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Peace: “Maybe it’s just a fantasy. Maybe it’s not.”

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Friday, 28 August, 2009

Dina Kraft explores the challenges facing young Israelis and Palestinians.

"What kind of life do you want to have?" Desmond Tutu asks, opening up a conversation between the Elders and a group of Israeli youth in Jerusalem.

For young Israelis and Palestinians it's hardly a simple question to answer. There's the life you want to live and then there is "the conflict" forever hovering around you, threatening to impose its ugly reach in ways both small and large.

For Palestinians it could be the long wait at a checkpoint to get a university lecture or the chance of diving for cover during an air raid in Gaza. For Israelis it's the fear a bomb will go off as they sit down at a café to meet a friend or the question of what awaits when they answer the call of army service.

Becoming a soldier for one young Israeli, Gilad Shalit led to his capture into Gaza over three years ago.

Today he turns 23, his location is unknown. Meanwhile hundreds of young Palestinian security prisoners serving terms in Israeli jails await word if they might be exchanged for Shalit as part of a prisoner swap.

So no, the question is not a simple one in this pocket of the globe.

But a young Israeli woman with long dark hair ventures an answer.

"We want to live together in quiet and peace and a harmonized life, maybe it's a fantasy," she says. "Maybe it's not."

At every stop in their tour – Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Gaza - the Elders have been sitting down to speak to the young people. Because of the conflict the idea of these young people sitting down in the same room seems like an impossible dream even though only a few miles separate them. With the ongoing siege on Gaza even Palestinians from the West Bank and Palestinians from Gaza live separate lives. And Israelis are forbidden by their government from entering Palestinian areas.

That separation, this lack of knowing each other, lends to the feeling of the conflict's intractability. Once, during the heady Oslo Process years in the 1990s there were more joint dialogue groups, there was a sense that this generation might grow up differently.

Among Palestinian society, its youth included, there is a growing "anti-normalisation" trend.

Meanwhile many young Israelis are part of their country's political shift rightward.

In a time of circling of the wagons, dialogue and co-existence have become mocked, tarnished words.

Youth are typically expounded as the great hope of their societies. The challenge now is how to bring the hope back, so that a truly peaceful life, for the young woman with long dark hair in Jerusalem and her counterparts in Gaza and Ramallah does not have to be accompanied by words like, "maybe it's just a fantasy".

After all, like she said, "Maybe it's not."

Dina Kraft is a journalist based in Tel Aviv, covering Israeli and Palestinian politics and society. Her reporting has ranged from covering children caught in the crossfire of the conflict and the recent war in Gaza to solar technology, Bedouin genetic diseases and Israeli and Palestinian women dieting together. She currently writes for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the New York Times and the Daily Telegraph.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation.

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