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Violence in Israel

Valley residents offer solutions for peace

April 05, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

With violence in the Middle East escalating along with international pleas for a ceasefire in order to forge a peace process, people throughout the world are asking whether peace can be achieved.

World attention has focused on Israel as suicide bombings and Israeli military reaction have led the Middle East closer to war than peace.

World leaders are urging Israelis and Palestinians to end the violence and return to the negotiating table.

At the heart of any peace resolution will rest the idea of land for peace in which Israel would give up land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the creation of a Palestinian state. In return Arab nations would establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

Another key issue that must be resolved is the future of Jerusalem, Israel's capital and the holy city for Jews, Muslims and Christians.

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While the conflict may seem far from the Imperial Valley, there are a number of people in the Valley from the Middle East who have family in that part of the world.

Locals interviewed all agreed a lasting peace can be achieved and will depend on trading land for peace.

Abdel Salem

El Centro

El Centro City Manager Abdel Salem, born and raised in Egypt, talked Wednesday of his belief it is not too late for a peaceful resolution, which he said already has a model in the 1979 peace accord between Israel and Egypt.

That accord, signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, brokered a peace that remains in place today, although the current conflict has strained the relationship between Israel and Egypt.

Still, Salem said just as it was possible to reach a peaceful resolution in 1979 — one that saw Israel return the occupied Sinai Peninsula to Egypt — and again in 1994 when Israel signed a peace agreement with Jordan, it should be possible to build peace out of the ongoing conflict.

"It's insane the cycle of violence and it must end on both sides," Salem said. "It's a cycle that has been going on for over 50 years."

He said the only way to reach a peaceful resolution is to stop the terrorism/military solution and reach a diplomatic accord.

"Countering violence with violence is not the answer," he said. "It's never been the answer."

Salem said a diplomatic resolution is going to have to include land for peace.

"The time has come to settle this once and for all," he said, adding there has to be cooperation on both sides to reach a peace and whatever agreement is reached both sides have to hold to it.

Salem pointed out there have been missed opportunities for peace, among them when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995. Rabin's death came shortly after he agreed to a peace treaty with Yasser Arafat that gave Palestinians self rule in the Gaza Strip and sections of the West Bank. Rabin was gunned down by an Israeli law student opposed to the peace initiative.

Salem spoke of the recent meeting in which leaders of Arab nations came together in Beirut, Lebanon and agreed to offer Israel an unprecedented peace overture that involved land for peace. That offer has taken a back seat as the violence has escalated.

Still, Salem said if peace were achieved he can envision a future in which Israeli and Palestinian states co-exist and even work together to improve economic conditions of both.

Zvika and Dalia Sela

Brawley

Zvika and Dalia Sela, who reside in Brawley, may be closer to the Middle East conflict than any others interviewed for this story.

They are temporary residents of the Valley. They have come to Brawley because in their village in Israel they have developed a method for growing chilies in the desert. They have brought that skill to the Valley and are growing chilies in Calipatria.

This summer they will return to Israel, sooner than they might have, to join their daughters — Chen and Adi, both 19 — who recently joined the Israeli military.

"We cannot stay here when the girls are there in this situation," Dalia Sela said.

Zvika Sela said it is difficult to watch media images of people being killed, whether Israelis or Palestinians.

"It's very, very tough," he said. "It's war. There is terror in Israel. There is terror every day and in every place."

Still, like Salem, the Selas believe peace is possible. Actually, they believe it is the only option.

When asked if they are willing to give land for peace, the response from Zvika Sela was simple.

"It's very easy; very, very easy," he said of giving up the West Bank.

He pointed out that two Israeli prime ministers, Rabin and Ehud Barak, offered land and self rule to Palestinians. While Arafat seemed to be moving toward a peace with Rabin before Rabin was killed, Arafat did not accept the offer by Barak. A sticking point then was Jerusalem and whether control of the city could be divided.

The Selas said Arafat is not a leader who can be trusted to bring peace. They said if he wanted peace and was working toward the building of a self-sufficient Palestinian state he would not show up to peace talks in military dress.

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