WASHINGTON — The protracted Middle East peace process is in danger of stalling yet again, as Israel reneged on the planned release of another batch of Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinians renewed their bid to gain United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state. One former Palestinian prisoner may have found a better path to peace; after spending more than 20 years in an Israeli prison, he now teaches Hebrew to Palestinian children in the West Bank.
In a classroom of Palestinian 10th graders in the town of Taybeh, Ismat Mansour encourages his students to discuss the advantages of learning Hebrew, the language he learned while serving a 22-year prison sentence in Israel.
He was among dozens of Palestinian prisoners who were granted an early release last year in a deal brokered by the United States. Mansour was sentenced to prison as a 16-year-old for helping three older teenagers stab to death an Israeli settler in 1993.
"When I was released, I passed in front of the place where the event took place, the killing of the settler. I felt that I had closed the circle at this point, and now I have started a new cycle of my life, as a free person who suffered for a long time. I lived through a very hard experience, but this made me gain insight and a belief in the Palestinian cause, but more importantly that justice should be carried out in a humane and a just way,” said Mansour.
Mansour said Palestinians and Israelis need to engage in a debate to resolve their longtime conflict. He also said Palestinians will be better equipped if they understand Hebrew, the dominant language of Jews living in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Mansour said he would never again resort to killing, but that he has no regrets.
"The real violence here is the violence of occupation; it forces us to resort to violence. I don't feel regret for what I had done, because that was an expression of my thoughts at that age and an expression of the political conditions at that time, but I would not do that now," said Mansour.
Many Israelis are not convinced, especially those whose family and friends fell victim to violence. Itsik Mizrahi's brother Haim was 30 when he was killed in the 1993 murder in which Mansour was an accomplice. Mizrahi is one of those who oppose his government's decision to release Palestinian prisoners.
"Every time that prisoners are released we feel that they can continue their lives. They can build a house, a family, get money on a regular basis. But we remain without my brother. My brother did not get to see his own daughter. They can raise children of their own, we are the only ones who have lost. Only my brother lost," said Mizrahi.
Israel-Palestinian talks have again run into hurdles as the sides cannot agree on several crucial issues, including the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Mansour is working with a group of West Bank journalists to establish a website in which he would cover Israeli affairs. He also is hoping to start a weekly radio show about the Israeli economy.