When I woke up Tuesday morning, I was filled with a certain amount of dread; this was, after all, the day that we would be finally visiting Hebron. Without resorting to hyperbole, Hebron has always struck me as the true epicenter of the Israeli occupation, a place where every terrible inclination of corrupting power would be on display. While I had heard various stories and seen pictures, I was always granted a degree of detachment from the reality of the ground. And yet despite the unpleasantness in anticipating our visit, a number of events throughout the day would help restore my faith in PPI’s advocacy.
|Ajrami speaking, with Amichai at his side|
The group began the day at the Ambassador Hotel, meeting with Ashraf al-Ajrami of the Geneva Initiative, and Lior Amichai of Peace Now. Both men were not shy in admitting that the situation in Israel — politically, diplomatically — was in dire shape, and that recent violence could escalate. Nonetheless, their predictions for the future were if not overly optimistic, then at the very least, pragmatic. The death of the two state solution, a popular prediction as of late, seemed overblown to them. Despite the recent bouts of violence, the rising tide of intolerance in Israeli society, a final status agreement was still a possibility. One couldn’t help but note the irony. As a number of our participants expressed despair at what they felt was a hopeless situation, here were two individuals, who remained undeterred, despite their daily exposure to the conflict.
The dreaded latter part of the day was not nearly as uplifting. The ugly realities of the occupation were on full display in Hebron; onerous restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, settler violence, and the wholesale destruction of people’s livelihood. The Israeli government had transformed a once thriving center of Palestinian life into a literal ghost town. Yet witnessing this horrible landscape did not send me into bouts of despair. I did not leave the West Bank with my faith in Zionism completely obliterated. Quite the opposite: I came to understand that disengaging from Israel would simply lead to the Hebroniznation of the entire West Bank that much sooner. If in fact the current state of Hebron was the dream of the Israeli far right, it would be grossly irresponsible to surrender the political future to the Bennetts and Liebermans of the world.
Most inspiring was the final event of the night, a lecture by Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy, but perhaps for reasons one wouldn’t except. Levy has become something of a notorious figure in Israel over the last few years, a role which he seems to relish. He was convinced (and tried quite hard to convince his audience) that the two state solution was dead, and that a one-state, South Africa-style model is inevitable. But like others who have promoted this idea he offered a utopian vision without bothering to give the details about how such a state would come into fruition. Nor was he particularly interested in acknowledging the very real, non-theoretical existence of two incompatible national movements at each others’ throats. Levy’s dream would not give birth to an ideal society but to a bloody civil war. The only real option that remains, despite one’s cynicism would be the one in which both parties saw their national aspirations realized.
These three elements — the fear of renewed violence, shock at the injustice of the occupation, and what I believe to be the promotion of unworkable and unrealistic solutions — should have left me more hopeless at the end of the day. On the contrary; I now feel more energized and more thoroughly convinced that despite its elusiveness, the two state solution is the only way forward at this moment in time — desperation be damned.