Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2014, Pages 50-51

Waging Peace

Peace Activist Presents Alternative Solution to Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Yehuda HaKohenYehuda HaKohen believes Israel should stop “trying to be a Western satellite in the Middle East.” (Staff photo M. Patkar)

Yehuda HaKohen, who calls himself an “alternative peace activist,” hosted a participatory discussion entitled “Beyond Common Narratives in the Middle East Conflict” on Nov. 5 at Hunter College in New York City. HaKohen explained his approach to the conflict by sharing his life story.

HaKohen, a Jewish Israeli who works to bring activists together to explore common narratives in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, believes the goals of both sides are not necessarily in opposition. Thus, he prefers focusing on what he calls a “bigger, more inclusive narrative.”

However, HaKohen was not raised thinking this way. When he was young, he explained, the media depicted the conflict in a polarized way and focused on tensions between Arabs and Jews. “As a Jew, I consciously took a side,” HaKohen recalled.

After the second intifada, HaKohen joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). At the time, he said, he valued Jerusalem remaining undivided more than he valued his own life. However, during his service, HaKohen was exposed to the Palestinian narrative for the first time and his view of the conflict changed. “Now, I bring activists together to recognize the common struggle,” he noted.

He cited the Oslo accords as an example of how both sides have been victimized by the conflict. “Palestinians view Oslo as a Zionist plot against Palestine,” HaKohen reflected. “[Israelis] view it as a scheme against Israel.”

HaKohen believes peace in the conflict is synonymous with “unity,” and that Israel should embrace a more inclusive “Semitic identity.”

One of the major roadblocks to peace is the involvement of the international community in the conflict, the activist maintained, because “the international community is aggressively pushing an agenda that involves partitioning the country.”

HaKohen said he is particularly frustrated with Israel’s relationship with the United States and believes Israel should stop “trying to be a Western satellite in the Middle East.” Instead, he believes Israel should become a part of the Middle East and work on improving its relationship with its neighbors.

HaKohen was met with skepticism from the audience. Many criticized his views for being “idealistic.” Some audience members were concerned about how, according to HaKohen’s one-state solution, demographics would affect Israel’s identity as a “Jewish democracy.” HaKohen, however, emphasized that his vision of peace is dependent on Israel becoming a united, Middle Eastern nation.

Mallika Patkar