Published on August 11, 2008
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Reporting on conflicts in the Middle East is one of the most difficult tasks in the life of a correspondent. Media around the world face this challenge on a daily basis and try to let people understand that – despite years of negotiations, killings, ceasefires and peace agreements – it remains one of the hardest, most complicated ongoing conflicts to cover and explain.
What makes it so difficult is the constant need to provide enough background – in terms of historical facts, figures and political actors – in order to give a clear picture of the relations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Despite these two words, ‘Middle East’ are usually sufficient to raise people’s interest, and with the exception of a few special reportage or TV documentaries, media often limit themselves to offering news about the latest high-level meetings, donors’ conferences and daily casualties in the area.
Having this mind, a visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank was organised by the European Journalism Centre in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy series. As with previous programming, the briefings had the intention of providing an introduction to European journalists about the ENP and had as its focus “country” the Occupied Palestinian Territory and its theme, the ‘Middle East Peace Process.
If on the one hand, it is true that the Peace Process does not make “news” anymore – mainly because of the past years numerous and failed attempts to reach a peace agreement – on the other hand, it still has to be considered as “news” that deeply affects people’s lives and their daily living conditions. It’s not a matter of taking sides – in a conflict no one is fully right; and no one can claim to have different levels of responsibility in its causes. The real issue is to see objectively, neutrally and without prejudice what is happening just across the Mediterranean shores.
The reality is a wall. The reality is a wall with check-points controlled by a teenage militia. The reality is a wall that has been built only within the last six years (under UN observation) against international law and that has expanded inside the West Bank by more than 10%. The reality is seeing thousands of people, men, pensioners, women, juveniles and children begging and queuing for hours to get inside Jerusalem. The reality is humiliation; the reality is the abuse of human rights. This is the reality that we don’t see, but is there.
You may say at this point that reality is also the suicide bombers killing innocents. You would be right, absolutely right as this is also the explanation—the “official explanation”—given to justify the creation of the separation barrier. Additionally, you also hear on the Israeli side things like: “we don’t like the wall” or “we are obliged to pay higher taxes because of it, but if this is the price for our security, it is fine”.
Any state has the right to ensure the security of its citizens and to implement solutions for this purpose. However, what we have seen, heard and experienced during the days of our visit does not really “justify” the good intentions of the Israeli Government.
We have seen the wall and we have crossed the checkpoints. The streets, which until few years ago linked Ramallah to Jerusalem, are now cut off and interrupted by the wall; thus, forcing the local inhabitants to make long diversions to access the east side of Jerusalem.
We have heard the Palestinian voices: from academics to journalists, from interest groups to NGO representatives working on the ground. Some, of course, clearly belong to the propaganda machine, but others were honest and sincere. These voices told us facts—everyday facts about the military occupation; the illegal Israeli settlements that continue to expand into the West Bank ; the absence of water and the impact on local agriculture and trade. We heard the voices of protest against the wall in Billin, where the locals and international activists gather every Friday. And we experienced what it means to be silenced by tear gas and shots in the air by an Israeli army annoyed by our presence.
Neither of the two sides is right. Neither of the two governments is yet ready to give up anything. What is obvious is that it is not over yet. On the contrary, the tension, the frustration and the humiliation are mounting.
Is there really no reachable solution? Or, is there a remote opportunity that still has yet to be tried? I believe so and it is not just an optimistic wish or desire, it is more an assessment by what people told us on both sides. Average people want peace and are tired of this flood of words written and spoken but never accomplished.
A two-state solution, the acknowledgement of Israel and the acceptance of the division of Jerusalem could probably be a start. Nothing new really, just the translation into practice of what has been said since 1967.
You could argue that if the USA has not managed so far, why should we now? Because the time has come for the EU to evolve into another direction, to stop sticking to our 27 small national interests and to think big the way we do in regard to trade and economics. A serious commitment in foreign affairs is the new challenge which can be the way to finally bring our 27 heads of governments closer to a common purpose.
To reach all this, we Europeans should probably start to ponder having another role and instead of being identified only as “payers”, we should instead act as real “players”. Contributing to the development of our neighbours and to the stabilisation of the area will be beneficial not only to our “ego”, but most importantly to increase our political credibility.
Tags: conflict, ejc, european journalism center, jerusalem, media, middle east, west bank,
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