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A life devoted to Peace among People and,
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Newspaper Pagina/12
Buenos Aires – Sunday, July 30 of 2000

Hot points, agreed points (view)

After three years of their first dialogue, Rabin Daniel Goldman and Palestinian ambassador Suhail Akel met again in order to analyze whether Middle East conflict has repercussions on their communities.

By Sergio Kierman

After several vacillations, Suhail Akel and Daniel Goldman met in Pagina/12 to talk about peace and cohabitation three years ago. During the week of Camp Davis negotiations, which look for reaching the peace that has not been achieved yet, the 54-year-old ambassador of the Palestine National Authority and the 43-year-old Rabin from the Bet-El Community again approached this issue in a dialogue which sometimes had its hot points. Minding their language, they approached the “hot point” of two communities which –according to them- live in peace in Argentina: the identity of a territory. One of them calls it Israel, while other one insists on the fact that its name is Palestine

-Did the peace process fail? Is it just a parenthesis? Is there any possibility of solving this conflict?

Daniel Goldman (D.G.): It is a process. Therefore, there are maybe failures and crisis. But it establishes a way of landmarks which allow us to see whether there was some advancement or not. On each side, there are sectors which want to negotiate and sectors which are opposed to it. Although we have not reached a creative solution, I do not consider it a failure.

Suhail Akel (S.A.): Unlike certain sectors and communication means, I do not attach such an importance to the word failure. In spite of the fact that we have not reached an agreement, it is the first time we have had a frank and sincere dialogue, expressing what we really pretended, since Oslo in 1993. When President Yasser Arafat left Gaza, bounding towards Washington, he said that his heart was going to be opened to any suggestion. We tried to explain Bill Clinton that the situation was not good enough for a Camp Davis, but he insisted on mediating and we regarded it as another opportunity. It is the beginning of a more honest process, where delicate issues such as Jerusalem, refugees and settlements were approached.

A difference: “History makes me feel that Israel is the land of my ancestors”, Goldman says. “I do not feel it with Israel, but with Palestine”, Akel replies.

Jerusalem issue requires a great importance and no Israeli administration approached it in such a way. Even in 1993, both countries signed that they would deal with Jerusalem from May, 1996; but we had never succeeded in introducing the subject before because they regarded Jerusalem as the capital city of the State and as an indivisible city. Camp Davis achieved it. We established our legitimate right to the city, we did not claim for something which did no belong to us. We want both people to live in peace, both the Palestine State and the Israel State: Jerusalem as capital city of Palestine and Jerusalem as capital city of Israel. I mean that we do not claim for the Western sector to build fences and walls with barbed wire. The city must be unified and both states must possess the sovereignty of the city in order for both people to enjoy it.

-As Argentines or people who live here...

S.A.: ¡I am not an Argentine! I was born in Jerusalem.

-Well, but you have lived here for years, your children...

S.A.: They were born under this flag. Palestinians’ heart is broken between the birthplace, in my case the Ancient City, and the place of exile.

D.G.: I am profoundly Argentine and my bond is spiritual, it is history the one which makes me feel Israel is the land of my ancestors. In some way, I feel identify with the matter of being inside and outside. The exile is a characteristic which Jews developed during centuries. That necessity of returning has always been present in songs and psalms.

S.A.: I do not have that necessity of returning to Israel, but Palestine. Because we must clarify that Israel is..

D.G.: That is our discussion...

S.A.: ...a creation which dates from 1948.

D.G.: Taking into account that criterion, I could mention the exiles carried out by the conquerors of Israel. They threw out the Jewish people from the Israeli territory, the Promised Land. But I do not want to date back to that; each of us can establish a strong historical bond. Without being a representative of Israel, I believe that nowadays both people have to establish a pacific coexistence.

S.A.: Both of us have theological precedents. I could mention the Arab-Semite Saducees and Canaanites from the Palestinian genealogy. They were the ones who founded Jerusalem. I could mention our King Melquisedec who received Abraham, who was sent by God to be the father of the two nations and from who his first son was born, Ismael, who is our Arab lineage, and the latest one was born, Isaac, who is the Jewish lineage... That is, We have many titles to get recognized a right to the land. But God tells Abraham that the Promised Land belongs to his sons Ismael and Isaac. His descendants lived together in peace and they were victims of the duty usurpers and imperialists who affected both. I agree with Daniel about the fact that this may be something which must worry us today. We have to solve this by means of two states for two people. And this is the best moment, since that bond becomes interesting because both were able to break that almost-diabolic sign of confrontation in order to live together on the same land.

