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Transcript: #10-98 Unofficial Channels: Dialogue for Middle East Peace
March 11, 1998

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Phillip Babich: Welcome to Making Contact, an international radio program seeking to create connections between people, vital ideas and important information. This week on Making Contact:

Libby Traubman: There are some things that only governments can do, such as negotiating binding agreements. But there are some things that only citizens outside government can do, such as changing human relationships.

Claudette Habesch: We are eternally displaced people in our own city. I am a refugee in my Jerusalem.

Phillip Babich: Displaced from their land after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Palestinian people have been struggling for autonomy. Some are calling for an independent state. Disputes over land and resource allocations, and periodic flare-ups of violence, however, have complicated negotiations involving Palestinians and Israelis. Meanwhile, the Israeli government continues to develop new housing tracts on disputed territory. Over the past few years, some Palestinians and Jews -- both in the United States and in Israel -- have been circumventing official negotiation channels and developing dialogue among themselves. I'm Phillip Babich, your host this week on Making Contact.

Earlier this year, three women from Jerusalem came to the United States to speak about their hopes, fears and frustrations concerning the conflict in their homeland. Dubbed, "Three Women, Three Faiths, One Shared City -- Jerusalem," this tour sought to bridge differences between cultures and conflict, and to share the process with the American public. Correspondent Sue Supriano spoke with these women. Michal Shohat is an Israeli Jew and member of the Jerusalem city council, Claudette Habesch is a Palestinian Christian, and Nahla Asali is a Palestinian Muslim. Michal Shohat began by talking about the divisions between Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem.

Michal Shohat: Jerusalem is actually divided because we don't have social relationships with Palestinians that live in East Jerusalem. And if we meet them it's when they need our help... as a member of the city council in some problems they have, but we don't have personal or social relationships with them.

Sue Supriano: Claudette Habesch, you were born into a Christian family.

Claudette Habesch: I was born in Jerusalem -- in what became West Jerusalem, part of Israel -- and in 1948 I was made a refugee. I have been expelled from my home to make place for another family, for a Jewish family who has come from... In my own home now there are now there are Dutch people living, and I became a refugee. I became the wandering Palestinian around the world.

Sue Supriano: Nahla Asali, so you were also... had to leave your home.

Nahla Asali: When I was born in West Jerusalem -- West Jerusalem was in fact the residential area of many Jerusalemites before the 1948 war -- so just like Claudette I was born in West Jerusalem and we stayed there 'til the very end, 'til almost May, 1948 until it became impossible for us to stay and my father just told my mother, "Take the children and leave."

Sue Supriano: Impossible because bullets were coming your direction?

Nahla Asali: Because, well, there were two things. One thing was there was a massacre, the massacre of Deir Yasin, in which two hundred fifty, I think, people were killed in Deir Yasin, and women were killed. So the Palestinians panicked and said this might happen to my wife and my children, so that was one. And the other one, our house was located near a military camp that belonged to the British Mandate, and just because of the location we just kind of received a lot of these bullets in our bedrooms. So it wasn't safe for us to stay any longer, so we left.

Sue Supriano: Did you want to say something Claudette Habesch?

Claudette Habesch: Actually, today we are eternally displaced people in our own city. I am a refugee in my Jerusalem. And, yes I can go to West Jerusalem. It's only five minutes away from where I live today, but it is very painful and I try not to because I only have the right to look at it over the fence. And a friend of mine, an Israeli girl who grew in this same house... they rented a cottage from my father... she has the same age as I have and we have grown together. When we were children, very young children, we played together. She still lives in that home and I am a stranger. It hurts. It really hurts and I try not to go, not to pass from that area.

Sue Supriano: I have heard many stories, but I'd like to hear your description of how it looks in Jerusalem with these divisions.

Claudette Habesch: Today in Jerusalem there is no wall. East Jerusalem, which is Palestinian-Arab Jerusalem, West Jerusalem, which is Israeli today... Up to 1967 there was a big wall, barbed-wire that separated the two places. Today the wall is gone, but it definitely is a divided city. There is the psychological wall, a very hard wall that divides the city. And also, the physical appearance of the city is divided in two. As you know, we have a council woman with us and our question has been to her, how come that we Palestinians of Jerusalem pay the same taxes as any Israeli to the municipality. We pay our income taxes and the services are not the same. I don't need to describe it to you. If you just walked the streets you would realize in which part of Jerusalem you are. We have had no sidewalks, no pavements, no electricity. The only service that we get is mostly garbage collection.

Sue Supriano: And, have you been aware of this? Well, you must be, Michal.

