Gershon Baskin shares his life and Vision with Interviewer Nahanni Rous of JustVision
Gershon Baskin moved to Israel from the United States in the late 1970s. He worked with Jews and Arabs within Israel until the first intifada, when he began promoting dialogue and opportunities for cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. He is the founder of IPCRI, a jointly-run Israeli and Palestinian think tank that works with hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians in government and the private sector. IPCRI was first based in Jerusalem, and in the late 1990s moved its offices to Bethlehem. Because of current travel restrictions, IPCRI has relocated to Tantur, near Jerusalem and next to the main Bethlehem checkpoint, in an effort to find an accessible and comfortable meeting place for Israelis and Palestinians.
I had a big map of Israel on my wall next to my bed at the summer camp, and I had it marked in the different places that I had visited and things like that. One day I was looking at the map and I noticed that someone had come in and drawn the Green Line on the map, which hadn’t been there. And then all of sudden I realized that I had spent almost a whole year in Israel, and not once during that whole year did I ever talk to an Arab. All of a sudden it made me aware that something was very wrong.
The biggest thing that struck me was that for 6 hours I was talking to a group of young refugees from Deheishe Refugee Camp [during the first intifada] and not once did I hear “right of return.” What I heard from these young, mostly young men, in Deheishe in March of ’88 was, “End the Occupation, create the Palestinian state, and let’s live side by side in peace.”
It was important for me to know that there was a starting point for Israelis and Palestinians to talk to each other that was based on the possibility of mutual recognition, not one on the account of the other, and not one in the place of the other; that it was no longer a zero-sum game, that there was a place where Israelis could live and survive and exist. I always believed that the basis for coexistence is existence, that you can’t have coexistence if one side is wiped off the map.
We’re not attempting to demonize Palestinian education or Palestinian educators, but to create an opportunity to engage the Palestinian Ministry of Education to consider how they can improve what they’re doing. And therefore there are statements that are used in our study that are quoted by the Palestinians that are truthful statements but are only partially truthful, like, “The textbooks don’t incite openly against Jews, against Israel, etc.” It’s true that they don’t openly incite against, because they completely ignore the existence of Israel.
OBSTACLES & CHALLENGES
Last week we had meetings of our strategic working groups, and we had 80 people-we were supposed to be in Turkey and we couldn’t get permits for people to go to Turkey, and we decided to hold the meeting anyway, and we held it in Haifa. Thursday night when we got the permits for the West Bankers, the army told us to wait until Friday morning for the permits for the Gazans. Friday morning we called, and we were told that any of the Gazans from the north of Gaza who could get to the Erez checkpoint would be allowed to go [….] The general of the southern command who was with the Chief of Staff got word that we were trying to move Palestinians through this checkpoint, and the Chief of Staff blew up. He got hysterical, he said, “We’re looking for body pieces of soldiers who were blown up yesterday, and Palestinians from Gaza are going to meet with Israelis?” and he prohibited it.
We have no alternative. There are people out there who are saying the two-state solution is dead, we have to talk about the one-state solution. I don’t believe there is such a thing as the one-state solution. I think there’s a one-state disaster, and if we have to come to the point where the two-state solution is no longer an option, then we are deciding that Israel and Palestine become Sarajevo, and instead of talking about 4,000 – 5,000 people killed in a 4 year period, we’re talking about 250,000 people. That’s the alternative direction. So that knowledge, that awareness, that belief keeps me going with more intensity and more activity.
POLITICAL PEACE PROCESSES / POLITICAL LEADERSHIP
The agreements had problems with them, but there’s no peace agreement that doesn’t have problems. You can find flaws with every agreement, every treaty. The problem is that what they agreed on, they didn’t implement. There was a great deal of good will at the beginning of the process, the good will got lost very quickly. 5 months into the process there was the Baruch Goldstein massacre in Hebron, at which point I think the Palestinians began to lose good will. The peace process brought with it a situation that made life more difficult for Palestinians rather than easier, with the whole policy of closures and permits that developed in the peace process. Before the peace process Palestinians could move throughout this land freely, no checkpoints, no permits. And all of a sudden you have a peace process and life becomes more difficult?
SECURITY CIVIL SOCIETY
Dealing with security issues is not new in this world. Millions of people move through airports and through seaports, goods are moving every day, and the security of the world is not threatened. They have developed technologies to deal with it.
Original Interview: http://www.justvision.org/portrait/821/highlights
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.