Israelis, Palestinians: What Peace Means To Me Last week, the U.S. abandoned efforts to revive direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said American envoys will again shuttle between the two sides to keep the process alive. NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro takes us on a journey through Israel and the Palestinian territories where she's been talking to ordinary people about whether they think peace is even possible.

Israelis, Palestinians: What Peace Means To Me

Israelis, Palestinians: What Peace Means To Me

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Last week, the U.S. abandoned efforts to revive direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said American envoys will again shuttle between the two sides to keep the process alive. NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro takes us on a journey through Israel and the Palestinian territories where she's been talking to ordinary people about whether they think peace is even possible.


Next we're going to try to get beyond the voices of political leaders on the subject of Middle East peace. For better or worse, those leaders haven't made any progress. Last week the U.S. abandoned efforts to revive direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. American envoys will shuttle between the two sides instead. And as they shuttle, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has been taking a journey talking with people in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. She begins this report in a small Arab village, an Arab village inside Israel.

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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Once a week Haviva Ner David comes from her Jewish town, Hanaton, to the nearby Arab village of Kfar Manda to basket weave with local women.

Haviva is a rabbi who does a lot of work with Jewish couples about to get married. She is not really part of any peace movement. She just wanted to try something different, she says.

Ms. HAVIVA NER DAVID (Rabbi): When I lived in Jerusalem, you could live your life as a Jew in Jerusalem, never really talking to Arabs. And so, from the beginning I said to myself these are my neighbors and I want to have some kind of interaction with them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's an unusual position for an Israeli these days. Recent polls have shown that the majority of Jews don't want to live next to Arabs, and most Arabs don't want to live next to religious Jews. The two communities know less and less about each other. Haviva says she feels powerless to enact political change but that the weekly visits to Kfar Manda give her a personal benefit.

Ms. DAVID: I don't know, in my lifetime, if I'll really see the kind of peace that I thought I would see. But I find that this gives me a lot of hope, where we're not even talking about the politics, we're just coming together to weave baskets.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of Haviva's weaving partners is Halima Bushnaq. She's 53 and wears a colorful embroidered robe and headscarf. She's forceful, animated, and Arab Israeli; which means she's a Palestinian who has Israeli citizenship.

Ms. HALIMA BUSHNAQ (Weaver): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says lately there's been a lot of talk in her community, about a series of moves by the Israeli parliament, like legislating a loyalty oath that would force new citizens of any religious orientation to pledge their allegiance to a Jewish state. She says the moves seem to target the Arab citizens of Israel.

Ms. BUSHNAQ: (Through Translator) I feel that Arabs do not have their rights in the state of Israel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But she also feels that Palestinians in the West Bank have little sympathy for the Arabs of Israel either. So we live in a kind of limbo, she says, belonging to no one and nothing, except the land. It's the only thing that's real in the shifting politics of the Middle East she says.

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GARCIA-NAVARRO: Moving south, to the dynamic buzzing economic capital of Israel, Tel Aviv - sin city, a place where the young come to party and get rich working in the booming high tech industry; and, drink coffee in the hundreds of cafes like this one next to Tel Aviv University.

Mr. YOVAL NURIEL (Oracle): This is where things are happening, this is the mini state called Tel Aviv, and everything else besides it doesn't really exist.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yoval Nuriel is 29, and works for Oracle here. He wants to have his own start up someday. Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any country outside North America. As for the recent news that peace talks have collapsed? He barely noticed.

Mr. NURIEL: I think Israelis, at the end of the day, they live really well. Tel Aviv is the epitome of that. The average Israeli, at least my age, doesn't really do anything actively. We're living our lives, you know, we're looking for our future, we're looking for careers. If the conflict comes into our lives it's just around coffee tables.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They might talk about it, he says, but it's more an intellectual exercise than real interest. When I tell him I'm going to be meeting a young Palestinian, later in the day, who also works in high tech, he fires off a list of questions he wants to ask him.

Mr. NURIEL: How do they travel? How do they leave the country? Do they have a passport? Are they connected to their land, and to the roots, and to the blood and to the history? Or are they career oriented and good living oriented?

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GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ramallah is the de facto capital of the West Bank and it's also undergoing a mini boom. Like Tel Aviv, it attracts an educated, young, hip crowd. We're at a trendy cafe called Zaman, one of many dotting in the city. Haitham Sebeah is 22. He works in a high tech company here, dealing with internet systems. His clients range across the Middle East, as far as Dubai. He lives with five other guys in a crowded apartment.

Mr. HAITHAM SEBEAH: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In answer to Yoval's questions, Haitham says he hasn't left the West Bank since 1996. He doesn't have a permit to go into Israel so he can't really travel. But he says, he's also a lot like Yuval. Though he lives the difficulties of the occupation every day, he says he just wants to get ahead, make money, hang out with his friends. He doesn't know any Israelis and he isn't surprised they don't know anything about Palestinians.

Mr. SEBEAH: (Through Translator) There is total separation between us and them. The political situation does not allow for any mixing. Also, these people live in luxury. Why should they bother and learn about us or come to see us?

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GARCIA-NAVARRO: Unlike a lot of Israelis and Palestinians, people who live in the Jewish settlements are deeply engaged in the political situation because their presence in the occupied West Bank is one of the main points of contention in the peace process. In any future peace deal, settlements like Ofra will probably have to be evacuated.

Benny Aumann is a local travel agent and, like most settlers, he doesn't believe in land for peace. But he deals with Palestinians every day in Ofra. Many work in the settlements. He says the pro peace movements in Israeli are motivated by hypocrisy.

Mr. BENNY AUMANN (Travel Agent): They want to be in Tel Aviv. They don't want to see Arabs, not in their restaurants and not the hotels. And we who are considered the right wing fanatics, who are so-called racists and fascists, and they don't bother us, we don't mind that they stay here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But Aumann says stay under his terms. All of this, he gestures to the wide expanse of the West Bank, is a Jewish state.

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GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's quiet at Gaza's port. After the militant group Hamas seized Gaza in a bloody fight with the rival Fatah movement in 2007, Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on the territory. Israel holds Hamas responsible for continued rocket attacks on Israeli communities. While the restrictions on the land borders are well known, it's also true that Gaza's fishermen are now not allowed to take their boats farther than three miles out to sea.

Amjed Sadalah is 30 years old and he's a fisherman like his father and grandfather before him. But we aren't catching any fish these days he says. In the old days he used to videotape himself fishing, just for fun because the catches were so big.

Mr. AMJED SADALAH (Fisherman): (Through Translator) And nowadays when I look at it, I feel so depressed, so said that those days are gone. And now we are sitting here doing nothing. Even we cannot fish something to eat.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Like many people in the Palestinian territories and Israel, Amjad also doesn't believe peace will come to this troubled region. In fact, he thinks there'll probably be another war pretty soon.

Mr. SADALAH: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I asked him to envision what peace would be like, if there was some sort of agreement. I'd be able to fish again, he says. That's what peace means to me.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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