Michal Shohat: Yes, I am aware of it.

Sue Supriano: Right.

Michal Shohat: Yeah, but ,as I said before, because I am the minority, I say out about it go on Jerusalem. And, it's not only for the five years, the last five years, it's for the thirty last years, and there is a great difference between East and West Jerusalem. And you can see it without your glasses. So it's not so difficult to see. But, that's what I said before, that we can now help only on personal issues and not on other issues though.

Sue Supriano: It must be very frustrating for you as a person who wants to see peace, as do many Israelis.

Michal Shohat: First of all I want to say the citizens of Jerusalem get a same, the same things. Both sides, I don't know, all over Jerusalem, as a city council... member of the city council. And, peace, it is a part of that, but they need the same service that we get in Jerusalem. So it's very frustrating peace.

Sue Supriano: I'd like to hear something about the peace movement as it is inside Israel, because I know that there is one. And, it's always important to separate the government from the people. And I heard you speaking earlier, Michal, about a large number of people at the demonstrations. Would you talk about that?

Michal Shohat: Well, there are more than one peace movement in Israel. There are lots of peace movements in Israel and they become bigger and new movements everyday, almost everyday. I was talking about a demonstration was taking place on the fourth of November, 1997, and it was for answer... to answer a question about demonstration two years ago when Mr. Rabin was murdered. Well, there was then one hundred thousand, and to show how the peace movements grew up through them, I say that in the last demonstration was two hundred fifty thousand. So, there are more than one peace movement and...

Sue Supriano: Many organizations.

Michal Shohat: Yeah, but I want to say is that if you look into the polls in Israel you can see that more than fifty percent of the Israelis want the peace movement to go on... the peace process to go on. So, it's very clear that we have to go on with the peace process... according to the Israelis, ordinary people. And I feel that, the answer to your question, we have to separate the government from the people. Although this government... Mr. Netanyahu was legally elected, but he promised before he was elected that he is going to on with Oslo agreement which, a promise which he didn't kept. So maybe he mislead us. I don't know. I think for ...

Claudette Habesch: The whole issue, we don't have peace because there is no justice. We have come to the United States to talk, to tell about our stories, to tell about what is happening today, as concerned citizens, as concerned wives, mothers, and I'm a grandmother of five. I cannot afford to see my children, my grandchildren suffer again. And, also, I don't want to see the children of Michal being killed. All those killings, what did they bring? No peace. But, justice today is to recognize the other as equal. We are all born equal under God. But we have not been treated equally.

There is everyday continued humiliation for the Palestinians by the Israeli government and the Israeli army.. Our homes are being demolished. Just last August, in Jerusalem itself, in East Jerusalem, fifty-two houses were demolished in one month. Yes, some of the excuses are that we are building illegally. We have no permits to build. Yes, it is partly true. Sometimes they are demolished because they stand in the way of a bypass road to be done for the Israeli settlers. But, why do we build illegally? We have a natural growth. We need to live somewhere. We don't get those permits. A building... a building society has asked for a building permit for eight years, and it's only after eight years that they did get the permit to do this housing projects for the Palestinians. So, what do you expect?

Again, the injustice today. The closure on the West Bank, it is a siege. My people are living under siege. This closure has started in March 1993. We expected that after the Oslo accords this closure on the people would be lifted. On the contrary, today it seems to be much stricter than it was before. Hundred and twenty-five thousand workers and laborers have lost their jobs in Israel. Our economy, ravaged by thirty years of occupation, cannot absorb this work force.

The great justice that is continuing today, and supposedly after the Oslo accords... Settlements should have been freezed. Confiscation of Palestinian land continues. Expansion of the settlements continues. These lands are confiscated to build new residential labor huts for the Israelis on the West Bank. And, what the peace process is land for peace. This is what we were discussing, and what we are supposed to be talking about. But, it seems to me that Israel today is moving toward a permanent occupation.

Phillip Babich: Claudette Habesch, a Palestinian Christian. She was joined by Michal Shohat, an Israeli Jew and member of the Jerusalem city council, and Nahla Asali, a Palestinian Muslim. We'll have more of their interview with Sue Supriano in a minute.

You're listening to Making Contact, a production of the National Radio Project. If you want to get in touch with any of the organizations you hear about on this program, please give us a call. It's toll free: 800-529-5736. Call that same phone number for tapes and transcripts, or if you'd like to make a comment or suggestion for future programs. That's 800-529-5736.

