The Current

A generation born into conflict: Young Israelis and Palestinians speak about the path to peace

We spoke to four young people from across dividing lines about their hopes for the future.
From left: Bar Gissin, Haggai Matar, Aya Al-Zinati, andFadi Quran. (The Current; Tatyana Gitlits)

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In Israel and Palestine, a generation is coming of age whose entire lives have had a backdrop of conflict.

Children and teenagers when the Middle East peace process began, they've known only a world of barriers, checkpoints, suicide bombings, military attacks and political fights.

The Current spoke to four young people from across divided lines, about their struggles, hopes and the path to peace.

Haggai Matar is a 34-year-old Jewish-Israeli journalist in Tel Aviv, and the executive director of 972 magazine.

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Aya Al-Zinati is a 29-year-old Palestinian Muslim in Gaza. She's a freelance journalist a past project co-ordinator with the United Nations Development Program.

Fadi Quran is a 29-year-old Palestinian Muslim in Ramallah, and a senior campaigner for Avaaz, an online activist network dedicated to issues such as climate change and human rights.

Bar Gissin is a 28-year-old Jewish-Israeli student at Tel Aviv University. She chairs the youth wing of Israel's Meretz Social Democratic Party.

Below are edited excerpts from their conversation with The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: I want to start by asking each of you to give me one sentence — no explanation yet — just one sentence. I want to know what comes into your mind when I say "peace process."

HAGGAI MATAR: Something that has ended a long time ago and people are just getting to realize that.

AYA AL-ZINATI: So when you said the sentence I remember the one-state solution actually.

BAR GISSIN: I thought about the shift from peace process to conflict management — what is being done today.

FADI QURAN: A closing chapter in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a new chapter that will come where the struggle achieves freedom, justice, and dignity for all.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: What frustrates you most about the way Israeli politics is unfolding, Haggai?

HAGGAI MATAR: I think we are being told this lie by government since forever — for a very, very long time at least — that there is no way to end the occupation. There is no partner for peace on the Palestinian side. There is no alternative to either maintaining the status quo or even strengthening the occupation further by building more settlements and so on. So this is the only way we can go and that we are doomed to eternal war. These are things that our leaders tell us and that unfortunately many people believe. And I think the media here also played a significant role in the maintenance of that understanding — the way that people understand reality this way.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Aya Al-Zinati in Gaza… in your view do the Palestinian officials in power in Gaza represent you?

AYA AL-ZINATI: No, not at all. Both Fatah and Hamas — the two main political parties — took the people of Gaza to hell actually, by very fake reconciliation. Because the punishments on Gaza haven't been lifted until now, which were put by Mahmoud Abbas the president of Palestine. For example if you want to talk about the basic living requirements here in Gaza, we don't see electricity for only four hours per day. If you want to talk about the other basics like water; day after day water is not suitable for use. About the freedom of movement; we miss freedom of movement forever. The two borders are closed forever. The fourth problem here in Gaza, the unemployment, after Trump's decision and because of that reconciliation, hasn't been completed until now, so the funds for Gaza are decreased. So we face a lot of unemployment nowadays,like 80 per cent here in Gaza. So we are talking about basic rights for a normal life for any human being. And we don't have the limits from them. So I think we can describe our lives here in Gaza, as we live in an open prison. So no Hamas, nor Fatah represents here.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: And when's the first time you met a Palestinian, Bar?

BAR GISSIN: I think it was during my BA I went on an exchange program in New York called Paths to Peace. It's an Israeli-Palestinian program and it was right after the last war in Gaza. My roommate came from Gaza, and she came three weeks late because the border was closed. Far from being just a very touching human encounter with an equal, it was also a very revealing experience for me as I consider myself, as a progressive leftist Israeli, to face my prejudices or my thoughts or what I thought about Palestinians for the first time, with Palestinians who can speak for themselves. And I think it was one of the most teaching experiences I've had. We spent six months together in New York. It was kind of obscene to imagine that the only place I could actually meet and sit and talk together with Palestinians for 10 or six months is New York.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: How long ago was this, Bar?

BAR GISSIN: I think it was five years ago.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: So you're 28-years-old, and only five years ago did you actually have a real encounter with a Palestinian?

BAR GISSIN: With a Palestinian that is not a citizen of Israel, yes. I do work intensively with Palestinian citizens of Israel, which is a completely different issue to deal and to encompass, but with Palestinians living outside of Israel, yes.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Fadi Quran, how much interaction do you have with Israelis?

FADI QURAN: My daily interaction with Israelis consists mostly of interacting with Israeli soldiers and settlers. I live near a settlement. A lot of times we have Israeli incursions into my side of town. And the settlements also attack cars if we drive too near by. And close where I live there is a checkpoint and that's often closed. And so my interaction mainly with Israelis is the interaction of a community that's being oppressed. And the Israelis are the military that's doing the oppression. And I need to highlight here — there is also the indirect control. So the water that arrives at my house for example is also controlled by Israeli. So even though I don't interact with them directly, I know that they hold the tap faucet. And similarly if I want to travel, leaving the city I'm in, or leaving the West Bank generally, we have to cross through multiple Israeli checkpoints and controls.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI:How much time do you have to spend at checkpoints if you want to move around the West Bank, Fadi?

