Ariel is an Israeli professional, holds an MBA and has degrees in sociology, anthropology and Jewish history. He was born in Argentina and has been living in Israel since 1993. We met in Tel Aviv, on a sunny day at the end of December 2011. After we talked about Israel, it was time for me to see Palestine with his eyes.
‘Build me Palestine’ I ask him.
‘Palestinians… Palestinians…’ he sobs while building his model.
When he finishes, he looks at me:
‘This man is the Palestinian… they have peace in their mind…’
I look at the model and in the attempt to get a full vision of it and to take pictures I turn it so that the minifig could face me, but Ariel stops me. I am puzzled and ask ‘Why?’
‘This man is the Palestinian and he is looking toward the opposite direction, opposite to the way… They have peace in their mind, symbolised by the green bricks…’ he shows me ‘…they are dreaming about peace… No’ – he suddenly stops and corrects himself – ‘it’s not peace, they are dreaming about normalisation and about a free state, it’s not really peace… It’s like Egypt, we have peace with Egypt since 1981, it’s been 30 years. But that’s not real peace though. 10 years ago I went to Egypt, it was in 1991 and I didn’t feel peace like I do here, they don’t like us, let’s say. You won’t see Egyptians here. They don’t come here…’‘Why?’
‘Even though we have an agreement, in their souls and in their heads they think Israel is still something bad… There’s no peace: there is no war, but this is different. Having peace is different than having no war. 5/10 years ago Egypt was full of Israelis, you know, they went there to see the Pyramids… but they didn’t feel safe and I have never seen an Egyptian here in 20 years… the same with the Jordanians: they don’t like us, but it’s a different problem because 2/3 of the population there are Palestinians. Almost 70% of the Jordanian population are Palestinians, of course they don’t like us… but let’s say that the green bricks represent the peace agreement…’ He goes back to his model. ‘They have it in their mind. The peace is here’ – he shows me the long green bricks -‘the way is here – behind them – and they go there because they are champions in missing opportunities. Really, champions: none is better than them…’ He gets bitter and he starts recalling all the missed opportunities.
‘1947 UN partition, what was the answer of Israeli new State… What was Ben-Gurion reaction? We accepted it was half than today, maybe 60% less. At that time there was no Palestinian identity; at that time, Arabs in Palestine were not like those of today, the nationality in Arab countries is relatively a new thing. Very new thing. Until 1967 they were Jordanians, they didn’t feel we are Palestinian and they started since. Then in the 20th century, when the national state started to be created under war here there was no sense of nationality… In 1947 Ben Gurion accepted the Palestinians, the Arab countries… but 6 Arab countries wanted war… this was the first missed opportunity.’ Then he goes on recalling the missed opportunities.
‘Who did rule since 1948-1967? Judea and Samaria were controlled by Jordan, Gaza by Egypt … Arab countries are brothers, so why didn’t they create their Palestinian state?
Because Israel by ruling in the territory, it creates in the Palestinians the will to struggle and to make war… why they haven’t created a Palestinian State in Gaza, in Egypt?!… Arab countries!…’ he says sceptical. ‘It was in ’67, in the 6 days’ war: when Israel conquered the territories, then Arabs started this national identity rise up… why not before? They didn’t say anything or complain to King Hussein, they didn’t know they were Palestinians or the nationality we are talking about…’. After the 6 days war in fact, the number of Palestinians in Jordan were higher than the number of Jordanian citizen.
‘So’ – Ariel goes on – ‘they just react against Israel, because Israel is strange in this region… Why? Maybe today there could already be a 40 years’ Palestinian state. It’s the second missed opportunity.’ And he goes on.
