When U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Israel on Wednesday, he will not be carrying detailed plans for a Middle East peace process. Instead, Obama has planned a “listening tour,” where he looks forward to hearing both Israeli and Palestinian proposals for increased diplomacy.
National Geographic Emerging Explorer Aziz Abu Sarah is a cultural educator working to build relationships between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem and throughout Israel. In a new series of four eight-minute videos, Abu Sarah goes on his own “listening tour.” He meets with people from both sides of the conflict, in order to better understand and communicate how this international dispute impacts their everyday lives.
Please watch these videos in order. Each presents a different perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “In the conflict zone,” Abu Sarah says, “everything depends on which side you are on.”
In the first video, “Uneasy Co-Existence,” Abu Sarah outlines the current construction of Israeli “settlements” in the West Bank, perhaps the most controversial issue in Israel today. He talks to Israeli settlers as well as Palestinian activists.
- In President Obama’s “listening tour,” he promises to hear ideas from both Israeli and Palestinian leaders about settlements and other points of conflict. Aziz Abu Sarah also interacts with people on both sides of the “conflict zone.” What methods does Abu Sarah use that allow him to talk to people on both sides of the issue? (He uses non-judgmental language, doesn’t yell or scold, allows people to speak for themselves, doesn’t interrupt, and he doesn’t get angry.) Can students think of conflicts at school or in their community where they can use some of Abu Sarah’s methods?
In the next two videos, Abu Sarah talks with members of Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian protesters, who regularly engage in violent conflict with each other. Please watch both videos before engaging in a discussion.
In the second video, “Israel Defense Forces,” Abu Sarah talks with members of the Israeli military, and joins them on a patrol of the West Bank where they encounter Palestinian protesters.
In the third video, “Palestinian Protesters,” Abu Sarah talks with Palestinians who regularly protest the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
- As Abu Sarah talks with members of the IDF and Palestinian protesters in the West Bank, they both identify a resource—not a religion or ideology—as the source of conflict. What is this resource? (A natural spring lies between the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh and the Israeli settlement of Halamish.)
- In the West Bank, both the IDF and Palestinian protesters are armed, and sometimes the force used can be lethal. Each side has its preferred weapons. What is the primary weapon of the Israel Defense Forces? Of the Palestinian protesters? How do they match up? (The IDF launches canisters of tear gas to disperse crowds of protesters, while Palestinian protesters hurl rocks with slingshots. Neither weapon is as lethal as guns or bombs, although both can be deadly. However, the IDF is a professional military with armored vehicles and protective gear; it has heavier ammunition to draw on.)
- In Gaza, the conflict is much more deadly. Why? (The ammunition used by both sides is much more powerful. Palestinian militants in Gaza launch rockets, while the IDF responds with missile-focused airstrikes. Both sides strike civilian, as well as military, targets.)
In the fourth video, “A Space to Talk,” Abu Sarah returns to his hometown, Jerusalem. One local project introduces Israeli and Palestinian boys through a common interest: soccer.
- Talking to Israelis, what Abu Sarah calls the “day-to-day impact” of the conflict is a sense of insecurity and fear. For Palestinians, it’s a sense of oppression and injustice. Abu Sarah listens to the personal experiences of Israelis and Palestinians. His work puts a focus on these personal stories, not opinions or beliefs. Is there a local conflict that students think would benefit from both sides listening to personal stories from the other side? How could these stories be expressed? (Conversation, artwork, radio programs, social media exchanges, film or video, letters, short stories, etc.)
- Abu Sarah briefly unites a group of Israeli and Palestinian boys through a game of soccer. Are there common interests besides sports that may bring two sides of a conflict together? (People on both sides of a conflict may share an interest in science, art, music, food, nature, business, etc.)
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