Jonas Lähnemann
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Letter from Israel (24.4.2002)

Dear friends,

I just wrote a long letter to friends in Germany. As I know many people that can't read it, I will now write a shorter version in English - mainly about the political and security situation, because many friends are concerned about me being here.

By now I got adjusted to life in Jerusalem and I feel at home. However, 14 of the 18 months I'm staying here are over already. After a continuing progress in my knowledge of the Hebrew language - daily usage with limited vocabulary - I'm more and more integrated here, especially at work. In the school for handicapped I got into a routine, which does not mean that the work has become boring; I know my tasks, the children and my co-workers and I feel sure about what I'm doing. Additionally my work is appreciated. In the work with Shoah survivors I had some changes, but it's also going well.
But my life here is not only about work. I had my brother visiting over Christmas and we went for two weeks to see Egypt - a great trip for both of us, after we had not seen one another for 9 months. Later my dad came for a week and for Easter my mom and brother came again. I also saw a lot in Israel, just recently going to the north with my mom and brother or going to Eilat with the school. Trips to the Dead Sea and when the political situation was more quiet in fall I've been in Jericho. In October we had the anniversary of our organizations work in Israel. Just after Easter we had a seminar about archeology with archeologists showing us major sights in Jerusalem. I've visited different activities of Israeli peace groups to also learn about them and show my support.

Just a week ago one of my house-mates left the country to go back to Germany and she's not the only volunteer that left the country. However, I'm still planning to stay until August. The political situation is constantly present and we reflect on it or discuss it a lot. The contacts to people from different sides, the direct confrontation with the problems and the insight view, however, give me a deeper understanding for many things. The violence in the Middle East and my view of it deepen my beliefs in pacifism and I am thinking a lot more about it than I ever did before refusing my military service. Additionally I'm daily confronted with patriotism, nationalism and militarism - topics that I have a very critical view on. So I am learning a lot here and I'm getting more mature in my reflections. The presence of police in downtown Jerusalem has been very high in the last weeks, so I am always reminded of the tense situation. However, I feel a lot safer than a year ago when I arrived and when the situation was unbelievably quiet - from today's point of view. A part of this might be that I am feeling in home in Jerusalem and have lived here for such a long time. I'm often thinking of this, but for now I'm sure I want to stay. I don't feel personally endangered, but I've never been near any terror attack. I ask you also not to be concerned about my well being. The international media reflects the most violent events here, but almost only them, so it might seem worse than it is. Yet I thought about going back to Germany - for political reasons. These thoughts never got very far and I want to learn as much as I can and use the remaining time to add to my experiences. I am trying to inform myself about Israeli peace groups and their activities and to participate in some human rights activities. When last summer I was supposed to work for the school in a summer camp in a West Bank settlement I refused to work there and returned to Jerusalem after a day. The situation in the occupied territories lets me think a lot more than the terror. When the situation was bad enough a year ago with closures on cities, restrictions on movement, etc., today the Israeli actions are just unbelievable. In the name of fighting against terror the Palestinian infrastructure is destroyed - after destroying Arafat's police infrastructure Sharon always demands from him to take action against terror. The terror is horrifying, but since Sharon came to power a year ago, the situation has just become worse. This man promised security and only achieved the opposite. To stay in power he accepts the death of many of his people. There will be no other way than two states in this region and the remaining question is how much blood will be shed on the way to this solution. The ongoing settlement activity is just making a solution ever more difficult. A Palestinian state cannot be divided by settlement blocs, but more settlements will be more difficult to evacuate. Anyone who wants a Jewish state of Israel should support a quick division, because if you cannot divide the countries any more there will soon be an unwanted Arab majority, unless you go on denying the Palestinians the rights that the settlers right next to them enjoy.

I know of different Palestinian groups working towards a nonviolent resolution of the conflict - Christian as well as Muslim groups. But how are the y to teach nonviolence now that every Palestinian child has been directly confronted by violence from Israeli soldiers. How can you give on pacifistic ideals in destroyed schools. In this area the work of many years is undone - what Israel is doing is in my eyes not in any way constructive towards stopping terrorism, however, it is silencing voices within the Palestinian society that are critical about the terror. Who can speak out against violence if you see the dimension of violence going out from the Israeli army. Military actions won't stop the terror has been repeatedly shown during the last year. The terror rate might go down for a while, but for what a humanitarian cost on the Palestinian side? After these military actions only more Palestinians will be uncritical of terror, or even - missing any perspective - be willing to participate in those activities. Most Palestinians just want to live under decent conditions, so the only way to take away the terrors backing is giving the Palestinians a perspective for the future under acceptable conditions. Surely there are Palestinians demanding the whole of Israel, but on the other side there are the Israelis talking about a Greater Israel and with the settlements this is even government enforced policy. On both sides these are the extremists and not a majority. Unfortunately in course of this conflict these voices get additional backing.

Many Israelis tell me that Barak offered the Palestinians everything, however, he was playing with numbers to turn the view away from the shortcomings in what he offered. Both sides have to ignore the mistakes of the past that they both did, they have to stop blaming everything on the other side, and they have to move towards a realistic solution. Israel as the stronger partner has to do a lot more than they are doing up to now. Other countries have to take a more active role in a more balanced way, for example the US have to stop starting peace initiatives which are so one sided or half hearted that their failure is clear from the beginning.

I have become very pessimistic about a solution since I arrived here.

But then there are the signs of hope. The Israeli peace movement has been reawakening in the last months. Radical leftist groups have stepped up their activities and also more mainstream organizations like "Peace Now" are increasingly calling for a just and peaceful solution. 36 reservists are sitting in jail for participating in the occupation.
A few weeks ago I heard a lecture by the spokesperson of one of the peace movements, who was showing a lot of optimism in this awful situation and also other encounters with other Israeli leftists are very encouraging against the opinions of many other Israelis.

Schalom leculam,
I'm wishing all of you all the best,

Yours Jonas

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