It has come to our knowledge that Hands of Peace, a non-profit “dialogue-based,” American organization identifying itself as “an interfaith organization developing peace-building and leadership skills in Israeli, Palestinian and American teens through the power of dialogue and personal relationships” has started recruiting teenagers from The Gaza Strip.
This is supposed to be an experience which seeks to “foster long-term peaceful coexistence among Jewish-Israelis, Arab Citizens of Israel, and Palestinians by bringing together teenagers from the Middle East with American teenagers in an interfaith setting.”  (Emphasis added).
The Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic boycott of Israel and Palestinian Youth Against Israeli Apartheid consider this an act of normalization that violates the boycott guidelines issued by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) . HOP seems to ignore the fact that the reason why Palestinians and Israelis cannot get together is because the former are colonized and the latter are settler colonists. It also ignores the fact that Israel is an apartheid state, as former American president Jimmy Carter and anti-Apartheid activist and Nobel Laureate Desmund Tutu called it; a state that discriminates not only against the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but also against the 1.2 million Palestinians living in it as third class citizens.
Each summer HOP brings a group of Jewish-Israeli, “Arab Citizens” of Israel, and Palestinian teenagers to the northwest suburbs of Chicago for “a two-week, dialogue-based experience of coexistence with one another… This program teaches team-building and leadership skills, helps the participants learn about different cultures and religions, guides them in learning about the conflict from different points of view, and encourages them to explore ways to incorporate peace-building into their personal lives and community.” And now it is Gaza teenagers that HOP is targeting!
We, Palestinian youth of Gaza, ask if the Israeli participants will be willing to admit to their Palestinian counterparts that the creation of the state of Israel was responsible for the (continuing) ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people since 1948? That it illegally occupies the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and racially discriminates against the 1948 Palestinians in what the United Nations Special Rapporteur John Dugard described as the only remaining case after Apartheid South Africa of a “Western-affiliated regime that denies self-determination and human rights to a developing people and that has done so for so long.” ? A state responsible for ongoing house demolitions, illegal settlement expansions and the building of a monstrous Apartheid Wall—not to mention the collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza, who are subjugated to a brutal, medieval siege entering its fifth year?
The summer programme brings a group of Jewish-Israeli, Arab Citizens of Israel, and Palestinian teenagers to hear how “ the conflict has impacted others, explore from different angles the many complicated and painful issues that have contributed to the ongoing conflict, and discuss their ideas about what could bring about peace” We wonder how the HOP program will allude to the 413 children and teenagers killed by Israel in the last genocidal war against the Palestinians of Gaza. Will that also be referred to as from of “dialogue” between “two equal parities” engaged in a “conflict?’ Will there be a reference to the violence of the colonizer; the fourth largest army in the world with more than 250 nuclear heads? Will it state the fact that two thirds of the Palestinians of Gaza are refugees who were ethnically cleansed from the towns and villages where their Israeli counterparts live now?
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Where are the "two sides" of this "conflict? " This is an issue of injustice around continuous dispossession and subjugation of one people by another people. Do we understand from the HOP that there was a "conflict" between the native Blacks of South Africa and the White supremacists of the apartheid regime? Or the Americans of African descent and those of European descent in the South? If recruiting Palestinian teenagers in the program means that the Israeli “partners” will admit to these atrocities committed by their own state, as a group of a few, albeit courageous, Israeli activists from Boycott From Within and BOYCOTT!! have done, then perhaps we can reconsider our position.
This initiative is one more arrogant attempt to equate between colonizer and colonized; oppressor and oppressed; victim and executioner. We ask: will it speak about the cultural confiscation, the occupation of Palestinian history, the system of racial discrimination, home demolition, settlement expansion, settler colonialism and land expropriation? Will it tell of how apartheid Israel slices the West Bank into Bantustans separated by more than 600 checkpoints and a monstrous Apartheid Separation Wall preventing Palestinians from access to local hospitals, schools and universities, not to mention their families and relatives? Will it even mention Israel’s policy of occupation, colonization and apartheid?
We, Palestinian youth of Gaza, would like to offer an alternative by calling on Israeli youth, who are in a privileged position, to consider joining hands with the conscientious Israeli Boycott from Within anti-apartheid activists. Then, perhaps the “vision” of real “coexistence” would involve spreading the voices of the marginalized, suppressed, and silenced Palestinians in the impoverished and crowded refugee camps, in the Gaza concentration camp, and in the Bantustanized West Bank, promoting their right to self-determination and the right of return of all those displaced and forcefully removed throughout Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands in accordance with International Law.
We, therefore, consider this project a continuation of a campaign of normalization that aims at whitewashing Israel’s tarnished image and does nothing but falsely creates the facade that there are actually two equal sides to “the conflict.” Palestinian teenagers from Gaza, and elsewhere, should refrain from joining such programs.
Hands of Peace: you are not welcome in Gaza!
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI)
Palestinian Youth Against Israeli Apartheid (PYAIA)
Besieged Gaza, Occupied Palestine
August 9, 2011