Israeli activists push for peace with Palestinians

Hamas leaders and The Other Voice peace activists agree on need to end animosity and stop war once and for all.

The Other Voice is dedicated to changing the status quo between Israelis and Palestinians [Julia Chaitin/Al Jazeera]

A small group of Israeli peace activists is pushing to have their government end its occupation of the Palestinian territories and siege on Gaza while fostering personal relationships on both sides of the border.

Eric Yellin is the leader of The Other Voice, an Israeli organisation dedicated to changing the status quo between Israel and the Palestinians. He said his group is proposing peace and reconciliation meetings with Palestinians in Gaza, based on the work of the late Palestinian psychiatrist Dr Eyad al-Sarraj.

Sarraj tried to reconcile differences between Palestinians and Israelis and build relationships on both sides of the Gaza border, and to eventually reach a “hudna”, or a ceasefire, that will bring a lasting peace.

“We are trying to establish a future reality between Israelis and Palestinians, and we believe that Palestinians deserve an equal opportunity to have a prosperous life in Gaza by ending the siege that makes life in Gaza unbearable,” Yellin, who is from the Israeli town of Sedrot bordering Gaza, told Al Jazeera.

He added that he eventually wants full peace between both peoples but for that to take place, there must be incremental steps.

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To get there, Yellin said someone must initiate the process, which could either be Palestinians or Israelis, or international intermediaries such as the French or Egyptians – or any other party.

Hamas leaders who spoke to Al Jazeera did not oppose the idea of a long-term hudna with the Israeli side, and expressed the desire to have “calm” and “peace” on both sides of the border.  

Ghazi al-Hamad, senior Hamas leader in Gaza, agreed with Yellin that the region does not need another war. 


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But Hamad said calm can only come when political and security problems are resolved. Without ending the occupation, tensions and conflict will remain, he said.

He said he hopes The Other Voice “can create a peaceful environment towards the Palestinians in Israel, because after all, we are a nation that wants to live in peace and have its independence and freedom on its own land”.

“We in the Hamas organisation want calm and peace at the frontlines, and we are not interested in any military escalation or a war with Israel. That said, however, if we were attacked, we would have no other choice but to defend ourselves,” said Hamad.

Julia Chaitin is an Israeli member of The other Voice who lives in Kibbutz Urim near Gaza. She said that after three devastating wars between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza it is time to end the cycle of violence and start rebuilding.

Chaitin, a trained social psychologist who teaches at Sapir College in the area, told Al Jazeera there is a “culture of fear” that has become the primary instinct dominating the Israelis who live around Gaza.

“This fear is due in part to lack of communication and interaction with the other side,” she said

Osama Hamdan, a Lebanon-based senior Hamas leader in charge of foreign affairs, told Al Jazeera the idea of a long-term hudna between Israel and the Palestinians was first suggested by Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin in 1992. Yassin was assassinated in an Israeli air strike in 2004.

“The peaceful efforts by this group could represent a positive message and the beginning of positive transformation that would save the region from unpredictable dire consequences,” Hamdan said.

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Hamdan added that he senses “unsettled feelings” among Israeli citizens because of the far-right positions the Israeli government has taken. Directing his message to ordinary Israelis, Hamdan said the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will never bring stability to the region.

He also said the two-state solution has all but died due to hardline Israeli policies inside the Palestinian territories. The problem now, according to Hamdan, is the solutions that regional and international actors are advancing are made at the expense of the Palestinian people. “This is just unacceptable,” he said.

Chaitin said Israeli leaders have exploited the uncertainty and fear of war felt by Israelis living near Gaza, and this has contributed to moving Israeli society further to the right.

“At this point, we are stuck in a lose-lose situation with the Palestinians, but we must turn that around. As common sense would have it, we would work with each other, open borders, and make the Palestinians’ lives better and hopeful,” she said.

Chaitin admitted she is also fearful and angry, but said she’s “more angry with Israeli politicians and leaders who are dragging us into more wars”.

Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @Ali_reports

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Source: Al Jazeera


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