(First published at www.marcgopin.com)
Many voices were clamoring to be heard this past week as President Barak Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Washington to discuss the future of Israel and the Palestinian Territories. At this important time, Israeli Kobi Skolnick and Palestinian Aziz Abu Sarah came together to produce this joint letter, aimed at showing Israeli and Palestinian solidarity toward a new era in Middle Eastern policy.
Open Letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Barack Obama
Kobi Skolnick writes:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when I was young I stood with the crowds in the Holy City and listened with admiration to your voice as you spoke against the peace process. I screamed at those who were trying to pursue peace and called them traitors. When Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, I couldn’t help but dance joyfully in the streets. I was overwhelmed with happiness, because I had spent many years actively organizing against the Rabin-backed Oslo Peace Process. Your speeches encouraged me, your strong words empowered and inspired me, and your mission gave me purpose in life.
A few years later, I found myself along with many other Israelis fighting in the West Bank, trying to kill and being shot at. During those years I personally lost many dear friends in the conflict, so when I recently heard Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon say that your new coalition government is looking for a new approach to the Middle East peace process, I felt compelled to write you now as an old supporter. I listened to you then; will you hear me now?
Aziz Abu Sarah writes:
I still remember the day you, Mr. Netanyahu, won the elections in 1996. That day was marked with sadness and fear for the Palestinian people. Just a few months later I found myself marching with many others in protest against your government’s decision to open the tunnel in Jerusalem’s Old City. A few students from my high school were killed at these demonstrations, and I became angry and bitter with you. For me these were additional heartbreaks in a long line of tragedies– I had already lost my brother Tayseer to the conflict when he was badly wounded inside an Israeli prison, and I could not see any glimpse of hope.
Years have passed since then, and I have become convinced that the way forward is for, Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews to work together for a better future. I have moved beyond my anger and hatred to the point of seeking the end of a bloody conflict, and now I hope to join my colleague in this call for a new way.
We are writing this letter together as an example of two extremes that met in the middle with hope and vision for a peaceful Palestine and Israel. We are in a time of politicization of religion; Some Rabbis and Imams are capturing the minds and hearts of our youth through empty slogans and extreme interpretations of religious books that lead to hatred, violence and destruction. Our experiences have taught us that both sides must stop embracing radicalism in order to achieve a real peace.
As a prime minister you have the ability to shift policy in Israel. Many expect you to support such radical groups, yet we hope and appeal to you to surprise us with the common sense to understand the reality on the ground. We believe that violence is often the tragic expression of unmet needs. More people resort to violence when their lives lack hope, vision or ability to provide basic needs for a family. The current siege on Gaza and the hundreds of checkpoints in the West Bank promise a short term security solution; however, this situation feeds and strengthens radicals. In places like Gaza, radical groups will only get stronger and succeed in recruiting more people unless there is tangible progress the quality of life and in the peace process. We hope you will be able to see beyond the short term solutions proposed by security officials, and seek a lasting agreement that will guarantee peaceful existence for Israelis and Palestinians. We hope you can lead by crossing the lines of self interest toward supporting the regional interests of all people in the Middle East.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, along with US President Barak Obama you have the tools to block the support of extremist groups and help President Abbas do the same in the West Bank.
We would like to offer few ideas that you can support:
- Develop a mechanism and an educational system that would counter radicalism and extremists in Israel and support President Abbas doing the same in the Palestinian territories;
- Publicly support grassroots activities and increase the possibility for cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis;
- Allow the movement of Palestinian peace supporters to Israel and Israeli activists to the Palestinian territories, as these meetings break stereotypes and counter extremism;
- End the blockage on Gaza and ease the movement of Palestinians within the West Bank;
- Support creating the International Fund for Israeli Palestinian Peace, which will finance the work for peace in both communities (International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Authorization Act of 2009, H.R. 1605);
- Restart the negotiations immediately where they have stopped and follow the roadmap plan, including the Syrian track.
We are encouraged with the engagement of President Obama in the Middle East peace process, and appeal to you to continue your focus on forming a practical Middle East peace. Our hope is that you will approach the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with a new spirit, determination and will to end the cycle of violence that has left permanent scars in the lives of countless men and women, and bring freedom and security to our people.