The Olive trees have regrown & are green once again! (A personal journey)

A Final Project for the YaLa Peace Institute: “What is your vision of the MENA region in the year 2025 (if peace were to be established today) building on what you have learned from the YaLa Peace Institute?”

by Errel Peli (Israel)

It has been 10 years since my life has changed. 10 long, complicated years since that invisible wall has been broken, and our area evolved into a place that I am proud and glad to say I am from. 10 years ago, everything seemed so dim, and the road looked blocked on its brighter side. I know what grief would have come to us, if we took the road we have already traveled, and so the road not so often taken – the road for peace and reconciliation, has been so transformative, to Israel, Palestine, and the entire Middle East region.

This is the first time I have been to Israel, in the past ten years, just like Herzl, in Altneuland, and seeing it first hand, it has evolved so much. The people look happier and full of purpose, and in the mere 10 years I have been gone, it seems that this place has gone through such a transformation – Peace is apparent. Palestine, which I have visited, looks completely changed.

Remembering what Palestine used to look like brings a chill down my spine. Today, I see the same smiles in East Jerusalem, as I see in the West.

Nonetheless, I have sat with my friends, from the east and from the west, and heard that there is still much work to be done. I have also questioned them about the process the region has gone through, and I would like to share some of the conversations I’ve had.

It all started with Women for Peace, a reconciliation movement that rose on both sides, and contained only women. Those women, tens of thousands, went to meetings together, sat, and talked about their lives. They have done so in order to create familiarization and respect on both sides, whilst respecting each other’s dignity. They sat together, until their partners joined as well, creating a vast movement of dignity, which propelled a peace process promoting not interests, but understanding.

Then, they proceeded into a lengthy, but healthy negotiation, which was meant to bring reconciliation and to break the invisible barrier between the people after the physical one was demolished.

The first thing both sides focused on was education. Both states – Israel, and the recently established Palestine, have decided that their education systems would include learning the “other side’s” language from the first grade. Not only that, but they have made sure that incitement stops, and that Israeli and Palestinian children are sent, over the year to a seminar for a couple of days, together, in order to create personal bonds and friendships. This was done since, even though there are two states, those states are culturally, politically and physically intertwined to an extent, and have such a vast influence on each other.

The second step was an economic one. After the accord went into effect, the countries in the region understood the importance of trade, and have formed an alliance similar to that of the European Union, only without unified currency. This economic alliance was based on the normalization process that the different states had with Israel, also meant to benefit Palestine. Thus, I was told that they created joint ventures for Israeli-Jews and Arabs from Egypt to Iraq.

Last, but most importantly were the ventures created from both sides to refute the notion of “us or them” and look for alternatives to violence, to overcome the notion that only violence could overcome violence, and the “logic of violence”. The peace initiatives were successful since they publicly displayed a choice for a peaceful conflict resolution against the idea of violence and posed an alternative. They also strived to build a different future for a more just, non-violent, diverse society. They refused the notion that working on peace and reconciliation could not be achieved in the midst of armed conflicts. Thus, a new era has arisen – that of striving for a shared livelihood and a shared culture. This I saw as I was walking around Tel Aviv and Ramallah. I could hear music in Hebrew in the latter, and Arabic music in the first, showing that at the end, all we want is “a little respect, just a little bit”, as Aretha Franklin sang over 50 years ago.

To learn more about the YaLa Peace Institute in Honor of Nelson Mandela, click here.

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