By Sheridan Bahar
My familiarity with Israel is not new, as I have traveled there many times and explored many areas of this beautiful country that makes me feel whole. I was lucky enough to travel to Israel and the West Bank with IPF Atid, the young professionals network of the Israel Policy Forum,during my latest visit last month and spend a week with a group of fifteen highly diverse and intelligent Jewish and non-Jewish leaders with two common goals in mind: advocating for a two-state solution and securing Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. I knew that to advocate for a Palestinian State to exist next to the Jewish State I had to hear every narrative and story on the spectrum. I knew that I had to leave my biases at home and just listen. I left for Israel hoping to come back with a better understanding of every person’s story.
We started the journey by meeting retired generals and commanders to discuss security. We examined maps and the practicality of a two-state solution. Two days into the trip, we traveled to Hebron to meet with Breaking the Silence and Yishai Fleisher, Hebron’s Jewish spokesperson. Breaking the Silence told the group about the severe actions settlers take to force out Arabs, and Yishai Fleisher told us about [our] rights to this city. It was eye-opening. It helped me see that every person has a story and that not many in Hebron believe in a two-state solution.
The following day we met with a Palestinian man who works at a community center in East Jerusalem. He said, while he does not endorse violence, it is not in his place to tell young teenagers not to pick up knives and attempt to stab the IDF soldiers.
In Bethlehem, we met with a woman who showed us around the city and a refugee camp. When asked why she doesn’t advocate for these teenagers to get out of the camp and move on from the past, she responded, “It is not my place to tell them what to do.”
This illustrates a key part of the problem. Some Palestinians live in the past instead of working to select leaders who would bring them change and peace with Israel. If people want change, they must demand it from within. They must recognize that the right to return is not possible. And they must eliminate the refugee camps. The Palestinian leadership must stand up and take control away from corruption and misrepresentation. I know that many more Israelis would work towards a two-state if there were proper representation from the Palestinians.
The Palestinian and Israeli people must get to know each other even when there is no viable leadership at the table. That’s because an agreement, no matter how great, won’t matter if the people on the ground do not abide by it. The people must understand one another despite the disconnect between the Palestinian public and their leaders. That is why I am so thankful for organizations like MEET, which brings Israeli and Palestinian young entrepreneurs together for three consecutive summers, and Zimam, which trains the future leaders of Palestine. For me, Israel is the representation of Jewish people, and I want Israel to stay Jewish and democratic.
I departed Israel with a knowledge that there are people who work with the young generation of Palestinians to bring coexistence; I learned that many Israelis haven’t lost hope for a two-state solution. I will continue supporting the work of the Israel Policy Forum because I believe in its mission. I will continue advocating for a two-state solution because I believe that is the only way to have a secure Jewish and democratic state. I also hope that Palestinians leave the past for a future where they accept Israel’s right to exist.
Sheridan Bahar lives in Washington and was born in Tehran. He grew up in a secular home with a strong connection to Israel and the miracle of Zionism. While he considers Los Angeles home, he has spent time living in different cities such as New Orleans and Vancouver. He spent two years of his early 20s doing community-service with low-income homeowners and residents in New Orleans and New York City. Sheridan has a degree in Government and Liberal Studies from the Georgetown University and is currently working toward his graduate degree in Security Policy at the George Washington University.