Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 27
 
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
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Interfaith Peace Builders’ Delegate Visits Area, Shares Thoughts on Palestinian-Israeli Strife

Ellen Gilbert

“I’m very glad I went,” said Princeton Borough resident and Town Topics employee Yeou-Shiuh Hsu speaking about his recent trip to Israel and Palestine as a member of an Interfaith Peace-Builder delegation. “It helped me fill in gaps about what I know. But it was very unsettling.”

Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) describes itself as an agency that “fosters a network of informed and active individuals who understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United States’ political, military, and economic role in it.” Their delegations “emphasize listening to and learning from those immersed in the reality of the conflict, and advancing the work of Israelis and Palestinians committed to nonviolent struggle and peace with justice.” Mr. Hsu’s group was the 33rd delegation to make the trip since 2001.

“There is a lot of good,” Mr. Hsu acknowledged. He added, however, that “it seems outweighed by the bad.” By “the bad” he means walls, road blocks, and other interventions that erode the financial, social, educational, and cultural fabric of Palestinian life. Even when Israelis take note and protest what he described as “extreme human rights abuses,” it “doesn’t get translated into political will.”

“You don’t really hear from Palestinians or Israeli civilians,” observed Mr. Hsu. “Peoples’ immediate association to the word ‘Palestinian’ is Hamas.” He cited refugee camps and graffiti as examples of “every day non-violent resistance” by Palestinians, and was moved to the point of tears by observing them in prayer. “It’s amazing that they show so much dignity after what they’ve been subjected to,” he commented.

The 28-member delegation, which included individuals from many walks of life throughout the United States, did meet with Israelis, Mr. Hsu reported, although a conversation with some Hebrew University students, “got off to a bad beginning. They wanted to talk about the history of the region — an archeological/biblical story that gets repeated again and again. They claim that Palestinians left the area ‘on their own, with no claims, so we’re not responsible.’”

“People see Israel as a beacon of democracy, so we assume it shares our notions of democracy. But this was not borne out by what we saw there,” said Mr. Hsu, who is Taiwanese-American.

Mr. Hsu pointed to the changes of heart among the several people on the trip by the time their journey concluded. One was a woman who had been born in Israel, but later moved to the U.S. Traveling now with an American passport, she was able to see things that had been prohibited to her as an Israeli national. “It greatly perturbed her,” said Mr. Hsu.

Among his examples of the stark contrasts between the Israeli and Palestinian environments was the “grassy, really nice” Israeli side of a wall, and the “drab, ugly concrete” on the Palestinian side. Another contrast was between the Israeli high-rises on one side of the border, and Palestinian structures “no taller than three stories” on the other. “Palestinians and Bedouins rarely get building permits,” Mr. Hsu noted. “If they do, it’s a costly process that can take as long as 15 years. Population growth can’t wait that long. Or, if there’s an effort to build on existing structures, they’re told that the building is ultimately illegal, and will be demolished.”

Although “hope and opportunity are not substantial,” according to Mr. Hsu, he thinks the “gulf” can be bridged. He doesn’t believe, however, that a two-state solution is the answer, because “it wouldn’t account for the 1.4 million Palestinians who live in Israel and are systematically discriminated against. After seeing what I saw, though, I recognize the importance of dialogue groups. After all, apartheid was dismantled after pressure was brought to bear.”

Mr. Hsu’s website is at www.heartofpalestine.net. To learn more about the Interfaith Peace-Builders, visit www.ifpb.org/default.html.

The opinions expressed in this article are Mr. Hsu’s and do not necessarily represent those of the author or Town Topics.

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