‘Olso agreement, 1993: there was a lot of opposition here in Israel, but there was also a lot of support as well.. I remember, I was a student at that time, I used to work in a hotel with Palestinians from East Jerusalem, had friends and coworkers and they were saying ‘We are going to have peace,we’ll travel to Jordan, to Syria… Europe…’ Euphoria. What happened? Hamas started bombing…. The were bombing busses here. Pubs. A discotheque here, 16 teenagers killed, in 1995. They started to explode themselves, suicide bombs. Incredible… Terrible. I was in Jerusalem then and there you didn’t know what to do: take a bus or don’t? Shopping centres, hotels, wedding… people died in an explosion during a wedding…’
He is touched, he knows what he is talking about, and goes on: ‘What did Arafat do? Nothing! Nothing! You can’t stop them… Because there is a lot of people supporting these attacks – they have even today this dream lead by Hamas and they are not a few, Hamas does not represent a minority. They have won the elections, they have a lot of support in the Palestinian streets. Hamas is different from Fatah – Hamas are a lot… they are dreaming about Palestine. They are dreaming about Tel Aviv Yafo… they are dreaming… they have dreams but it’s not gonna happen they have the Jihad, you know, the Holy war… They are educating children to bomb themselves, to be a Shahid, a martyr… for 17 virgins…!’
Ariel Stops and I look to his model ‘The peace is getting thinner though…’
‘But it’s there…’ He says ‘but they are going on the opposite direction… 1991, an other opportunity: Gulf War, Saddam send missiles that killed Israelis… Here in Haifa.. what did Palestinians do? They went out in the street to celebrate… Arafat… so Idiot! So Idiot!’ he says angry and bitter. ‘Arafat supported Saddam Hussein… another opportunity missed … they are champions. And they are bombing here… another, peace agreement, Rabin, Peres with Arafat… they won the Nobel prize for peace (it was 1994), euphoria, they said there would be as Palestinian state within 5 years.’ And he goes on.
‘In 2000 the Israeli prime minister Barak, with Arafat went to Camp David with Bill Clinton: Barak was ready to give them 97% of territories, it was not bad, better than nothing, or you can say let’s start with thin 97% and negotiate the other 3% but then, Jerusalem represented a very complex situation… And what was Arafat answer? Intifada! A terrible Intifada. It was not a popular rise like the first one, it was an armed one: Palestinian police against Israeli police… they gave Palestinian arms and weapones… Olmert, the Israeli prime Minister, with Abbas… they are champions…’
‘How can they turn around?’ I ask him.
‘I think they are changing… The Palestinians are pretty tired of the situation, they want a regular life and this is what is changing. Last time I have seen on TV an interview with a Palestinian, the guy said he was a terrorist, but now he had changed, he wanted to work… I think Palestinians understood that intifada, terror and war doesn’t work. They’ve lost a lot, they have lost lives, they lost… now they are there. The economy is growing, I think they have a good leadership, I like Salam Fayyad, the prime minister [Fayyed resigned on April 13th 2013 A/N], Abu Mazen is an educated economist, has a vision and now, NOW it’s Israel who is missing the opportunity. But the government is very right side, I don’t like it.
Now it’s Israel who is missing opportunity, we can have good partners. Not Hamas. Hamas is terror. They must be expelled… I don’t know… Gaza is more difficult, it’s very difficult, but in Judea and Samaria now I think they want peace, they are tired of war … they have tried the war but they have lost… Here in Israel in peace time, even in the 90s there were more than 2000 Palestinians working with permission etc. One day the Israeli closed the gates because of the bomb attacks… Bombs, bombs every day in the streets… A worker killed his boss – they worked together for 10 years… now we have workers from Thailand, Philippines, Romania… but originally it was Palestinians who were working here, but not anymore. They’ve lost. We are strong. And the economy here is strong. The most of the Israeli budget is for security – it’s the biggest expense on security in the world… it’s difficult, but you can see the high standard we reached, we are living normally.
But I think this is changing… maybe now they are turning around’
And by saying so, the moves the upper part of the model and turn it. ‘It’s like your eyes are looking on the side … They see that there’s something there… Now they start to understand… Even Hamas. Maybe it will take time to understand that the future state of Palestine will be in West Bank and Gaza. You can not like it, you can be afraid, but it’s a fact.’
So, while Dr Azar calls for normalisation, this is not what Israeli would like to achieve. There are still difference views and as Ariel perfectly underlined, the entire peace process is full of missed opportunities, from both sides. And after one and a half year after recording this interview, not much has changed. As Ariel said, it’ll take time. 64 years were not a sufficient amount of time and a whole generation of Israelis and Palestinians today ignores what does living in peace mean. How much a lack of experience in the coming leading generation will cost in terms of peace process? How can a generation who lived in a state of war and tension be able to build peace?