The following article has been taken from theage.com.au and also appeared in Saturday 25 March Age newspaper. It is written by Martin Flanagan, Journalist & Peace Team Australian Delegation.
A team of Palestinians and Israelis is learning to live and play with integrity.
OUR guide on our first day in Jerusalem is known to listeners of SEN and 3AW as Dave from Israel. Dave from Israel, otherwise known as David Cherney, is a retired major in the Israeli army who grew up in Australia and is a Geelong tragic.
About 20 years ago, the Cats’ Garry ”Buddha” Hocking briefly changed his name to Whiskas to help his club win a sponsorship from a cat food manufacturer. It was a surprise to learn that among this ancient land’s many treasures is a can of Whiskas cat food signed by Garry Hocking.
The Peace Team delegation of which I am part is headed by Western Bulldogs director, Henry Jolson, QC. Henry brings dignity and focus to the mission and, were a film made of it, an actor like Gary Cooper or Gregory Peck would be required to play him.
The team, which is half-Palestinian, half-Israeli, is coached by Robert ”Dipper” DiPierdomenico. The big man is well suited to the task as both his personality and his moustache transcend cultures.
The Old City of Jerusalem, which cannot be much bigger in size than Yarra Park, is like a Luna Park for the hyper-religious. The three great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity), all have sacred sites there, which their adherents buzz about like bees.
Returning to Jerusalem after a day spent bobbing about like corks in the Dead Sea, Dipper brought an old-fashioned Australian perspective to the question of religion generally when he borrowed the tour guide’s microphone and told the bus a story about two prawns called Peter and Christian.
Tiring of life at the bottom of the food chain, Peter went to see a magical cod called Murray. Peter asked to be turned into a shark. Murray obliged and, for a period, Peter experienced life at the top but eventually he grew lonely and, missing his old friend, returned to Murray the cod and asked to be turned back into a prawn. The story ended with Peter roaming the deeps of the ocean, crying out soulfully, ”I’m a prawn again, Christian.”
But the Peace Team itself is no joke. Israelis and Palestinians now live in a state of total separation, kept apart by labyrinthine security arrangements. Just bringing the team together for training sessions involves enormous time and administrative effort. One of those doing the organising is Inbal Ben-Ezer, a gentle flower of a young woman. When she was 20, her first love, also 20 and a soldier in the Israeli army, was killed during the intifada. ”I had to do something,” she says simply.
The team manager, a Palestinian named Sulaiman, was imprisoned by the Israelis for 10 years at the age of 13 for his part in an attack on two policemen. In jail, he says he had time to ”read and think”. Just as Nelson Mandela taught himself the Afrikaans language and read Afrikaans writers and newspapers when he was in jail to better understand the conflict in which he was engaged, Sulaiman taught himself Hebrew and encountered the philosophies of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
Last week, with the assistance of two facilitators, one Palestinian, the other Israeli, the Peace Team faced off in a room for a ”dialogue”. There were no limits on what could be discussed. The Israelis heard things they hadn’t imagined they would hear – the division between the two sides was even greater than they expected.
Subjects paralysing their political leaders were aired. Views not mentioned in the Australian media were heard. The discussions grew heated – but no one left the room and, when it was all over, the team spilled on to the streets of Jerusalem, stopping passers-by and singing and dancing.
People can dismiss what the Peace Team is attempting and there are both Israeli and Palestinians who do so, but the sort of frank exchanges the team is having are terribly rare in this country.
Another initiative of this kind is a game of cricket that regularly brings together Israeli and Palestinian children. When the delegation visited, a Test match was quickly arranged. Scottish-born Brian Styles, CEO of Integrated, the Australian recruitment company and the Peace Team’s major sponsor, held the visitors’ innings together while opening bat Rachael Cox, Dipper’s executive assistant, showed the benefit of having grown up as the only girl in a family of boys. Unfortunately, when a nearby pool opened, the home team abruptly vacated the field.
The Peace Team is coming for the AFL International Cup in August. They have been in training for six months and are fit and keen. You can question their technique but not their courage. To quote their coach, the team has integrity.