Many Palestinians who work with international or Israeli organizations whose job is to promote peace and coexistence in the Middle East are often afraid or reluctant to discuss the nature of their work, even though it is much more important to teach Palestinian children about coexistence, peace and normalization with Israel than to pressure Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table.
In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, any talk about these is still associated with treason and defeatism. The Palestinian leadership’s actions and words have sent the following message to its constituents: Any person who thinks about normalization or coexistence with the Jewish state will be severely punished.
By cracking down on the Palestinians who are working for normalization and coexistence with Israel, both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have prevented the emergence of a real peace camp among Palestinians. Has anyone ever heard of an authentic and serious “Palestinian Peace Now” movement in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip?
Where are all the American, European and local non-governmental organizations that are supposed to use US and EU taxpayers’ money to promote peace, moderation and coexistence?
When the Strings of Freedom Orchestra returned home to the refugee camp of Jenin in the northern West Bank, the musical director, Wafa Yunis, was fired and her studio apartment in the camp was sealed. The Palestinian Authority, whose leaders have been talking to Israel for more than fifteen years, accused Yunis of “exploiting the children for the purpose of normalizing ties with Israel.”
While Israel has seen the creation of scores of organizations that work toward achieving peace with the country’s Arab neighbors over the past thirty years, it is still taboo in the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories to talk about normalization and coexistence between Palestinians and Jews.
A Palestinian woman from Ramallah who works for an EU-funded group that tries to promote peaceful coexistence between the two communities says she has received many warnings from Palestinians that she must quit or face retaliation. Her crime, she has been told, is that she and her group are seeking normalization with Israel.
This woman is not alone. A Palestinian man from Jerusalem who was hired by another group to recruit Palestinian children for a joint Arab-Israeli trip to the US says he has received death threats from Palestinian Authority officials. In the end, he says, he was forced to give up the task out of fear for his life.
Such threats by the Palestinian Authority should not come as a surprise given its leaders’ record in this regard. Earlier this year, Palestinian officials disbanded a Palestinian children’s orchestra for performing at the Holocaust Survivors Center near Tel Aviv.
And there is another message, one related to the Holocaust: By punishing the children and their musical director for performing in front of Holocaust survivors, the Palestinian Authority is denying Palestinians any opportunity to learn about that issue.
In this regard, the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is not much different than the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, which has announced fierce opposition to including the Holocaust in the local school curriculum.
Over the past two decades, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have radicalized Palestinians to a point where it has even become to risky to send children to perform at the Holocaust Survivals Center or to bring Palestinian and Israeli women to joint conferences in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Such joint conferences and seminars sometimes do take place, but only in European capitals and resorts or in North America.
Although nearly two decades have passed since the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, there is almost no mention of a real grassroots peace camp in Ramallah or Gaza City.
Those who are passionate about the Israeli-Arab conflict and would like to see an end to the violence and hatred should start searching for ways to encourage the emergence of a serious peace camp in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – one whose leaders and members would be able to stand up to both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.