peace workers,” said the neighbors. The perspectives on almost everything in this region are so far apart are.
Participants of the vision camp met, ate and slept under the open sky and in the simplest of conditions. Their question was: “What can we do to stop the violence, hatred and fear?” Neither the venue, the names nor photos of the Palestinian participants were published. In Palestinian society any contact with Israelis is condemned as “normalization”. Fortunately, fears that the camp might be attacked did not materialize.
“I could not stand to watch the horrible news at home alone. I had to do something,” says Gabriel Meyer from Israel, initiator of the Sulha movement which has worked for a decade to bring Arabs and Jews together. Like him, peace activists on both sides are tired – some even desperate, burned out, feeling helpless – in the face of violence. Peace makers have become a minority of a minority in their own country.
“We need to find out why we as peace workers have failed,” says Sami Awad, director of the Holy Land Trust and a teacher of nonviolence in Bethlehem. “We face burning hatred on both sides. That is why I cannot believe in any solution that is based solely on the agreement of political leaders. We need to resolve the hatred itself. It is a work of reconciliation, which starts at the individual and at the community level.”
The beginning was not easy. Worldviews collided, fears and blame, helplessness and anger came up. Some would rather have left immediately. “We’ve talked enough, we must do something!” they said, but did not know what to do.
Deep listening to one another was the most important element of these days. Sabine Lichtenfels, who accompanied the talks with great power and patience, “It is essential that we perceive the pain and fear of the other person and not be too quick to give answers and advice. We must dare to face our own inner, sometimes painful place of not knowing – only then we will be open for real answers and solutions.”
Ali Abu Awad, the owner of the land, was in prison as a young man. His brother had been shot by soldiers. At first he was full of revenge, but then he found the deep decision for nonviolence.
“I realized that revenge won´t bring back my brother. I decided to leave the role of the victim behind. And meeting Israelis, like here, who respect me as a human being keep me from taking action against Israel – more than the Israeli army ever could.”
In recent times, such encounters between the two peoples have become less frequent. Decades of war propaganda on both sides, as well as the historical trauma, have created an explosive mixture of non-communication, distrust and fear throughout the region. Each extremist government that wants war can ignite such a mixture for their purposes. The economic interests then remain in the background. “Those who do not want a war need a vision for peace,” says Sabine Lichtenfels. This includes places where trust and humanity are stronger than fear and hatred.
More and more peace activists from Israel and the West Bank came to visit the camp, participating in the think tank, planting trees, listening. “Here I can breathe freely for the first time in weeks,” said one visitor from the north of the country. Internationals also came – a Japanese man introduced his idea of a pilgrimage from Hiroshima to Gaza. (Earth-Healing-Caravan, Summer 2015)
The humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas held for little more than a day. Ali Abu Awad, “Today, on a playground in Gaza, 10 children were killed by bombs. This is a great crime and we all are to blame for it, not just one side. The biggest enemy of the Palestinians is the fear of the Israelis, the biggest enemy of Israel is the suffering of the Palestinians under occupation. The biggest enemy of both is hatred.”
On the final evening neighbors, settlers, peace workers, internationals were sitting together at the table and blessing the bread when the sirens wailed. There were no bunkers, only an open field. But the visitors stayed collected. No blame or fear broke out. Then missiles from Gaza flew over their heads like shooting stars and were intercepted by the Israeli army’s defence shield. It was like a symbol: in this camp a frequency to overcome separation and fear was found. In this way, over time, war can be overcome.
Sami Awad: “One thing is very important: we need an international public, which does not take side, and favors or pities one side more than the other. This does not help us, and I speak as a Palestinian. We need global partners that are pro Israel AND pro Palestine and pro peace and justice.”
For the participants, one thing is clear: The war in Gaza and Israel is not a local conflict, but another outbreak of the global war system, alongside Syria and Ukraine. They will therefore also work on a global solution, a transformation of the war society, including the economic, environmental and social aspects. The hundred thousand people who were touched by the camp via Facebook and Twitter show the global outreach of this necessity.
Sami Awad: “Five days Vision Camp has shown the immense potential of the region for reconciliation and deeper humanity. We need such places permanently in order to not forget it.”
Some of the participants are planning a concrete project. They want to build a Peace Research Village (PRV), a real model for a society in which trust and humanity are stronger than fear and hate, a model of coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. “As difficult as that seems to be at the moment, during the five days we noticed that it’s just the most urgent of needs,” said one participant from Jerusalem. The team to build a PRV deserves every kind of support.
More about the vision Camp: https://www.facebook.com/aVisionCampinIsraelPalestine?fref=ts
More about Sabine Lichtenfels: www.tamera.org
More about the PRV: www.prvme.org
More about Sami Awad: www.holylandtrust.org