The big dream and little hope of Palestinians and Israelis

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Extremists on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide will not like the ideas of Palestinian peace activist Professor Mohammed Dajani, who has been brought to South Africa by Jewish groups in response to Israel Apartheid Week.
by Geoff Sifrin | Mar 09, 2016

Taking Issue

Extremists envision a win-lose scenario where one side wins and the other is vanquished. Dajani believes through recognising each other’s humanity, peace is possible, where both sides win. South Africa’s approach has important lessons.

Dajani was born into an anti-Jewish environment in West Jerusalem, where his family lived for centuries. When Jewish forces arrived in 1948, the family fled and their property was confiscated.

In 1967 in Lebanon he was involved in media relations for Fatah, thereafter leaving politics for academia in the UK and US. After returning in 1993 to Jerusalem, a change occurred in his attitude when his father had cancer and entered an Israeli hospital in Ein Karem.

Dajani saw doctors treating him purely as a patient, not as an Arab - as the “other”. Later, when his mother suffered a heart attack near Ben-Gurion Airport after a family outing, Israeli paramedics took her to a nearby military hospital where doctors tried their best to revive her. He saw the other side’s humanity.

Dajani started a movement called Wasatia - which means “centre” or “moderate”. The Palestinian people are moderate, he says, and the Qur’an is peace-seeking. But extremist groups distort it towards anti-Jewish and anti-Christian interpretations.

How can he be optimistic about the Middle East when things are so violent? “I look not only at the present, but at the future… We thought in South Africa there would never be reconciliation. And we must reconcile in Israel and Palestine.”

In Palestinian schools, the Holocaust is denied or distorted, and the idea taught that Jews are not a nation and not entitled to a state. Each side has its tragedy, however: The Palestinians have the Nakba - their “catastrophe” when Israel was established in 1948 and some 750 000 Palestinian refugees fled. Israel, he says, “has made a tremendous effort to wipe out the memory of the Nakba.”

When, as a professor at Jerusalem’s Al Quds University, he took Palestinian students to Auschwitz in 2014 to learn about the Holocaust, he was pressurised not to do it by other Palestinians. It was part of a project where Jewish students from Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion universities would visit Dheisheh refugee camp to learn about the Nakba.

Israelis and Palestinians must move from the “Big Dream” to the “Little Hope”, he says. The Israelis’ big dream is that there are no Palestinians in the Land of Israel; for Palestinians, there are no Jews and Israelis. The small hope for both sides, however, is two states where each people have their homeland.

Dajani rejects BDS’ approach of boycotting Israel. “We reject BDS walls and also Israeli walls; we want to build bridges.” He says the Arab world would normalise relations with Israel - in 2002 it proposed the Arab Peace Initiative. “The Palestinian aspirations for peace are similar to the Arab world today.”

To allay Israeli security concerns, Palestine will not have an army, he says. Jerusalem’s Old City - holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity - will be internationalised; other sections of Jerusalem will be part of the settlement between Israel and Palestine.

He emphasises that the right of return for Palestinians is “holy”. However, actual return is a different matter - there can be compensation, which would allay Israeli fears of being demographically swamped. Jewish settlers in the West Bank can choose to live in Palestine, or leave and receive compensation.

Dajani is pleased to hear the ANC is speaking to BDS. But the question he asks is most relevant: What is the message? Is it about reconciliation or hate?


Read Geoff Sifrin’s regular columns on his blog


  1. 3 nat cheiman 10 Mar
    BDS and ANC??????? You may as well talk to the wall.
  2. 2 Choni 11 Mar
    Sifrin, Every time you express your opinions and/or proposals regarding the Israeli/Arab conflict you have never brought the God of Israel into the picture.
    BUT THERE IS A GOD OF ISRAEL, and I submit you learn a little Tanach before writing your columns.
    The only "extremists" which you refer to on the Israeli side are those who follow the policies of the Torah.

    Choni, you have made this point over and over. Whilst you may not tire of it, others do. Geoff Sifrin writes a COLUMN which covers a multitude of subjects and it is very well read. 
    This is a platform for everybody's views. Try expressing your own and not constantly attacking others'. 
    Try sharing YOUR wealth of knowledge, rather than abusing others of the right to an opinion.   -ONLINE EDITOR

  3. 1 Choni 13 Mar

    Your opinions are always welcome, Choni, as are everyone's. But your being rude towards others, over and over again, simply because they have their own opinions is not. It displays a lack of civility and will be deleted until Kingdom come. Do you see the Chief Rabbi attacking anyone who does not write about Orthodoxy? Do you see the Av Beth Din being rude to anyone who does not follow halacha to the nth degree? No. Why not? Not because they don't want everyone to think like they do. But because they have the good grace to allow others to have their own opinion. They are not Judges and you certainly are not either. I happen to be moderating comments this morning. If anyone else was, I am sure our standing rules regarding your posts would have applied. Be civil! Allow people to have opinions of their own. Tell fellow-users what you think WITHOUT  trying to always belittle others' thoughts. Your own thoughts will always be welcome. You are far more intelligent than you recognise but choose to rather choose to stoop into the gutter of web trolling. Why?    -ANT KATZ


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