(Portland, OR, 6 July 2003) Portland peace activist William Seaman has just returned from a family reunion in the Negev Desert of Southern Israel at Kibbutz Nir Oz. “I left never dreaming that it would be almost exactly twenty-five years before I’d return,” said Seaman. “And I certainly never thought I’d be traveling from the desperate poverty and desolation of occupied Gaza to a reunion on a kibbutz just a few kilometers on the other side of the border.”
Seaman traveled to Israel with a delegation organized by Faculty for Israeli Palestinian Peace but set aside time for a return to the kibbutz he worked on for five months back in the Winter and Spring of 1978. In addition to a two-day conference of Palestinian, Israeli and European scholars held at Tel Aviv University, the group met with many key players on both sides of the conflict, including Yasser Arafat and former Israeli Intelligence chief Shlomo Gazit.
“In a short three weeks you can’t possibly meet with representatives of all sides of this conflict,” said Seaman, “but we tried to see and hear some of what is rarely experienced by Americans.” Seaman said that his most moving experiences were in Gaza and Hebron. “Gaza is the most densely populated region on earth,” said Seaman, “and the violence of the occupation is always near.” Seaman described visiting the sites of recent Israeli assassinations of Hamas activists, as well as home demolitions and bulldozed orange groves destroyed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). “The Israeli settlements in Gaza are the source of enormous tension and cause terrible disruption of the most basic aspects of Palestinian life,” said Seaman. “Yet in spite of the violence and dispossession, the Palestinians remain willing partners in peace negotiations.”
Seaman ended his journey by returning to a kibbutz he worked on as a young man. “My mother’s cousin was one of the founding members of this kibbutz and it was my family on the kibbutz that first persuaded me to take a more critical look at the Israel/Palestine conflict,” said Seaman. “A day after I arrived on the kibbutz back in 1978, my family took me to a meeting between members of the kibbutz and a local Bedouin community that had been expelled from their land by the IDF.” Seaman said that the kibbutz members were struggling to improve the relations between the border kibbutz and the local communities that had lost their land.
“There are many Israelis who recognize and are trying the confront the challenges of making peace with their neighbors, but they face an uphill battle with illegal settlements that are being expanded by the Sharon government, especially when Sharon enjoys such unquestioning backing from the US,” said Seaman. “Both Palestinians and many Israelis believe that without a shift in US policy to force Israel to end the occupation, this conflict will continue to devastate both communities.”
Seaman is available for interviews and can be reached via www.ffipp.org