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Jewish Journal

Party for Peace

Down on his luck, Barak faces one political blow after another

by Orit Arfa

April 6, 2000 | 8:00 pm

On green grass, overlooking the lush trees of Kibbutz Yakum just outside Netanya, young Israelis and Palestinians are dancing together. They are eating hamburgers and hot dogs, holding hands in circles and waving to their friends who are happily splashing in the nearby pool. The idyllic moment happened for just one day last fall, but leaders of a new nationwide student peace movement in Israel are working to make such days commonplace in the Middle East.

The members of Ra'ash, a nationwide student peace movemen in Israel, and the members of the Peace and Equality Supporters Movement in Gaza, a Palestinian peace movement coordinated the barbecue for the sheer purpose of giving Israelis and Palestinians the opportunity to socialize. The event was sponsored by People to People, a fund organized after Oslo by the Norwegian government for events like this one. The "party," as some coordinators called it, marked the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Oslo accords.

"Oslo made a get together like this possible," said Uri Zaki, chairman of Ra'ash and third year law student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "This is the first time that Israelis and Palestinians are getting together just to have fun."

Frisbees replaced newspapers, music replaced rhetori and hookahs replaced weapons. The event was attended by Yael Tamir, Israeli Minister of Absorption; Ron Pundak, one of the key architects of the Oslo accords; and Bassel Jabber, Vice Minister of Planning and International Cooperation in the Palestinian Authority. Most of the young Palestinians attendees were members of the Peace and Equality Supporters Movement, which has some 5,000 members. Only a handful of women with veils covering their hair showed-up; Islamic tradition curbs a woman's public activity.

The Isaelis who participated came from all over the country, the major partiers being active members of Ra'ash, which translates as "noise" and is an acronym for "[Students] Want to Make Peace." Sponsored by several American foundations and donors, Ra'ash was founded three years ago by Israeli university students who were disheartened by the peace process under the Netanyahu administration.

Some Palestinians and Israelis, however, kept their reserve throughout the so-called picnic. Wassim Ismail Al-Habil, a 25-year-old English teacher in Gaza, watched somewhat skeptically as his friends bounced on the dance floor and struck up conversations with their Israeli comrade.

"There is a peace process, but there is a big gap between Israelis and Palestinians," he said. "No one can express what they feel, what they really think at events like these," Al-Habil said. "I'd like to have a good chance to speak with an Israeli to ask what he's suffering from and tell him what I'm suffering from."

For people who sympathize with Al-Habil, Ra'ash and Peace and Equality Supporters Movement organize events for dialogue and discourse, such as monthly tours to Gaza, where Israelis can observe the living conditions.

"I'm optimistic that at the end of the day we will cross borders as you do in Europe," said Tamir at the picnic. " But this will only happen when we finalize the peace agreement, which I hope this government will do soon."

To find out more information about events organized by Ra'ash or to send you support, check out the web site www.raash.org.il.

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