JERUSALEM - After almost two weeks
of the most brutal fighting in 19 months of conflict, Israelis
and Palestinians working on a joint Arab-Jewish education
project are struggling to support each other across a divide
that has never seemed deeper.
"Some of the people we work with are facing difficult
circumstances. We show them a lot of solidarity. We talk to them
a lot. The situation is very hard," Zakaria al Qaq said
yesterday of the Education for Peace program.
Qaq, 47, is Palestinian codirector of the Israel/Palestine
Center for Research and Information, a think tank founded in
1988 and the sponsor of Education for Peace.
The six-year-old program's curriculum is used in scores of
Israeli and Palestinian schools, where its goal is to turn
10th-grade classrooms into "vehicles for rapprochement." Now,
with battles raging all around them, those who staff the program
are drawing harsh criticism from family, friends and critics who
accuse them of naivete, or worse.
"Most of the detractors on the Israeli side and the
Palestinian side are responding out of emotion, out of fear and
anger, which breeds hatred," said Gershon Baskin, 46, the
center's Israeli codirector.
But with suicide bombers killing Jews by the score, and
Israeli soldiers laying waste to Palestinian cities and refugee
camps, the importance of contacts between the two peoples has
never been higher, the participants say.
Yesterday, as Anat Reisman-Levy, 46, the program's Israeli
administrator, drove back to Tel Aviv from a training session
for teachers in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, she used
her cell phone to call Nedal Jayousi, her Palestinian
Jayousi, 42, was stranded in Ramallah, with seven Israeli
tanks ringing his house.
"I spoke with him three or four times today," said
Reisman-Levy. "One time he said, 'I am talking to you from the
floor because there is a tank going by and it is shooting.'
"I said, 'I'm sorry.' I listened to him. And sometimes I
But at the same time, Reisman-Levy said, she expressed her
own pain to her friend.
"For me, these soldiers who threaten your life now are also
helpless children," she said she told him. "These are children
who just finished school and should be involved in their first
love affairs and not in killing."
The conversation continued. "We talked about what happens to
these soldiers when they come back to this society, and what
sort of creatures they become."
Jayousi said yesterday that he felt the strain of his
contacts with Israelis most severely not during the current
siege but last month, on a retreat in Istanbul, Turkey, with
more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli teachers recently trained
in the Education for Peace curriculum.
While there, he received a phone call from his wife in
Ramallah. His 17-year-old sister-in-law had died from
complications of childbirth on a mountain road near the town of
Tulkarm while trying to get to a hospital. Israeli soldiers had
refused to let her pass a checkpoint on the most direct route.
Jayousi immediately called his parents in Tulkarm, but his
father was seething with anger at the Israelis - and at his son
for interacting with them - and wouldn't come to the phone.
Jayousi cut short his stay in Istanbul to attend the funeral,
and he and his father have reconciled. But supporting peace in
the current climate hasn't gotten any easier, he said yesterday.
Monday, when Israeli soldiers briefly lifted the curfew in
Ramallah so trapped residents could replenish their food
supplies, Jayousi ran into a militant opponent of Israel in the
local grocery store.
Israeli tanks had littered Ramallah with crushed automobiles.
Street lamps were upended. Machine gun-bullets left pockmarks
"Oh, so you still believe in normalization with Israel? Look
at what all your work has brought us," the militant said.
"It's not the result of my work," Jayousi retorted, summoning
up some courage. "It's the result of your work, actually."
The center's codirector Baskin said his years of peace work
had done nothing to compromise his devotion to Israel.
"My military service is that I am a lecturer in the college
for the education of officers," he said yesterday. "I'm not
neutral. I'm an Israeli and when I lecture there my position as
an Israeli comes across very strongly: what's best for Israel.
"But I think that I get the response that I do because I have
the facts at my fingertips. No one can tell me that I don't know
what I am talking about. . . . No one can tell me that I don't
know what's happening on the other side, because I talk to
Palestinians every day, from the highest levels of the
leadership down to people in refugee camps. Every day.
"And I've been doing it, in the framework of [the center],
for 14 years."
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