Even Among Their Own, Consensus Eludes Israelis And Palestinians

February 5, 2014

Disputes between Palestinians and Israelis are a constant in their decades-old conflict, and that’s what the wider world usually hears about.

But there are also near constant internal disagreements among Israelis. And Palestinians have divergent views too. On a recent trip through the Jordan Valley, which is deep inside the Israeli-occupied West Bank, near the border with Jordan, I spoke with Israelis and Palestinians about their internal differences.

Here’s a sampling of those conversations:

An Israeli Cafe Owner and A Regular Customer

Nimrod Vider might have decided to hate Palestinians. His father and sister, along with two dozen other Israelis, were killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber at a Passover celebration in 2002.

Instead, Vider included Palestinians among the employees of his cafe along Route 90, the main north-south road through the Israeli-occupied Jordan Valley.

“Take the example of [Bernard] Madoff,” Vider says. “If one Jew is a thief, we cannot judge everyone. I cannot simplify things by saying all Arabs are bad, all Jews are good.”

Vider says he would be willing to give up his home and his business in the West Bank, if the Israeli government decides it’s best for the country to hand over that land as part of a potential peace deal with Palestinian leaders. He says that would be the right Zionist thing to do.

But one of his customers — who comes in for coffee twice a day — will have none of that. Aaron Ober serves as a religious counselor to young Israeli soldiers serving in the West Bank.

“This is the land of God,” he says. “God promised us this land. We as a people don’t have the authority to pass this land to someone else.”

Ober says he trusts Israel’s military, not its political leaders, to decide what to do with the West Bank.

Two Palestinian Workers

Abu Mustafa — a psuedonym for a Palestinian who didn’t want his real name used — has worked as a cook in an Israeli cafe for almost two years. He assembles sandwiches, stirs up shakshuka — a popular breakfast dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato-based sauce — and jokes that his Arabic salad, consisting of chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, is wrongly called Israeli salad on the menu.

Abu Mustafa is happy with his job, although he says he has no benefits. The restaurant owner, who Abu Mustafa calls a great man, has helped him financially with several health issues.

Although his work is in part of the West Bank controlled by Israel, Abu Mustafa doesn’t like the word “occupation” to describe the presence of setters and soldiers. He prefers “co-existence.”

“I’ve never been harmed personally by Israelis,” he says. “I don’t see them as bothering me. Everyone would love to have his own state, but I see it as an impossible mission. The Palestinians will never leave. The Israelis will also never leave. We have to learn to live together.”

Oday Mah-Sayyid earned a degree in nursing but wound up farming in his village of Jiftlik, in the Jordan Valley, when he couldn’t find a nursing job. Many days, he works seven hours as a laborer on an Israeli date farm before tending to the corn, eggplants, peppers and other vegetables he raises to sell at Palestinian markets. Unlike Abu Mustafa, he feels little humanity from his Israeli employer.

The relationship can “never be good,” Mah-Sayyid says. “They treat us as servants. We are here to work for them.” He says he earns about $2.50 an hour as a farm laborer. “We have no sick days, no holidays, nothing. Our main goal, our belief, is that we can get our land back.”

Israeli Security Experts

Many Israeli military leaders say retaining a military presence in parts of the West Bank, particularly the Jordan Valley, is vital for Israel’s future security, especially if a Palestinian state is established.

Uzi Dayan is one. Dayan is a former Israeli army commander who has led Israel’s Central Command and served as national security adviser twice. Dayan says Israel has a recognized right to borders it can defend, and says controlling the Jordan Valley is the only way Israel can secure its eastern border if the West Bank becomes a Palestinian state.

An Israeli military presence between an independent Palestine and Jordan would add a buffer zone for an otherwise very narrow country, Dayan says. It would allow for early warning of possible terrorist attacks and an immediate response to any ground attack from the east.

“We don’t know what will happen in Syria,” Dayan says. “We don’t know what will happen in Iraq. We worry very much what might happen in Jordan. So we need to defend [ourselves] and this is an ideal place.”

But Israel’s former spymaster says the worry of an attack from the east is way overblown. Meir Dagan led the Mossad for eight years, following his service as a major general in the Israeli armed forces. He joined the Israeli debate on the future of the Jordan Valley with these comments, as reported in Israeli media: “There is no Iraqi army, there is no eastern front. There’s peace with Jordan.

“I have no problem with the political demand that the valley should be part of the State of Israel,” Dagan said. “What bothers me is that it’s being depicted as some sort of security problem.”

You can follow Emily Harris on Twitter @emilygharris.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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