Pales­tini­ans help re­veal how the peo­ple can bring peace

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY NATHAN PORTER

IJERUSALEM srael’s con­tin­ued sta­bil­ity and growth may fall pri­mar­ily on the un­likely shoul­ders of peo­ple like Tsipi Se­gal. Ms. Se­gal is nei­ther a politi­cian nor a diplo­mat — she’s a tour guide. Amid grow­ing re­gional in­sta­bil­ity, with many Is­raelis feel­ing in­creas­ingly alone and mis­un­der­stood in the world, the coun­try’s global im­age of­ten is fil­tered through the grind­ing stand­off with the Pales­tini­ans — shaped more by sen­sa­tional YouTube videos and me­dia cov­er­age than re­al­ity. Fight­ing those mis­con­cep­tions is what Ms. Se­gal does — one tour group at a time.

“The most im­por­tant thing to con­vey to the peo­ple is that, on a daily ba­sis, [Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans] live to­gether, and we earn our daily bread to­gether,” said Ms. Se­gal, an Is­raeli Chris­tian, born and raised in Jerusalem.

Ms. Se­gal’s grand­par­ents im­mi­grated to the Jerusalem area from Greece and Rus­sia shortly af­ter the turn of the 20th cen­tury. Both of her par­ents fought for Is­raeli in­de­pen­dence in the years af­ter World War II.

She vividly re­mem­bers paus­ing from her stud­ies at the He­brew Univer­sity and putting her wed­ding en­gage­ment on hold 40 years ago to fight in the Yom Kip­pur War. Of her 10 clos­est friends, only three came back from the war alive.

Still, Ms. Se­gal feels that the true fight of her life is de­bunk­ing the many mis­con­cep­tions about her beloved Is­rael.

“Bring­ing pil­grims here is one of the main steps for con­tin­ued peace. It’s not a joke,” Ms. Se­gal said.

As she loaded her Amer­i­can tourists onto a bus one re­cent morn­ing, Ms. Se­gal smiled at the Pales­tinian tour bus driver, Haz­zam, and asked about his son’s wed­ding plan­ning. The two shared a quick laugh. A mo­ment passed, and she asked how his wife had been do­ing since her re­cent di­ag­no­sis of mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

Tourism is a sig­nif­i­cant part of Is­rael’s econ­omy, and it serves as a uni­fy­ing tool among Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans.

“If you put fear in peo­ple, then pil­grims will not come here, and I will not be able to work with Haz­zam, and then what will hap­pen is that we will not see that we are so much alike,” said Ms. Se­gal. “Only when you cut off that con­nec­tion is fear and hos­til­ity built up.”

Over the past 30 years, Ms. Se­gal has guided thou­sands of peo­ple from around the world through the Holy Land. Re­li­gion plays a huge part in the tours, re­flect­ing the im­por­tant role it has played through­out Jewish his­tory.

Last month, Ha­mas Prime Min­is­ter Is­mail Haniyeh praised ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the West Bank and en­cour­aged Arabs and Mus­lims to “pre­pare for the Great al-Aksa In­tifada,” ac­cord­ing to The Jerusalem Post.

Mr. Haniyeh also con­demned a re­cent in­ci­dent in which a Jew openly prayed and took out an Is­raeli flag on the Tem­ple Mount, an area un­der Mus­lim au­thor­ity but deemed sa­cred by Jews and Mus­lims alike.

De­spite the vi­o­lent re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal con­flicts, so­cial peace and civic or­der some­how sur­vive.

Last week, one of the Chris­tian tourists trav­el­ing with Ms. Se­gal left his tablet com­puter at a store in Jeri­cho. The Pales­tinian store owner posted a mes­sage on Face­book from the de­vice, alert­ing all of the tourist’s friends about the lo­ca­tion of his tablet. Be­cause of the Pales­tinian man’s gen­eros­ity, the tourist was able to re­trieve his tablet within a day.

Ahmed Sayyed, a com­puter sci­en­tist and part­time chef at the Olive Tree Ho­tel in Jerusalem, was born to a Chris­tian mother and Mus­lim fa­ther, and he doesn’t be­lieve that makes him un­usual in Is­rael.

“You’ll never see Or­tho­dox Jews and Mus­lims eat­ing and shop­ping in the same area on TV or on the news, but it hap­pens ev­ery day here in Jerusalem,” Mr. Sayyed said.

“Peo­ple are peo­ple. Hu­man­ity ev­ery­where is the same,” said Ga­mal Jor­dan, a Pales­tinian street ven­dor in the Pales­tinian area of Jeri­cho.

“When you’re born, you don’t have the la­bel or re­li­gion. The peo­ple give it to you,” said Mr. Jor­dan. “The peo­ple use re­li­gion to re­in­force the prob­lems. But the re­li­gion doesn’t make the prob­lems.”

Al­though Mr. Jor­dan wants peace, he does not like the Pales­tinian sit­u­a­tion in Is­rael.

Ms. Se­gal sym­pa­thizes with him. “A uni­fied state is cru­cial for us. It’s life or death. But on the other hand, I see the Pales­tinian is­sue,” she said.

She be­lieves it is merely a mat­ter of time be­fore Pales­tini­ans have a sep­a­rate state. Pres­i­dent Obama said this year that he thought a two-state so­lu­tion was “still pos­si­ble.”

Many Western lead­ers and global politi­cians have con­cerns for the Pales­tinian peo­ple and are work­ing to make sure that the chaos and tur­moil in other Mid­dle East­ern na­tions don’t seep into Is­raeli life and pol­i­tics.

Still, many Is­raelis are not ex­pect­ing sal­va­tion from an out­side source.

“The U.S. has to deal with their own prob­lems,” said Ms. Se­gal. “The politi­cians are not go­ing to solve the prob­lem; it has to come from the peo­ple.”

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