Preserving Peace Amidst Conflict: Perspectives from an Egyptian American who Studied in Israel

Preserving Peace Amidst Conflict: Perspectives from an Egyptian American who Studied in Israel

  • 30.10.2023 05:56

Tragedy Strikes: Remembering Ofir Libstein and the Call for Peace

Amidst the somber litany of death notices on my Facebook feed, one name stood out — Ofir Libstein. A year ago, during my visit to Israel through the invitation of Sharaka, a peace-promoting NGO, I had the privilege of meeting Ofir. As the Chairman of the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, he passionately shared his vision for fostering community improvement by facilitating work permits for Palestinians in Gaza. His commitment to people-to-people peace was evident.

Tragically, Ofir, 50, and his 19-year-old son, Nitzan, fell victim to a heinous attack on October 7 orchestrated by Hamas terrorists who infiltrated their kibbutz. The extremists, poisoned by Hamas indoctrination, viewed Israelis as embodiments of evil. This brutal incident starkly underscores the impact of such extremist narratives on individuals.

Critics often depict Israel as an "apartheid state," simplifying the complex reality. As an Arab who has lived and studied in Israel, I reject this oversimplification. My recent visit reaffirmed the diversity and pluralism within Israel. Tel Aviv's vibrant atmosphere echoed with Arabic, and Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza, and even Arabs from Sudan were integral parts of daily life, working across various sectors.

Wealthy Palestinian women, adorned in traditional headscarves, shopped alongside Israelis in malls, and an Arab-Israeli woman in Jaffa assisted me in choosing a gift for a Jewish family hosting me for Rosh Hashanah. Conversations with individuals like Ahmed, a seller of traditional Arab desserts in Tel Aviv, highlighted the interconnectedness of communities.

Witnessing Jewish Israelis feeling at ease alongside Arab workers and tourists gave me hope. Understanding Jewish anxiety didn't come naturally, especially during my first visit in 2014, shortly after the conflict with Hamas. However, the continued coexistence and shared spaces offer a glimmer of optimism for a future where diverse communities can live and thrive together in peace.

Nurturing Hope Amidst Despair: A Personal Reflection on Israel's Struggles

Throughout my four-year sojourn in Israel, I've witnessed the nation's resilience in the face of recurring wars, each leaving indelible scars on the collective psyche. My understanding of Jewish loss has deepened, particularly in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack and the ongoing barrage of Hamas rockets. Many of my friends, once fervent peace activists in the south, have reluctantly abandoned their homes for safer havens, grappling with personal losses and the uncertainty of reserve duty.

This complex reality extends beyond the Jewish community. I've connected with non-Jews, including Druze and Arab-Israeli students, each touched by the recent wave of violence. The town of Iksal mourns the loss of Awad Darawshe, a paramedic murdered while attempting to save lives during the Hamas assault. Gazans, who once found employment and hope in Tel Aviv, now face the harsh aftermath of lost income, homes, and possibly lives. Druze students from border villages live under the looming threat of Hezbollah attacks.

A mere month ago, optimism flourished with the prospect of improved relations, symbolized by increasing numbers of Gazans working in Israel and Saudi Arabia. However, the recent Hamas attack has cast a shadow over these aspirations. Despite the challenges, I share Ofir Libstein's dream that people-to-people contact remains a crucial step toward genuine Middle East peace. My fervent hope is that my peace-loving friends persist in their efforts. We must not let Hamas extinguish the flame of peace along with the peacemakers.

Haisam Hassanein, as an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, continues to analyze Israel's relations with Arab states and Muslim countries, contributing to a nuanced understanding of the region's complexities.

Preserving the Beacon of Peace: A Call to Resilience

As I reflect on the tumultuous reality that has unfolded during my four years in Israel, the scars of consecutive wars and the recent spate of violence weigh heavily on the collective spirit of the nation. The profound understanding of Jewish loss has been etched into my consciousness, especially in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack and the relentless barrage of Hamas rockets.

Witnessing my Israeli friends, once fervent advocates for peace, forced to abandon their homes for safer refuge underscores the gravity of the situation. The complexities extend beyond borders, touching the lives of non-Jews—Druze, Arab-Israeli students, and Gazans, each grappling with the ripple effects of violence. The dream of a new dawn of peace in the Middle East, kindled by increased cooperation and ties, now stands at the mercy of recent events.

Amidst this turmoil, the words of Ofir Libstein echo in my mind—the belief that people-to-people contact is the foundational step toward genuine Middle East peace. As an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, I recognize the intricate web of relations between Israel, Arab states, and Muslim countries. In these trying times, my hope remains steadfast that my peace-loving friends will persist in their efforts.

We stand at a crucial juncture where resilience and determination must prevail over the darkness cast by violence. The vision of a peaceful Middle East, while tested, must not be abandoned. Together, we must shield the flame of peace from being extinguished by the actions of extremists. In the face of adversity, the call to preserve hope and continue the pursuit of peace echoes louder than ever.