To gain understanding of the disagreement between Israelis and Palestinians, and their ongoing fight for the same land the, a dialogue is required. The mistrust between the two people will make it difficult to get a picture of the contradicting points of view without talking to both of them directly. Even though you wouldn’t let your enemy defend your case, I discovered that the people who are involved will not always be the best at representing themselves.
Background: A group of 11 Norwegian youths has this week been exploring the Holy Land together with my organization, JAI, for two weeks. During these days, they have taken part in the conflicted life of the region. The core of the political disagreement relates to the question of land ownership. To dig deeper into this issue, they were invited to a Palestinian farmers where they were contributing with the season’s olive tree planting.
The group had just started the planting of 200 olive trees when the leader of the radical settler organization ‘Women in Green’, Nadia Matar, arrived with two other Israeli settlers. Matar had an aggressive approach towards the international group and said loudly “your grandparents have killed my grandparents in the holocaust and now you are helping the Arabs to steal our land. This is the land for the people of Israel. You are helping the wrong people. You are like the Nazis.” At the same time, Israeli soldiers appeared, who counted a higher number of armed military compared with olive planting Norwegians. The military canceled the olive planting and ordered the group to stop their work and return to the bus which was escorted back to Bethlehem. Read the Palestinian news article about the incidence: http://www.imemc.org/article/63126 and watch the recorded video from the olive field: http://www.tv2.no/nyheter/utenriks/her-blir-norske-elever-skjelt-ut-som-nazister-paa-vestbredden-3727428.html#.T1kGZK4Tlc4.facebook
The meeting with Israel was somehow more calm. The group was invited to an Israeli settlement for a talk and a discussion with an Israeli settler. A Palestinian man, employed in our NGO joined the meeting in the Synagogue, but instead of screaming, he left the room due to the lack of common ground. In the following I will make a comparison of the two different meetings with the Palestinian – during olive planting, and the Israeli – and the discussion.
Parties: Yassin Da’doua, a Palestinian farmer who claims ownership to the land of Beit Iskaria, south of Bethlehem. The other side of the table, an Israeli settler, Ardi Geldman, living in Efrata settlement in the Gush Ezyon block who claims the land belongs to the Jewish people.
Actions: The Palestinian farmer illustrates his presumed ownership by planting olive trees on his land. The Israeli settler Geldman, on the other hand, is supporting and benefiting from the construction of settlements exclusively for Jewish nationals.
Argument: The Palestinian farmer base his right on his property document. The papers are approved by the Israeli government. The Israeli settler argues that the old testament of the Bible, Torah, gives the Jewish people the right to the land. His second argument is the presence of Jewish people two thousand years back in time.
Supporters: The documents of the Palestinian farmer is legally accepted by the state of Israel, and proves the personal ownership of the land. In addition the International law declares that the land is on the Palestinian side of Green Line – meaning the land is not a part of Israel as a state. The arguments of the Israeli settler is supported by some religious societies around the world, and the Israeli government who provide the settlement with necessary applies.
Protection: The presence of the international group from Norwegian will give the Palestinian farmer a protection in the field. The appearance of the organized settlers will threaten the farmer’s right. In theory, their call for the armed soldiers should contribute to make a fair solution based on the rule of law. But in reality, the army will reject the property documents despite approval from the Israeli government, and deny any Palestinian activity on the land. This will give a protection to the argument of the Israeli settler.
Conclusion: The next morning, 100 planted olive trees were uprooted and the land was prohibited from the Palestinian farmer. The nephew of the land owner was arrested due to his act of planting olive trees despite the order from the soldiers to stop working. In the case of this spesific farmer, this could be the first step towards a long lasting process in court. While facing the judge, the legal question is not «who is the right based owner of this land?». The land is presumed to be Israeli state land, and the mission of the Palestinian farmer is to once again prove that it belongs to him.
In the case of the Palestinian people – this is no more radical than a continuous process of transmitting land from Palestine to Israel, which has been going on since 1948. The difference between now and than is that today the land grab violates international law, and the Palestinian people has no means to fight back. At the same time, the world community has an opportunity to influence the govern of Israel. But the problem seems to be that the world, through UN, gave Israel the power to form a state, but without enough restrictions. Criticizing Israel later is too sensitive because of the horrible history of the Jewish people.
I am left with one question. When is it ethical accepted to fulfill a right of action you know, presume or believe in, when people or society disagree with you? An act without support might be seen as terror, but in a different situation it might be a brave decision – but how do you know?
In the settlers view, the level of believe was relevant. He was sure of his right to build on the land of Efrata, and did so without any concern of the international law and its supporters claiming the opposite.
The Palestinian farmer’s situation is different. He, along with the Norwegian group helping out with the planting, kept on with the act until we were forced by the armed military to stop. Because of our lack of negotiation tools which could compete with their weapons, our moral could not be tested. Our work was rejected by military order, not because of our strong moral and ethical consciousness.