One Day Tour to the GazaStrip (Palestinian Authority)
3 May 2000 28 Nissan 5760
Sponsor: Temurot (Meimad) - The Movement for the Renewal of Religious Zionism
Guide: Yochanan Tzoref (served in Gaza during the Israeli administration both in the military and later as a civilian advisor. Extremely
Group: 30 participants religious and non religious
At 10AM we arrived at the Erez crossing. The Israeli authorities collected our identity cards which were returned to us when we left the Palestinian Authority in the evening. We transferred to a Palestinian bus, were joined by a Palestinian guide and 3 armed guards, and drove to the city of Gaza. Our first stop was a hill overlooking a very densely populated city . From the lookout we saw the amount of building in progress. One can see an attempt is being made to build a modern city including facilities and attractions for tourists. Students from a nearby elementary school came to see the "tourists". I was very impressed that there was no begging (a phenomena in many poor countries). In general the streets are much cleaner then the way we remember them from the 70's. We visited a Christian school where many wealthy Moslems also learn, as the standard is very high. We were very impressed with the students' knowledge of English which they start learning at the age of 4-5. In the kindergarten there was a mural of the "Palestinians returning to Jerusalem". Jerusalem is portrayed having Mosques and Churches. We noticed the obvious lack of Synagogues. The older students were on a break and people from our group asked them what they learn about Israelis - some answered that we are their "enemy" while others that we are their "cousins". The area of the church/school is situated on the former Jewish quarter of Gaza. From there we went to a fish restaurant for lunch. Being that we were under the auspices of a religious group, kosher food was brought, but we were told that those who wanted to could order fish . After lunch we drove south, through the Israeli enclaves in the Strip, toward Rafiah to the airport. Architecturally it was very impressive. There wasn't much activity since the four scheduled flights (to or from Arab countries) were canceled by the Israeli authorities who are still responsible for the safety and security of the airspace. An incoming flight had violated the agreed upon flight path . There was an official Palestinian tourist information center at the airport. All the maps on the wall and those distributed included "all" of "Palestine" north, south, east and west without mentioning Israel.
The next item on our agenda was to meet with Palestinians to exchange views. Before presenting this exchange, I would first like to give some background material regarding Gaza.
Gaza is an ancient city. The geographic area called the Gaza Strip came into existence with the Egyptians occupation the area after the Israel Independence War (1948/49). In the 12th Century BCE it was captured by the Philistines from the Egyptians. Throughout the centuries it exchanged hands: 720 BCE (Assyria); 521 BCE (Persia); 332 BCE (Alexander the Great); 198 BCE (Antiochus III of Syria); 110 BCE (independent); 96 BCE (Alexander Yannai); 62 BCE (Pompey - free Roman maritime city); 634 (Moslems); 12th Century (crusaders found it near ruins and deserted); 1187 (Saladin - Moslems); 1516 (Ottoman Turks); 1799 (Napoleon); 1831 (Egyptian rule); 1840 (back to the Turks); 1917 (British); 1948/49 (Egyptian after the Arabs rejected the UN Partition Plan and the armistice was signed between the Egyptians and the Israelis); 1956 (occupied briefly by the Israelis during the Sinai campaign which was triggered by attacks against Israel from terrorist bases in Gaza); 1956 (reverted to Egyptian occupation); 1967 (Administered by Israel after the Six Day War which was triggered by terrorist attacks from Gaza and the closure of the straits leading to the port of Eilat by the Egyptians); 1994 (Palestinian Authority).
The name Palestine denotes the land of the Philistines, first being applied by the Greeks. The name was imposed by the Romans (70 CE - destruction of the 2nd Temple) on Judea in order to minimize/eradicate the Jewish association to the country/land (Land of Israel; Eretz Yisrael). It should be noted that the territory of Palestine was never independent (1). The first attempt toward independence of this territory came in 1947 when the UN proposed the Partition Plan (2 States, one Jewish and one Arab) (2) . The Arabs rejected the plan and attacked Israel (declared May 15, 1948). After the War of Independence, the territory was divided into 3 - The State of Israel, the Gaza Strip (occupied by Egypt) and the West Bank (occupied by Jordan). As a result of this War the population of the Gaza Strip grew from 100,000 to 320,000 due to the influx of refugees who fled their homes for various reasons. Today the Gaza Strip has over 1,000,000 persons and the city of Gaza has one of highest population densities of the world.
