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Where is the Palestinian peace camp?

The BBC News website is publishing a series of articles about the attempts to achieve peace in the Middle East and the main obstacles. Martin Patience considers what has happened to the Palestinian peace movement.

Youths protested at checkpoints and fought bullets fired by the Israeli army with their fists and stones.

First intifada
The late 1980s were a time of confrontation, but also evolution
Shops opened irregularly in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as the shopkeepers were frequently on strike.

Palestinians turned their watches back an hour to operate in a different time zone.

The start of the first Palestinian uprising, or intifada, in 1987 against Israel's occupation took the world, including Israel, by surprise.

But it was also the starting point of something else, says the political analyst Dr Mahdi Abdel Hadi, director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs - the Palestinian peace movement.

"The intifada aimed to change the status quo," he says.

"It was Palestinians recognising that they could not undo Israel but that they were willing to negotiate with [it]."

Window for peace

Before the uprising, the Palestinians who remained in the West Bank and Gaza following the Israeli occupation after the 1967 Middle East War had been largely quiescent.

Mr Abdel Hadi says the first years after 1967 were marked by a "culture of fear".

It is difficult for people that have suffered the occupation all their lives to believe in peace
Reem Mustafa

A period of "steadfastness" began in the late 1970s when Palestinians began preserving their culture and heritage and gritting their teeth about the Israeli occupation.

It was only in 1987 that Palestinians began "knocking on Israeli doors", says Mr Abdel Hadi.

"After two or three years we begin convincing Israelis that there could be peace between the two peoples."

The signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 was intended to lead to the formation of a Palestinian state.

But trust dwindled between the two sides, particularly following the assassination - by a right-wing Jew - of the Israeli prime minister who signed the agreement, Yitzhak Rabin.

A second Palestinian uprising - this time using guns and bombs - started in 2000, which resulted in thousands of lives lost.

Universal values

Amid the violence, organisations have sprung up in the West Bank and Gaza whose aim is to build peace and reconciliation between the two sides.

Unarmed international, Israeli and Palestinian activists protest against West Bank barrier
Today's activists are bolstered by foreign and Israeli supporters
But the aims of the organisations have often been unclear, says Dr Noah Salameh, director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation.

"Peace is not just about an agreement with Israel," he says. "It has to be a human value that is universal - the same values that apply equally to everyone."

Meanwhile, a series of non-violent demonstrations have cropped up to protest against the building of the West Bank barrier.

These protests, however, are small "because we can't gather like the Israelis do in Tel Aviv," says Dr Salameh. "We would get shot if we tried."

There's a huge gap (between the two sides). We are back at square one
Mahdi Abdel Hadi
Across the West Bank and Gaza these days it is difficult to find many Palestinians that will talk of peace.

Daily life in the West Bank involves frequent Israeli military incursions into their cities and towns or hours spent waiting at Israeli checkpoints. Gaza lives with internal strife and Israel's blockade.

For most Palestinians there is the belief that Israel must be the one to make concessions.

From the Palestinian point of view they have shouldered the brunt of the suffering, going all the way back to the refugee crisis of 1948.

Absence of trust

Some Palestinians, however, do try and work on small peace projects with Israelis.

Palestinian youth holding olive sapling faces Israeli soldier in West Bank
The Palestinian peace movement faces a difficult future
But they run the risk of being labelled collaborators by some sections of Palestinian society.

Reem Mustafa works on a co-existence project, Hands of Peace, but says that her father does not agree with her work.

"It is difficult for people that have suffered the occupation all their lives to believe in peace," she says.

Another Palestinian activist, Wael Salmah, says that just persuading Palestinians and Israelis to meet can be very difficult.

Mr Salmah was jailed after planning to plant a car bomb in Jerusalem in 1990 but now belongs to the organisation Combatants for Peace, which brings together former Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers.

"It's not easy to bring people together and build trust in a few minutes or days," he says. "It takes a long, long time."

But for most Palestinians, the process of any sustainable peace movement is a dim prospect.

Many feel that the events of the last decade have set it back irreparably.

"There's a huge gap (between the two sides)," says Mr Abdel Hadi. "We are back at square one."


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