When Zoughbi Zoughbi, the founder of Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem, spoke as a guest of the PAX club on Sunday night, he started with a joke.
“An Israeli and a Palestinian were riding on a plane together and the Palestinian got up to use the restroom,” Zoughbi said, already chuckling. “When the Palestinian got to the restroom, he noticed the door said ‘occupied’ and he said ‘Oh, there’s an Israeli in there.’”
Starting a discussion of such a serious topic as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an amusing anecdote about ‘occupation’ seemed to be the right choice, and as the discussion continued, the crowd showed a positive response.
As an inhabitant of the West Bank and a peace activist in one of the most highly publicized zones of violence on earth, Zoughbi is adamant that negotiation is the only way the conflict will ever be resolved. One of the prime objectives of Wi’am, Zoughbi’s peace-seeking organization, is “to enhance the culture of acceptance, foster the principles of dialogue and respect of the ‘other as they are’ so as to build a pluralistic society within the framework of unity.”
Though Wi’am is mainly dedicated toward helping people (drug addicts, traumatized children and women especially), Zoughbi is outspoken about the need for a more holistic solution to the problems created by Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he believes that Palestinians are not being treated fairly in media coverage of the region.
“The media is biased, but it is improving,” he said. “But still, it is telling the Israeli story. Palestinians are considered numbers, where an Israeli is a different story. You will hear the name of an Israeli, and hear the story. Always the Palestinians are shown with machine guns…with masks on…This demonization is a process to de-legitimize Palestinian rights,” he continued.
Zoughbi expressed his opinion about the human rights violations being committed in Israel and Palestine: the wall around West Bank is a problem.
“Nowadays we have the wall,” he said, regret in his voice. “The wall surrounds all the West Bank. The wall is 470 miles and between 30 and 40 feet tall. It is twice the length of the Berlin wall and five times the height of the Berlin wall. And now we are seeing an apartheid system in the West Bank.”
Despite sobering anecdotes of the hardship inflicted on innocents by this conflict and references to the Berlin wall, which fell 20 years ago this year, Zoughbi’s outlook is full of hope.
“In this global village, we would like to keep a diversity,” Zoughbi said. “To live our life, and to celebrate life, and to celebrate differences with others. When you celebrate differences, there is a lot of richness that can come from that.”