International Student Presentation - Walid and Uri
Uri and Walid speaking at a Tokyo press conference before boarding Peace Boat
As Peace Boat approached the Mediterranean, Palestinian Walid Nasser gleaned information on the current conflict from Arabic news reports and passed it on to his Israeli counterpart, Uri Blau. Both International Students come from families who have lived as refugees, fleeing massacres in the Middle East and wartime Europe respectively, and have been brought up to believe in a homeland, one which exists for two peoples on the same piece of soil. Though naturally holding contrasting opinions of certain events, the two young journalists share similar views on many topics and agree that only the withdrawal of Israeli troops can signal the start of a dialogue and an end to the bloodshed. In his lecture, Uri testified to the difficulty of negotiating when people believe that land is more sacred than human life, while agreeing with Walid that both populations are a grieving people, retaliating with violence in a situation where the terms good and bad, black and white are becoming meaningless.
Israeli Uri Blau
Uri, who, like all Israelis, spent three years in military service from the age of eighteen, now works for an independent newspaper in Jerusalem reporting on occupation issues and human rights violations. Stressing that international media oversimplifies an extremely complicated and emotive situation, he showed a video report of a suicide bomb attack on a restaurant that triggered a large-scale operation in the West Bank. He asked the audience to consider if they could act rationally, faced with images of innocent victims lying bleeding in the streets of their town and an atmosphere of paranoia where the person next to you on the bus could be carrying explosives under their clothes. Uri stated that most Israelis preferred not to destroy the myth of the heroic Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in the wave of media-led patriotism following the suicide bombings and that he experiences hostility from people around him for publishing articles revealing the real situation in the occupied territories. Believing that journalists should criticise every institution and provide the public with all available information, Uri spoke of the unhealthy relationship between the IDF spokesman and the media, and how most Israelis have never had access to uncensored information. Preferring to contact sources working in the field, who risk facing a military tribunal by talking to him, Uri is primarily concerned with human rights violations and military cover-ups, including information on the camp where his Palestinian counterpart was held in April.
Palestinian Walid Nasser
Walid, DJ and manager of two independent radio stations in the West Bank, gave an introduction into the genesis of the conflict and the continuing circle of violence and retaliation. Speaking of the conditions in Ramallah, he painted a chilling picture of living under the occupation, from the demoralisation of the curfew and deathly silence on the streets, to the checkpoints, where Israeli soldiers often abuse civilians and tanks prevent even ambulances from passing through the barriers. Just months before coming on Peace Boat, when the occupying forces decided to close down all private media, soldiers came to Walid’s radio stations and destroyed broadcasting equipment, telling Walid and his colleagues that they deserved to die, as they were terrorists not journalists. Participants listened in shocked silence to his account of being held for ten days; at times deprived of clothes and food, hands tied behind back and forced to lie face down in the mud for hours at a stretch. Pointing out that this was merely one example of violence, Walid showed disturbing pictures of tanks and armed checkpoints, arrests and beatings, together with maps of the Gaza Strip and West Bank peppered with the dots of Israeli settlements. Speaking of the media situation in Palestine, he testified that of the twenty independent media in West Bank, only his two stations and one other had recommenced broadcasting since the crackdown. Though news programmes have been suspended to protect the station, emergency updates on living under curfew and new checkpoints etc. continue to respond to the needs of the people. Walid concluded by stating that he supports only peaceful methods of Intifada ("Civilian revolution" in Arabic) and expressing his frustration at the senselessness of the violence inflicted by both sides.
Walid gets his Tshirt signed by GET teacher Susan, interpreter Naomi and one of the passengers
In a further dicussion session, the pair responded to questions from the audience regarding activities of NGO and activist groups in both areas, the public view of Arafat, Sharon and the political situation and, finally, how patriotism is approached in education and the media. With both Uri and Walid encouraging respect for each other’s viewpoint, while filling in gaps and offering corrections, passengers were given a nuanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although they said it would be impossible for them to work together on return to their hometowns without being considered spies, both expressed a hope to meet again in a Jerusalem shared between their countries. When asked what they would do if made leaders of their respective territories, they exchanged a warm handshake and embrace, reiterating their belief in the possibility of a peaceful solution. Affirming that they came onboard with the same message and met each other as individuals, not enemies, Walid and Uri expressed the hope that, one day, Palestinians and Israelis can live peacefully together as neighbours.
Peace Boat's 39th Voyage index