We talk often of the barriers to peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but little attention is focused on the barriers faced by Palestinians who favor coexistence and peace with Israel. Late in the evening of Monday, May 2, Palestinian activist Baha Nabata was shot dead in the Shuafat refugee camp adjacent to East Jerusalem. His assailant escaped on a motor bike. His killing was reported in the Israeli media. It did not receive any coverage we know of by the Palestinian Maan News Agency, or in the international media.
Mr. Nabata was a well known civil rights and youth leader in his community. His numerous accomplishments included paving the camp’s roads, setting up emergency medical services for residents, and training firefighters with help from the Jerusalem Fire Department. He also led a youth group in the adjacent Palestinian neighborhood of Ras Shehada.
His activities caused him to be in contact and cooperate with Israeli municipal officials. For this he was branded by some Palestinians as a traitor, and for this Mr. Nabata feared for his life and eventually paid the ultimate price.
Because of what has happened to people of good will like Baha Nabata, ordinary Palestinians are reluctant to speak openly. The attitudes of Palestinians must instead be tabulated in anonymous surveys. There is no genuine free press for Palestinians, and there is little diversity of published opinions.
Some conclude from this that Palestinians do not want peace and an end to the conflict. In the opinion of many people in Israel and Palestine, this is a wrong assumption. 100,000 Palestinians from the West Bank enter Israel peacefully each day for work. More recently Palestinian companies in Gaza have been selling their products in Israel. The Palestinian-Israeli coexistence movement, encompassed by the 90+ organizations comprising the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), is strong and growing. For peace to be realized, however, peace advocates on both sides must be empowered with a voice in the political process and a voice in their future. Many more courageous Palestinians like Baha Nabata must emerge.
A few weeks ago the Israeli Arab workers of the Abouelafia Bakery, an Arab bakery in the Jaffa community of Israel since 1879, began wearing shirts that said “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” in Hebrew. The photo below was posted on facebook:
We applaud the courage and of these brave Israeli citizens, and we pledge to work for the day when they can post the same photograph on the internet without fear, and with everyone in the photo facing the camera. We are all Baha Nabata.