During the recent tour titled, "Three Women, Three Faiths, One Shared City -- Jerusalem," Claudette Habesch, Michal Shohat and Nahla Asali spoke with correspondent Sue Supriano about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sue Supriano: And as I asked you to describe earlier what it looks like in Jerusalem, I would like someone to describe what it looks like in the West Bank with these new settlements and the roads.

Nahla Asali: Well first of all, Jerusalem is surrounded by almost a... almost a complete ring of settlements, that constitutes the surrounding, as Claudette said, housing neighborhoods to take Israelis... whatever. But when you leave Jerusalem and take a drive south to Hebron, for example.. both sides, you look at both sides, and you see settlements.

Sue Supriano: And what does settlements mean exactly? How does that, how do they look or appear?

Nahla Asali: You look at top of the hill, and it's big apartment buildings... nice roads that lead to the settlements.

Sue Supriano: So we're not talking about some tents or something? Big, fancy apartment buildings. They're really nice apartment buildings.

Nahla Asali: Some of them are villas. Some of them are very nice, one house building.

Claudette Habesch: What it looks like on the West Bank. There is, north of Jerusalem, north of Ramallah, actually, very close to Ramallah, a refugee camp called Jelason where around eight-thousand people live today. They live in shacks. They live miserably. These are people who have been expelled from their own homes in Lydda and Ramleh, and they were expelled by the Israeli army in 1948. And what is very interesting is that facing them, immediately, are those beautiful villas, those beautiful gardens, that are occupied by Israelis. It is one of the settlements.

But, I must share this with you. I think deep down those settlers feel that they are wrong, that they are not in the right place, because they live like in ghettos. They have all those electronically wired fences. They have to have guards. I mean, if they feel at peace, why should they be living this way? Why should they have fences? Why should they have guards? They probably know that they are not... this is not the right place for them to be in.

Sue Supriano: I would like you especially if you would, Michal, to comment on what is the reaction of Israelis who are wanting peace and involved in these peace organizations, to this, this new building in the occupied territories on the West Bank.

Michal Shohat: Well, I was here, but I heard that Netanyahu government has decided to build new six hundred units in one of the settlements. But I'm sure that while I'm here and I heard about it, there was a demonstration against it in front of his office. So, I'm so sure that every time that there is a decision like that, we are going out demonstrate against it. We don't have the power to stop, but, as I recall, when the bulldozers came to Har Homa, to start the building in Har Homa, Peace Now, which is one of the big peace movements stayed there in a tent for, I think two weeks, to protest the decisions. So, we do as much as we can and under this government is especially demonstrate against these decisions.

Sue Supriano: Yeah, thanks. Claudette.

Claudette Habesch: We're very happy to know about these peace movements like Shalom Ashav, like Yeshgavul, and we know that they are patriotic Israelis who have a long-term vision. And, but it seems that so far they did not have enough clout to change things. But, maybe I will tell you, we have come to the United States because we feel that the United States has... the United States administration, and you citizens, because the administration is represented by your officials... elected officials, has an important role to play. And we feel that the United States administration is not fair-handed. Your policy is not fair handed with...concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As an example, the UN General Assembly wrapped up its annual debate on the question of Palestine, and voted 160 for 2 against to reaffirm the right of Palestinians to self-determination. That was last December. Israel and the U.S. cast negative votes. Again, the Assembly passed a resolution 148-1... one hundred forty eight voices against one... saying that Israel's imposition of its laws, jurisdiction and administration on Jerusalem was illegal. Nine states, including the U.S., abstained.

This is why you will hear us, that the United States, who is a co-sponsor of the peace-process... We have started the peace process because there are people like us, the two Palestinians here, who believe in peace. There are people like Michal and all those peace movements who believe that there should be justice and peace, and we try to work for that. But we expect, we hope at least, that the United States will be able to play the honest broker concerning the issues affecting our lives back home.

Phillip Babich: Claudette Habesch, speaking with Sue Supriano. They were joined by Michal Shohat and Nahla Asali. Sponsored by Partners for Peace, Habesch, Shohat and Asali toured the United States earlier this year.

In the United States, some Jews and Palestinians are forming so-called "dialogue groups" -- forums where ideas can be shared and issues debated. Making Contact's Peggy Law met with one such group in San Mateo, California. She spoke with Elias Botto, a Palestinian, and Len and Libby Traubman, who are Jewish. Several years ago, the Traubmans began inviting Jews and Palestinians to their house, so the two groups of people can meet face to face. Botto began by talking about some of the misconceptions Americans have about Palestinians.

