Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

What Israel wants to earn from our peace

On a visit to Israel to discuss shared education, Tony Gallagher dodges missile fire

I talked to some people from the Nazareth Academic Institute who felt there might be some possibility of applying the same collaborative model in this part of Israel, and the purpose of the seminar and workshop is to consider the feasibility of this.

Clearly the situation here is much more difficult, even before the recent violence. I could not say whether the collaborative model can work here, only people working on the ground in the Nazareth area can make that call.

I am here with a PhD student, Gareth Robinson, and we were both not really quite sure what to expect when we arrived in Tel Aviv. When we got to the hotel we noticed a sign giving directions to the shelter, and after we had gone through the formalities of checking in, the receptionist told us exactly where the shelter was, and that we had about five minutes to get there once the alarm was sounded.

On Saturday night nothing much happened, and the city was very quiet with few people around. On the second day we visited Jerusalem by bus to see some of the religious sites, along with crowds of pilgrims and tourists from many countries. When we returned that evening to Tel Aviv we were walking from the bus station to the hotel when we heard the sirens.

It took a couple of seconds for us to realise that it was the sirens, then a few seconds more to realise that we didn't know where to go. People on the street around us all bolted across the road and down an alleyway, so we followed them and ended up in the stairwell of an apartment block where we all waited to see what would happen next.

Shortly after the sirens stopped we heard a loud explosion. We all waited a few more minutes then ventured back onto the street. Cars, bicycles, taxis and lorries had been abandoned by their drivers, some with their engines still running and doors open, but the drivers re-appeared and things returned to an odd normality.

When we got back to the hotel we watched the local news and learned that two missiles had been fired from Gaza towards Tel Aviv, but both had been intercepted by the 'Iron Dome', the anti-missile system operated by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

I know of some Israelis who have evacuated their families out of Tel Aviv, even though people still walk the streets (albeit in fewer numbers), and shops and restaurants are open as normal. People are also quite jittery - while in one restaurant, on the seafront, lights appeared in the sky and some people jumped when they saw them, until they realised it was a plane coming in to land at the local airport. I may be tempting fate, but it does not feel unduly dangerous here, although I suspect the experience of Israelis in towns south of Tel Aviv is much less pleasant.

It is hard, frankly, to understand why Hamas keep firing their missiles as it only seems to display their impotence in the face of the much greater firepower of the IDF. And it only seems to have brought destruction down on the people of Gaza.

The motivation behind shared education in Northern Ireland is to help secure the peace by encouraging the development of a more interconnected and shared society. It is not at all clear that such an environment yet exists in the Middle East, but the hope that such an environment might be established was a key driver in our peace process.

If there are some people here who think it might help, then who are we if we choose not to support their effort and optimism.

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