Franck Biancheri *
January 26, 2006.
Paris - Their elders speak only of land and states, while the youth on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict dream of mobility, of freedom of movement within their own borders, and beyond.
In December 2005, at the invitation of the Young Israeli Forum for Cooperation (YIFC), I held a series of seminars and discussions with Israeli and Palestinian youth. During our debates, I asked a mixed group of these young people a very simple, but unusual, question: `If our meeting room was a time machine bringing us into 2025, what would you dream of finding in the Middle East at that time?`
After a moment of refection, these young people started to share their vision of their region in 2025, concentrating on the main thing they would hope to find. An Israeli mentioned his dream of visiting countries in the Middle East that he is presently prevented from entering. A Palestinian said he wanted freedom to move around his own country, and another wanted to travel around the world. This desire for mobility was consistent among all the youth that I interviewed. It was shared by the students and professors in universities, where many would like to see Israeli and Palestinian universities connected to a student exchange program such as the European Erasmus Student Exchange. To my surprise, and the surprise of the young leader who organised my visit, all of the youth, women and men, Israeli and Palestinian, were dreaming of the same thing: freedom of movement.
It is easy to imagine how these young people feel trapped. In a country the size of Belgium, roughly the size of the U.S. state of New Jersey, both Israelis and Palestinians have limited freedom to travel around as they please. Israelis cannot visit the West Bank and Gaza region, which starts only a few kilometres away from their homes and cities. They cannot visit most other countries in the region. Palestinians cannot freely travel within their own country and cannot visit other parts of the world without difficult-to-obtain permits and permissions from Israel.
While their elders are talking about the important, but static, concepts of land and states, the Twenty-First Century Generation expressed a simple, decent human expectation and right. They dream of being able to do what their peers are doing elsewhere: moving, travelling, visiting. The past generation of leaders from both sides, as well as the international community, have not been able to fulfil this very basic human right. They have even managed to further restrict movement in the last decade, and especially now, with the construction of the barrier.
From my European experience, it is clear that people need a common dream to be able to build peace. After speaking with the youth of Palestine and Israel, I am now convinced that young Israelis and Palestinians do have a dream in common: freedom of movement. They only have to become aware that they share it. But if they do, for the first time in this region, peace will not be abstract, but will take the shape of something meaningful for an individual, for a young individual: his/her own ability to move, to travel, to belong to the Twenty-First Century.
I am also convinced that this is where the European Union has a major role to play. We Europeans are the very symbol of this cross-borders, cross-cultural mobility of which young Palestinians and Israelis dream. As one of them said to me: `I am amazed to see that, when I chat with friends in Europe, they may be in London for a year, then they go to study or work in Frankfurt, or Paris, then go on holidays in Rome, or do a stage in Prague ... and here we are stuck. Even moving a few kilometres is a major trouble`
It is vital that Europe and the rest of the world listen and respond innovatively to such a call coming from the young people of this region. Perhaps a peace process involving this common dream of free movement can trigger the massive youth support needed to pave the way for a new reality in the region.
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* Franck Biancheri is the Director of Studies and Strategy for Europe 2020 where he heads a series of seminars, Global Europe 2020, that focuses on the future of EU Common External Policy.
Source: Newsropeans, January 26, 2006.
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