Yossi Vardi
Yossi Vardi

(Israel trip Flickr set)

I visited Israel for the second time ever after my first trip in 2003. Both of my trips were thanks to invitations from Yossi Vardi. Yossi is one of the most unique people I know combining almost unlimited humor, compassion, entrepreneurial spirit, generosity, creativity and influence. Whatever Yossi tells me to do, I try to do. He'd been inviting me to his Kinnernet camp for years and I was finally able to make it this year.

The last time I visited Israel, I had never been to the Middle East. This time, having had a bit more experience in the Middle East and having just been to Qatar for the Al Jazeera annual forum where the main topic of discussion was Gaza, I was able to experience Israel with more context.

Kinnernet was held on the Kinneret kibbutz. Kinnernet, inspired by Tim O'Reilly's FOO Camp unconference format is like FOO camp except with robots, fire jugglers, lots of power tools and a costume dance gala. I really enjoyed the event - super interesting sessions and great people. The event was like a physical manifestation of all things Yossi.

Yossi and the Garage Geeks also hosted a Creative Commons evening for us at the scrappy and cool Garage Geeks "outdoor auditorium". I was able to meet the CC Israel team and lots of people from the community. Big kudos to Yossi, Garage Geeks and the CC Israel team for organizing this.

Daniel Lubetzky, who was out of town, introduced me to his Israeli and Palestinian One Voice teams. One Voice tries amplify the voice of the silent majority of moderates on both the Israeli and Palestinian communities through volunteers and youth leaders. I was impressed by the quality and thoughtfulness of both teams, but also by the challenge of the fundamentally different contexts of the two communities. Both groups were focused primarily on activities within their own communities, which I think is smart. It's much easier to change yourself than to try to change other people. I'm always reminded of this when I'm in debates about the issues between the Chinese and the Japanese.

I visited Ramallah in the West Bank to meet up with the Palestinian One Voice team. Many people including my travel agent and Israeli friends suggested that it would be difficult to get in or dangerous. I had no trouble at the checkpoints and Ramallah City seemed like a vibrant and interesting place considering the circumstances. I was even treated to the best falafel sandwich I've ever had. :-) Although my trip to Ramallah was really brief, I was able to have nice chat with Nisreen and her One Voice Palestine crew and get a quick tour of Ramallah.

Apparently just the week before my visit, Google had done a workshop in Ramallah which was very well received. The geeks in Ramallah seemed very motivated and in several conversations that I had with both Palestinians and Israelis, the idea of Internet startups based in or involving Palestinians came up as a great way to empower people in the West Bank and Gaza as well as increase communications between Palestinians and Israelis. I totally agree. The Palestinians explained that it was now very difficult or impossible for them to travel outside of the territories and get visa for many countries including the US and many Arab countries. I can't imagine how frustrating it must be to not be allowed to travel freely. Luckily, the Internet is not filtered or blocked in Palestine.

I visited Yasser Arafat's tomb with some of my new Palestinian friends and was struck by how deeply they respected him. There was a poem at the tomb about how there was a bit of Yasser Arafat in every Palestinian. Credited with the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, Yasser Arafat seemed almost deified. (My apologies if I've mangled the explanation.)

As I was leaving Israel getting my polite, but extremely thorough security examination at Tel Aviv airport which included a full body massage in a private room, I couldn't help pondering how things might be improved in the region. People I met in both communities were extremely warm, friendly and dedicated to peace. However, there appeared to be almost irreconcilable and fundamental differences in what they believed the final solution was. While I met very few extremists, they seemed to continue to have a great deal of influence in their respective communities.

I remembered some words spoken by Shimon Peres at a Brainstorm conference in Aspen in 2002 and wondered if people like Shimon Peres would ever wield enough influence to create peace. I'm not sure how I can help, but I intend to continue to visit the region and increase my ties with both the Israelis and the Palestinians to see if I can contribute to peace in some way.

Following are some of the notes I took from the talk by Shimon Peres in 2002 which he gave just hours after another bomb had been detonated in an Israeli University.

"I have no hatred in my heart for the Palestinians."

"We are just two tragedies meeting in the same place. I hope that this doesn't turn into a third tragedy."

"What can you learn from History? Very little... History was written with red ink, with bloodshed. We should educate our children how to imagine, not how to remember."

11 Comments

Hi Joi,

about Simon Peres, he was responsible of massacre of Qana when he ordred bombing a refugees camp in lebanon, the father of atomic bomb in Israel (in 60's even if israeli govenrments always deny thte existence of such weapons which only make the region more dangerous and less stable), he is just a old politician who can change opinions just to follow mood of the moment but not really believing in them
for making peace, israeli governments should learn to talk with their enemies and avoid to choose other one that want to discuss with because they fit their desires. gaza war is an example of irrationale politics built upon usage of force and no respect of international law.
israel bombed a suburb of my capital in 1985 and killed tunisians and palestinian and never apologizd for that. israel needs to follow rules and ebcoming normal country which avoid attacking countries neighbours by "preventive" wars.
by experience I expect more real facts than discourse :)
about Arafat, he is respected because he started the fight since the time that palestinian made the decision to fight for their freedom and independance and he tried really to do his best for such ideals even if he made many errors.
for peace israel has to end the blockeade and allow palestinians to have freedom of movement, stopping settlement, back to 1967 borders, removing checkpoints etc, making peace is really easy if there willingness

Rafik

Great quotes from Mr. Peres. I have not been to the West Bank, so I can not compare situations, but what I saw in Israel looks a bit different than what you watch on TV (just war). Of course, people have different perspectives of how things should be, but thinking about the future should be the most helpful advise you could give. As of the massage at the airport, I also got it in my first visit to Israel. You won't get it if you come next year ;-)

Those last three lines are indeed so compelling, outlining the essence of the problem. As an outsider, it makes it very difficult to know how to help in practical terms. The traditional media are terrible in oversimplifying the challenges for both communities.

The bitter irony is that both Israeli and Palestinian minds are some of the sharpest on the planet so it is a double tradgedy that this creative energy cannot be channeled away from revenge for the past and towards a practical future.

Joi,

Your visit to Ramallah was very short, but I can tell how interesting it was, Sharing thoughts between people is the key to open connection and to find a common language that Humanbeings can speak.


You promised you'll come again to Palestine, and to meet more people whom have stories that full of life and hope for better future, so we'll keep waiting that day Mr. Joi,

Peace and Love.
Kilany.

Joi writes:

Luckily, the Internet is not filtered or blocked in Palestine.

Did you verify somehow, technically? I wish for peace anyway.

The folks I met in Ramallah as well as some of my Israeli friends told me that the Internet was not filtered or blocked and I didn't have any particular reason to question them. Is this not true?

An ONI says there isn't any filtering reported in Israel.

http://opennet.net/research/profiles/israel

It appears that Ramallah has blocked a site for reporting on corruption:

http://opennet.net/news/ramallah-palestinian-authority-blocks-website-reporting-corruption

next time, you can use herdict to have real-time report by country and to report blocked website if there is :)

Ha. I actually use herdict and report sites/ISPs all the time. ;-)

Joi's right - the only site ever reported blocked in Palestine was the one he mentions below.

Although Israel (which has control even over Palestinian Internet access) does not block anything, it has two "religious" ISPs that users can choose to subscribe to (Netvision and Rimon, I believe) and which both block all potentially offensive content.

Just a fun fact :)

Thanks Joi. I just asked. The openess of the Internet (filtered or not) is very very important thing. I don't want to expand this case anymore.

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