Akel: “The important thing is not continuing showing pictures of those people we have lost because we fought against each other, but starting showing pictures of the ones who are being born”.

D.G.: Unlike our meeting in Pagina/12 three years ago, there is a great acceptation of how the real cohabitation is. When we meet in 1997, we had a feeling of conflict which is now assumed in a better way. Arabs and Jews always had a mutual feedback relation, no matter where they were. We have to recover it now. Even though there is a level of political decision, there is also a dialogue which takes place at the everyday cohabitation.

S.A.: My family can prove it. I have relatives in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Haifa, in the Northern area of what used to be Palestine, now Israel... They have no differences. My relatives work, they are professionals, one of them directs a school and they have Jewish friends. I am going to give you an example we saw on the Palestinian television some time ago: a group of Palestinian families met with Jewish families, families which did not know each other. At the beginning, there was a tense atmosphere and there were reproaches on each side –their “it belongs to me”, their “it does not belong to you”-. Some of them took out pictures of their martyr sons and the families from the other side do the same thing, that is, they took out pictures of their martyrs... But they were sat at the table, sharing some food, and they showed respect for their dead sons. Finally, they said that the important thing is not continuing showing pictures of those people we have lost because we fought against each other, but starting showing pictures of the ones who are being born”. We have not lost everything. Maybe we are not taking advantage of great possibilities. It is a case of a Palestinian girl who was about to dye as a result of a heart disease. Unfortunately, there was just an accident where a Jewish boy...

D.G.: ...died and his heart was donated.

S.A.: The girl survived and now both families are only one family, they consider themselves relatives. Above the borders some people tried to establish, we want to achieve that, we want to be two families, we want to be relatives. In our land, in the Palestinian territory, Christians, Jews and Muslims had always lived together. They respected each other and they lived together, until a political controversy -a border- rose.

D.G.: Here the Ambassador plays as an Ambassador, when he talks of the historical Palestinian territory. I simply want to make it clear that that territory has always been a reason for cohabitation. However, I would not say that it was a reason for dispute, but for tension. I have to clarify it because it generates this tension when the State is established as a State. I believe that peace seems imminent and it requires a generation elaboration. Non of them wants to live with a fundamentalist spirit of violence, those are minority groups.

S.A.: I could again repeat Daniel our titles to that territory. But I want to emphasize that it is the historical and biblical territory, the one where all lived. If we want to repeat it, we have to think of two units, not one. It is not as big as the Argentine territory, it is very small. It does not reach 27,009 square kilometers –that Ancient Palestine- where we are consolidating two people into two states.

-How does this conflict reflect among groups which possess such complex identities like the ones you described, in Argentina? How is received this level of conflict with so many participators in Middle East?

D.G.: It is related with two aspects: dispersion and the need of identity with a land, a common identity in this case. Evidently, all the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had a strong influence on the relations of communities. I have to emphasize that situations where a fraternal relation exists take place in everyday treatment. I was born in Flores, a neighborhood with a strong Arab and Jewish presence. My primary school mate is now an important leader from the Arab community. Each of us had knowledge of the spiritual bonds with the land of Israel and with the land of his ancestors, but it was not an obstacle. That is why Jewish and Christian Arabs founded the Argentine Syrian-Lebanese Society.

S.A.: I believe that communities are the best argument that we can live in peace. The Arab and Jewish communities have never had problems. I am pleased about the maturity they showed in two difficult situations: the attack on the Embassy of Israel and AMIA.

Goldman: “Evidently, all the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had a strong influence on the relations of communities”.

I believe that many people would have desired to face two communities. But the desire to live in peace was superior to the sectors from both sides which desired a confrontation. This was widely-known and satisfactory. On the other hand, a great part of the Jewish community is Arab, speaks Arabic language, smokes narghile, drinks Arab coffee and eats Arab food. They share their Jewish idiosyncrasy with their Arab culture and they share it with the rest Arab people from the community.

D.G.: I believe that there is a hot point, we cannot be so innocent. There is a point where this kind of discussions with regard to territories causes tension. However, I do not believe that this can divert us from a good cohabitation.

S.A.: If there had been a hot point, our cohabitation would have been destroyed.

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