Updated: Mar 9, 2021
Over the course of the first two weeks of the program, we visited a number of places throughout Israel/Palestine: Tel Aviv, Haifa, Akko, Jerusalem (West and East), Kibbutz Hatzor, Efrat, Hebron, Jalazone Refugee Camp, Ramallah, and Rawabi. We heard from many individuals, Palestinian and Israeli, and absorbed numerous facts, opinions and narratives – most of which I had heard prior to this trip. While I usually enjoy a dialogue of narratives and opinions, I had hoped that this educational program, focused on conflict resolution and religious understanding, would steer away from the blame-game of the past and direct instead toward practical solutions for the future. Instead, I found multiple speakers unbalanced and not looking forward, making it difficult for me to get much out of their presentations. For example, it was hard not to be skeptical of a guide who got her facts wrong (at Israel’s expense) at the beginning of her tour and who gave no viable evidence or solutions, but instead only utilized the manipulative force of emotion.
Despite these detriments, there was one place that stood out positively above the rest, where the speakers, projects, and outlooks presented gave me hope and inspiration for the future. The highlight of the trip to Israel/Palestine in terms of practical and forward-thinking solutions was Rawabi, the first planned Palestinian city. I had heard of Rawabi before, but I was in awe of the massive and beautiful architectural work and the major plans the city planners have to create a vibrant, lively, cultural and economic center for Palestinian life. As we walked around the ready-made city, I could not help whispering to myself, “Amazing, amazing, amazing…”
Additionally, the creator of the city, Bashar Masri, is very open to cooperation with Israel. He called the bluff of anyone in the West Bank claiming to boycott Israel, stating that it is impossible to build without using any Israeli materials. Meanwhile, Masri favors Palestinian products to bolster their own economy, but if he outsources, he treats Israel like any other country, seeing no reason to boycott and actually calling the boycott of Israel “detrimental.” He does, however, boycott the settlements. While I am personally against such a boycott, I certainly understand it from his perspective because the nearby settlement Ateret has been so antagonistic toward Rawabi. Despite the antagonism, Masri asserted, “If a peace settlement will say [Ateret] is part of Israel, I will be their best friends.” I greatly appreciated his level-headedness regarding the situation, and his real commitment to not look backward and place blame, but to strive to look forward toward a better future.
As I left Rawabi, inspired and hopeful, I was able to imagine coming back to Rawabi as part of a Palestinian State at peace with Israel. I imagined sitting in the seats of the amphitheater watching a concert festival with friends and family, and then inviting my Palestinian friends back to my home in Israel for dinner. What a life we could have… It is upsetting to me that it took so long for Israel to give Rawabi water (although admittedly I do not know the details from Israel’s perspective). I believe that Israel should be supporting people like Basri who are doing positive work toward giving Palestinians a better life, which I believe will in turn quell their desperation to turn toward violence against Israel. Basri was very clear that he thinks “normalization is a good word” and I have to agree. I am glad to see Rawabi is working with private Israeli companies, but I wish that the Israeli government would be supportive. Why the Palestinian Authority has not come forward to embrace, fund, and support this project is beyond me, although I have a hunch that it has to do with “normalization.” The lack of promised Palestinian Authority funding is the most upsetting part of it all, in my eyes. Rawabi, for me, is a bastion of hope for a future thriving Palestinian State with cooperation in Israel – I wish both sides would support the effort.
Rivka Cohen is a member of the 2015 Ibrahim cohort.