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A couple's take on Middle East peace

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December 10, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

BRIDPORT — Ask most people to share their views about the relationship between Israel and Palestine and they will describe a political conflict of epic proportions that is often punctuated by tanks, missiles and suicide bombs.

But a Bridport couple recently returned from the Middle East with a far different take on the state of Palestinian-Israeli relations. Diane Nancekivell and Tom Baskett spent two weeks in the region as part of a tour co-sponsored by Interfaith Peace-Builders and the American Friends Service Committee. They were part of a delegation that toured Israel and Palestine, speaking to many regular folks and citizens’ groups that are quietly working on peaceful solutions to one of the world’s most volatile disputes.

The simmering feud centers on land claims dating back at least to the mid-1940s and the establishment of an Israeli nation under a United Nations plan. Palestinians have seen their territory shrink over the years and have sought to reclaim territories they believe are rightfully theirs. Israel has disputed those claims.

“We think it’s very important for people to understand the truth over there, that it’s not one group that is good and another that is bad,” said Nancekivell, a retired Episcopal dean and assisting priest at St. Stephen’s Church in Middlebury. “It’s about two nations trying to find a way to share the land, feel secure in a sense of national identity and prosper in the future.”

Nancekivell had been to the region before, as part of a trip organized by Sabeel — a Palestinian Christian organization. She enjoyed her time, and this year wanted to go with her husband. Baskett, a Quaker and retired psychotherapist, was game for the journey.

He explained he wanted to go on the trip to “better understand the ongoing conflict; how the violence in this area is affecting the lives of everyday people; to learn something about our common humanity from the experiences of those to whom I speak; and determine what — if anything — I can do to improve the lot of fellow humans living in this melee.”

Nancekivell, Baskett and the other members of the visiting delegation set off in late October. Their busy itinerary included:

• A tour of the Israeli town of Sderot, which has been targeted by Palestinian militants from within the impoverished Gaza Strip.

• Visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum, and listened to a talk by Rami Elhanan, an Israeli whose daughter was killed by a suicide bomber and who currently works for peace with the Bereaved Parents’ Circle.

• Met with Palestinian and Israeli members of Combatants for Peace, an organization made up of one-time fighters who have now rejected violence and advocate reconciliation between the two peoples.

• Visited Lifta, a destroyed Palestinian village in West Jerusalem.

• Stayed with Palestinian families in the Jenin area in the West Bank.

• Met with members of the group “Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace.”

Both Nancekivell and Baskett said they were moved by their experiences. They spoke about hearing from older Palestinians and Israelis who were pessimistic about the chances of seeing peace in their lifetime, but nonetheless committed to working toward that goal for future generations.

“They want to ensure that their children, and children’s children, don’t grow up with hate in their hearts,” Nancekivell said.

Baskett said the trip washed away many of the stereotypes held by many westerners of Palestinians.

“We saw (no acts of terrorism) at all while we were there,” Baskett said. “People there were hospitable, wanted to tell their stories, and were not hostile at all.”

They voiced concerns about a new wall that is being built to provide security and separation for approximately 300 Jewish settlements in the West Bank. They also lamented what they said are many obstacles toward Palestinians being able to work in Israel.

The couple returned to Bridport shortly before Thanksgiving. They hope to share their experiences with civic groups and others keen on listening.

“It’s about trying to get all sides out in a way that people can talk about without feeling defensive or offensive,” Baskett said.

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