FADI QURAN: Well it depends. The last time I travelled to Jordan — a 30 minute drive took me about three hours.

HAGGAI MATAR: We grew up into a reality where even though there was occupation before our time, at the time of our parents the occupation had no borders. It was still terrible. People would go in and out. Palestinians would be able to come into Israel and Israelis would go to the occupied territories on a fairly free basis. So there was at least some human interaction. For our generation in the past 25 years there has been very, very little, if any, interaction. And people don't meet each other. And the sense I think on both sides is that the interactions that you do have... are usually in the context of violence for most people. For Palestinians beating soldiers and settlers. For Israelis hearing or experiencing attacks in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem, and so on. And there is very little opportunity to meet or know each other in any other context.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Aya Al-Zinati, what's it like for you? Do you meet Israelis?

AYA AL-ZINATI: I was born in Saudi Arabia and I lived there. Then move to United Arab Emirates after they occupation had been left Gaza. In 2005 I returned to Gaza. So Hammas came in 2006, so I haven't seen Israelis before. Only at... checkpoints actually. Yeah I lived in Gaza and I lived the three wars. And the Israelis were in the ground here in Gaza. But no I haven't like treated to them face to face. Only just at its check borders. But I hear from my grandmother and grandfather that they used to interact with them because Gaza people used to work in Israel like for 40 years... But I don't know what happened next. This is why I told in the very beginning when you asked about the peace process, I said I am with one-state solution to interact the Israelis with the Palestinians. But under a government mixing between Palestinians and Israelis, not only Israelis.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Fadi, what do you think? Can there be a "peace" as those of us outside might think of peace?

FADI QURAN: The question of will there be peace one day — I think there definitely will be peace... I think the bigger question here is how do we achieve that peace and what are the foundations of peace? And we've been working in Palestine across a broad spectrum of youth movements. Thousands of thousands of young men and women. And we've defined three key principles that are necessary to achieve peace. And those are freedom, justice, and dignity. And not just as political terms. But freedom specifically, in the sense that no one should be forced to follow any laws or rules unless they're put in place through a fair and democratic process.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: What does peace — if that's the word — look like for you in a place where there is a Jewish identity for Israel?

BAR GISSIN: If I can refer to something just before answering the question about Jewish identity, is that I think we share a very similar criticism towards our government. I think that our government — the Israeli government — has chosen to use the term "managing the conflict" or "conflict management" instead of striving and doing significant steps towards peace. It's a very depressing process that happened, which means that we got accustomed and used to the reality that we are in the conflict. And this will most likely not change. And we should just manage it the best way we can, like some sort of venture or initiative or whatever. And this is something that has to be changed in order for regaining the trust and the ability to have a peace process and a solution. Now I don't want to speak about tactics or what kind of solution will be exactly because I think this is something that happens once both sides, and I hold complete responsibility but we also hold a lot of criticism towards my government that is right now not willing to sit down and have a negotiation. I think that the core issue that frightens most Jewish-Israelis is actually that question about the Jewish state and the Jewish identity of Israel. And I think much have been told on the question of what is Judaism. Is it religion? Is it a culture? Is it a nation? How do we define it? And this causes a lot of difficulties for Israelis and Jewish-Israelis in trying to solve the occupation and end the occupation. But I think it's something that has to be addressed. This basic historical trauma that Jews have experienced has to be addressed. And I think all of these difficulties and all of these traumas, that both people hold, have to be put on the table and addressed in the most honest way in order to start figuring how to solve it, and not only managing the conflict.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: As I listen to all of you I hear a generational divide from the kinds of voices we normally hear on this front. Bar, do you feel that generational divide?

BAR GISSIN: Yes, completely. It comes in two expressions of it. First is the general one. We as young adults who were born into the reality of the occupation — the ongoing conflict — and not being able to have a say yet about it just because the older generation kind of did it, and forced us to be part of it. And the second one is a generational divide between the young Israeli-left and the older generation. And I think that you can vividly see in the older generation that they are somewhere stuck with the 90s, the old Oslo Accords atmosphere and approach, that: 'Here it's coming, the peace is just behind the corner.' And the fact is that the Oslo Accords are over 20 years away from us. And if we keep on holding on to what happened more than 20 years ago, we most definitely won't be relevant for today. Wars have happened since then and people have died and leaderships have shifted. And if we want to start asking ourselves what are the necessities and the core issues that are relevant for today for both people, we won't be able to form peace. This is a must-have, that my generation calls out for. I hear it everywhere in the Israeli-left.

Listen to the full interview near the top of this page, where you can share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin and Rosa Kim.