Seminar on youth and conflicts – Strasbourg, 31 March – 2 April 2003 

Israeli-Palestian dialogue on the Cyprus conflict

Meeting to discuss the conflict in Cyprus, young Israelis and Palestinians seek to establish a dialogue. Their names are Debbie, Eyar, Kobi, Tali, Dan, Hala, Saif Hashem, Fadi, and they come from Tel Aviv or Haifa, Nablus or Kiryat Ono. Since Monday, these Israelis and Palestinians have been working together to understand the conflict in Cyprus and find a viable solution to it.

In Strasbourg, far away from the Middle East and Cyprus, the group tries to take stock of the question from all angles, with the help of a specialist in the issue, who is responsible for answering questions, and a moderator, who throws up ideas for them to consider.

While they are working together to try and identify the causes and origins of the conflict, the participants have more or less the same point of view. On the other hand, as soon as an aspect of the conflict that could apply to relations between Israel and Palestine emerges, the sensibilities of the two camps resurface. One participant butts in to put a stop to an argument that is likely to drag on : “We’re not talking about Israel; we’re discussing Cyprus.” The moderator frequently puts the discussion back on course : “Let’s get back to the problems in Cyprus.” A Palestinian participant sums up: “As long as we don’t discuss our conflict, everything’s fine. We laugh at the same jokes, we drink the same beer, we share the same views. As human beings, we get on well, but as soon as we consider ourselves as Israelis or Palestinians, the problems resurface.” “If Turkey didn’t interfere in the conflict and the Greek and Turkish Cypriots were free to take their own decisions, what would they choose?” wonders a young Palestinian. “Is there a religious dimension to the problem? If so, it will be very difficult to solve,” adds a young Israeli.

But above all, these young people wonder whether international law has the power to make itself heard. What can the international community do for Cyprus? “Why was the international community able to intervene militarily in Iraq and not in Cyprus, where the two communities want to come together?” “If the European Union isn’t capable of settling this minor conflict, I wonder what it could do in our region,” says another participant, pursuing the same line of thought. All these questions show that the young people present at the seminar believe that, although it is primarily for the warring parties to solve conflicts, any settlement also requires the support of the international community.

The discussion that began during the working sessions carries on over lunch. The Israelis and Palestinians sit at the same table, and the conversation continues. “Even though I’m happy to be in Strasbourg, a long way from the tension at home, I can’t forget that I have been living in occupied territory for 22 years,” admonishes a young Palestinian. The young Israeli to whom the remark was addressed retorts, “When I’m a soldier, I obey orders. The words I use are not my words. So when a Palestinian questions me, I don’t reply using my own words.”

From Cyprus to the banks of the Jordan via Strasbourg, links are being forged and dialogue established, with some awkward moments where the case under study comes too close to participants' own experience. Some ideals and demands prove to be common ones, such as peaceful resolution, justice, dialogue and understanding.

The important thing is not so much to resolve the Cyprus issue, but, through it, to find out what it is that strongly binds young people together. Opening the seminar on Monday, Mario Martins, Director of the European Youth Centre, which hosted the seminar, said, "It is our hope that, when you leave Strasbourg, you will take with you and pass on the ideals and values of the Council of Europe".