Next week thanks to the Israel Society and with help from CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), Maynooth University hosts Tal Hagin, a guest speaker from Israel. Tal will be addressing the Israel Conflict and will also talking about media bias on the conflict and how it affects public opinion. As we know Ireland has seen a wave of pro-Palestinian support over recent years, most likely to do with our own past of occupation by Britain but can some of this be attributed to what we are shown by the media? What follows is an interview with Tal on the situation in Israel and his perspective as an Israeli student.
Hey Tal, Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and life in Israel?
I’m an 18 year old Israeli – American who made aliyah to Israel with my mother and father 7 years ago.
Throughout the years since I moved to Israel, I volunteered in a variety of organizations. Such as being a counsellor for terror victims and mentally challenged or disabled children. I have also volunteered in the IDFs logistics department through Sar-El to better understand the army from within. This is separate from my mandatory draft which will begin around the summer of 2018. Since the age of 14 I have been a part of diplomacy and advocacy courses for Israel. These courses got me involved with the Arab – Israeli conflict, which has opened my eyes to the complexity of the region.
How has the conflict affected your outlook and shaped your life? Particularly your volunteer work as a counsellor?
The conflict has affected my life mainly through the education system I went through and my volunteer work. While volunteering as a counsellor for bereaved children I had the chance to meet the faces behind the news headlines and statistics of terror victims, the ones left behind. I became friends with many children at the camp and had the privilege of giving them something to look forward to, to be happy for and forget about the horrors at home.
It helped me understand why Israelis are so afraid of the other side – why any type of interaction is too scary.
Have you encountered victims from the other side through your work?
Sadly, I have not had the means of getting that opportunity. I would like to though if I ever get the chance and I will be pursuing it in the future.
Why are Israelis so afraid of the other side? Have you experienced or got caught up in any of the violence first hand?
I believe a large portion of it has to do with two factors: The holocaust and terrorism, the Holocaust is fresh in the mind of everyone in this country. Whenever you ask someone why they are afraid of the other side they’ll say “They’ll take over and kill us all” And the terrorism against Israeli citizens which happens every few weeks installs this fear even deeper into the hearts of Israeli’s
I myself have mostly been cursed at but when I was in Jerusalem at the age of 11 with my school on a tour I was attacked by Arab youth with large rocks just outside of Jerusalem’s old city walls.
That’s understandable so what is the general opinion of the conflict and more so Palestinians in Israel today?
It depends who you’re asking, Right or Left wing. But in general, I’ve sensed a loss of hope
Nobody believes a peaceful end to the conflict can occur. Most believe a large conflict will take place (Most likely a war) which will end the current conflict.
Basically: both sides have lost faith in the other side and I believe a peaceful solution to the conflict is possible – which is one of the reasons why I am coming to Ireland, to begin to give people hope.
Ok that brings me on to my next question, the Oslo accords signed in 1993 aimed to create trust between Israeli and Palestinians and bring peace to the region, why do you think these accords have failed so far? Was there ever any sort of trust to work off in the past?
I don’t think either side has ever trusted the other side. The Oslo accords failed in my opinion due to the second intifada which occurred due to paranoia and a false sense of danger.
Only when both sides trust the other side will we even be able to side down and talk to one another. If we can’t trust the other side we’ll be too quick at ripping up the document.
The Oslo accords were simply a step towards peace – not a solution.
Ok, with Hamas active in the Gaza Strip and Israelis settlements expanding in the West Bank. Both sides can be viewed as antagonising the other. Do you believe that vilification of Israel is more profound in the media?
Without a doubt.
Israel is by no means perfect but the media portrays Israel as the constant aggressor and almost never puts blame on Hamas and the PLO for their attacks on Israeli civilians
Settlement expansion shouldn’t be a major issue because if a future Palestinian state does come to be then Jews should be allowed to live under the Palestinian government. As many significantly holy sites to Jewish people are situated within the West Bank – such as Hebron
It DOES become an issue if the Palestinian government decides no Jews are allowed to live within their newly declared Palestinian state – which would be a disgusting standpoint in my opinion.
Do you think these settlements undermine attempts for a two-state solution? Surely for Palestinians they would feel that they are going to be taking over?
Palestinian Arabs by far outnumber Jews within the West Bank and their birth-rates are higher than those of Jews living there. I do agree that certain settlement extensions harm a two-state solution. Such as the ones which are practically on the Green-Line and would cause new borders to be made. However, settlements within the West-Bank should be able to flourish next to Arab towns under a Palestinian government if the two-state solution is reached. I would expect any Arab town within Israel to stay intact if the two-state solution happened.
How would you describe the security situation in Israel today?
In which regard?
Terror attacks? How active is Hamas at the moment?
Hamas is not very active at the moment. Only a few rockets are fired at Israeli civilians every few months. However, the building of terror tunnels into Israel is still very active. Terrorism against Israeli civilians is thwarted every day and those who do commit the attacks are neutralized quickly
The extent of Hamas’s activities is unknown to me though, as I am not in the army.
Both sides have expressed interest in a two-state solution but with the long history of conflict between the two this faces difficulties. Do you think it is still a viable option? What difficulties do you see in terms of achieving peace?
I do see the Two-State solution as a viable option to peace. The difficulty with achieving this solution is that you must change the entire standpoints of fear and hatred the Israelis and Palestinians have towards each other.
Do you envision a day when their will be a resolution to the conflict?
I myself hope to be apart of laying down the foundation of a solution to the conflict.
How do you think it will come about?
My mission at the moment is to learn as much about the history of the conflict from different perspectives. I want to have discussion with every face behind a particular opinion regarding the Arab – Israeli conflict.
I am currently in a half-year gap year program which takes us to live with different communities within Israel and live with them for 1-3 weeks.
I’ve already had an in depth 3 weeks with the ultra-orthodox community and soon I’ll be staying with other communities. Such as the Ethiopian community, the Muslim Israeli Arabs, Zionistic settlers, secular Jews etc
Why am I doing this?
Because I can never think of a solution to the conflict if I don’t understand the needs of every side and I hope along the way to find as many people who think like I do.
Hopefully you spread your ideas and change minds too, you are coming here at the end of October for a talk in Maynooth. Do you think Ireland is badly affected by anti-Israel bias perpetuated by the media?
I believe the people of Ireland truly want to contribute to the struggle against the pain this conflict has brought upon Israelis and Palestinians. However, I believe the biased media reports against Israel have pulled the people of Ireland away from the truth and have instead shown them a false image. I want to hopefully help them by encouraging them to question what they hear and read and come to a more factually based opinion.
Finally, can you tell us a little bit about your talk next week and what your goals are? Also, if there is anything you would like to add that might have been overlooked?
My trip to Ireland is a chance for the people of Ireland to hear a new perspective. The opinions of an Israeli teen regarding his country and the conflict within it. I will be answering any questions they may have about Israel to the best of my abilities and discuss with them the hardships Israel currently faces. I also want to give people hope – show them that there can be a peaceful end to the Arab – Israeli conflict. That’s because most of us have given up on peace. The majority of the world sees the conflict as only ending violently and I refuse to think that way.
In short though, the goal of my trip is to not only encourage the people of Ireland to question the media coverage of Israel but to visit Israel themselves and build their own opinions.
If anyone is interested in hearing about the conflict from someone who has experienced it, Tal will be speaking Monday the 23rd in the John Hume Boardroom beginning at 6. It will be a great opportunity to get an Israeli students perspective on the issue as well getting some of your questions answered.