We met with two Palestinian officials: Raji Shurani (Head of the Palestinian Human Rights Organization) and Rashid Abusherk (Deputy to the Head of Internal Security of The Palestinian Authority). Mr. Shurani started the discussion speaking in English for about 20 minutes. His point was to inform us of how terrible Israel was and is and that the Israelis are at fault for all that happened to the Palestinians (refugees, misery, unemployment, ruthless occupation, lack of human rights for Palestinian prisoners, etc.). Mr. Abusherk spoke another 20 minutes in Arabic with a translation to Hebrew. He spoke in cliches about how important peace is and how we have to work together, and we should continue meeting, etc.
I was not going to bring up the past, but since we were blamed for everything, I felt that something had to be said. I reminded them of the 1947 Partition Plan (2) whereby both sides were to have a state. The Jewish People accepted the Plan regardless of the very poor, indefensible borders and even more important with the fact that Jerusalem was not to be part of the State of Israel, but rather an international city . The Arab/Palestinian leadership rejected this plan, instructed their people to leave temporarily so, after the Arab armies drive the Jews into the sea , the Arabs would return to "all of Palestine". Had the Arabs/Palestinians accepted the Plan there would have been no refugee problem, no misery, no war, and everyone, hopefully, would have lived "happily ever after". So, don't put the blame on the Israelis. The two gentlemen were not interested in discussing this at all. The reaction was that the Israel flag represents conquest and occupation. When asked to explain, we were told that the 2 stripes represent the desired boundaries of Israel " from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river
The second point brought up was the attitude of Arab intellectuals toward the peace process. It has been over 20 years since the peace treaty with Egypt has been signed and the Egyptian intellectual/professional society (university professors, lawyers, doctors, etc.) is still against the peace with Israel thus preventing the expected normalization. Egypt, to many Israelis, represents an experiment in peace. True, there hasn't been any shooting. But, this peace has been basically forced upon the future leaders (students and intellectuals/professionals) by a non-democratic government in Egypt. This does not represent a stable peace. The same situation exists in Jordan and among the Palestinians. Question: why is this so and to what kind of future will this lead us ? Unfortunately the reply was inadequate. We received two responses. 1) The Israel Bar Association is not doing enough to protect the human rights of the Palestinian prisoners (remember, many of whom are interned because of terrorist acts) and 2) they, the intellectuals/professionals, will remain against the peace process until the Palestinians are granted their full rights.
The last point dealt with the teaching or lack of teaching about peace and Israel in the school system. We brought up the point of the mural we saw in the kindergarten (Jerusalem without Synagogues) and our discussion with the student (see above). On both points we were told it a psychological problem which has to be dealt with and as long a Israel is still "occupying Palestinian lands" this problem will not be solved.
I was quite impressed with what the Palestinians have done in Gaza with respect to bettering the lives of the people. I was very disappointed with the meeting.The Palestinians we met with did not defend their position on a level to which I could say "here we have partners in peace". I continue to have the feeling that the peace we have is very unstable, dependent upon the whims of undemocratic governments. If the intellectuals remain against the peace and
2. On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted with a 2/3 majority to partition western Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state.(1) The Jews were to be granted what appears on the map (below) in blue. Over 75% of the land allocated to the Jews was desert. The Jewish population accepted the plan which accorded them a diminished state. The Arabs, intent on preventing any Jewish entity in Palestine, rejected it.(2)
a. For the full text of the UN Partition resolution, see: Walter Laquere (ed.), The Arab-Israeli Reader; A Documentary History of the Middle east Conflict (New York: Bantam Books, 1969), pp.113-122
b. While the Jewish leadership and population in Palestine accepted partition, all of the Arab members states of the UN - Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen- voted against it. Upon the resolution's adoption, the Arab delegates declared partition invalid: The New York Times, Nov. 30, 1947. Within two days, the Arab governments declared their opposition to partition: The New York Times, Dec. 1, 2, 1947.
1) Gold, Dori Israel's Rights in Jerusalem; Jerusalem in International Diplomacy Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2000
2) Weiner, Justus Reid. THE FALSE PROPHET OF PALESTINE:IN THE WAKE OF THE EDWARD SAID REVELATIONSJerusalem Letter / Viewpoints No. 422 9 Shevat 5760 / 16 January 2000
3) Parkes, James. Arabs & Jews in the Middle East: A Tragedy of Errors. London, Gollancz, 1969 32pgs.