Elias Botto: To the American people... public in general, when you say a Palestinian, right away you have that terrorist with a kaffiyeh on his head. And if you say Israeli or a Jew, he is the discriminated, the poor guy who is trying to find a hole in this world to live in... There's two sides to every story . Not all Palestinian are terrorists, and not all Jews are saints, either. Not Israelis are saints... So it takes two. You know, what I am saying is you have to look at the other side. I mean, there's other side of the coin. And the Americans, unfortunately, through the years, they've been educated about Israel and the Jews need, in this county. And the Israeli lobbyists, and, as everybody knows, is very influential in the United States. And, the American people is fed what the government wants them to know. And, of course, and the government being influenced by the lobbyist... and that's why the American education about the Middle East is a little bit lop-sided. They don't know much about the Palestinian issue or the Arab issue in general.

If they really care about Israel and the Israelis' welfare they can't care about it through military force. They have to care about it through dialogue... Because if you were to look at Israel and see how it's... by what it's surrounded... Israel is surrounded by the Arab world. And if they are or they were their enemies, then it is our duty and the American's duties to see to it that those countries become Israel's friend, so they can live in peace and in security... not through military might. Military might is now, but it doesn't last. He who rules by the sword is going to die by the sword.

Peggy Law: Is one of the things that you hope to accomplish by this a reduction in tensions in the community? And particularly discrimination against people of Palestinian origin?

Libby Traubman: It seems like that would be a desired outcome. I know that people in this group who had never come together before -- some of the Jews had never sat with Palestinian, and there were Palestinians who had never sat with the Jews before. It was a whole new experience and you could see and feel the difference as they would line up on opposite sides of the room and almost kind of clutch each other in the early meetings and not speak out. And they were so afraid of these images that they had of each other and how they were communicating back and forth. I think a side benefit from doing this is to be able to go out and say, "Hey, I've sat in a living room and I sat with the most wonderful Palestinians and I sat with the most wonderful Jewish people. They weren't at all what I thought they were." And it kind of is a ripple effect -- share it with their friends, that this, this is definitely a new reality for them.

And I think those kind of things happen only in face to face relationships. You can help break down the stereotypes by talking about 'em. But if you haven't personally sat with somebody and had a conversation or a meal or looked into their eyes and heard their life story, it's very hard to give consent or be empathetic to those people. And I think it's been a great result for at least the participants in this group. They've definitely had a change of heart and mind about the other.

Peggy Law: Len, where do you see it going? Do you have hope that this is going to somehow grow farther and farther? And can policies really be changed that have so much passion behind them?

Len Traubman: Yes, I feel very hopeful. As I said, I feel this is the destiny. I think, that if I can use religious words, that I think every person has a soul, and I think that the soul's longing is to cooperate and to live, in our diversity, harmoniously. So I do feel hopeful. We have had a very positive response from the mainstream Jewish community. I think that people see that within this dialogue process... at least in our dialogue group... that we are for both peoples, and that we want the best for both and that there is hope.

Libby Traubman: I wanted to add one other thing about the importance of dialogue. And I want to quote Dr. Harold Saunders who is the former Assistant Secretary of State and a negotiator at the Camp David accords, which puts into words why we feel having our dialogue group is very important. "There are some things that only government can do, such as negotiating binding agreements. But there are some things that only citizens outside government can do, such as changing human relationships." I feel like that's a really good statement of why a dialogue group is important. We recognize that we can't solve all the problems. We're not political, but we certainly can help change people's minds and their frames of reference and give them new hope about building better relationships with their neighbors. And governments cannot make people do that.

Phillip Babich: Libby Traubman. She was joined by Len Traubman and Elias Botto, participants in a dialogue group that addresses the prospects for peace in Israel. They spoke with Peggy Law.

If you want a free booklet, titled, "Building a Common Future," that's a resource for a Jewish-Palestinian dialogue, please give us a call. You'll hear our toll-free number in a moment.

That's it for this edition of Making Contact. Thanks for listening. And special thanks this week to the World Affairs Council and Partners for Peace for assistance in recording portions of the show. I'm Phillip Babich.

Samantha Haimovitch: If you want more information about the subject of this week's program, call the National Radio Project at 800-529-5736. Call that same phone number for tapes and transcripts, or if you'd like to make a comment about what you just heard. That's 800-529-5736. Making Contact is an independent production funded by individual contributors. We're committed to providing a forum for voices and opinions not often heard in the mass media. Our producers are David Barsamian, Phillip Babich and Denise Graab. Our senior advisor is Norman Solomon, and our executive director is Peggy Law. Our theme music is by the Charlie Hunter Trio. For everyone at Making Contact, thanks for listening.