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Middle East Peace Documentary Airs Simultaneously to Israelis, Palestinians

A historic television series recently aired simultaneously in Hebrew and Arabic to Israelis and Palestinians, offering proposals for peaceful solutions from people on both sides of the Middle East conflict. The Shape of the Future was produced by a group called Search for Common Ground, based in Washington, D.C. and Brussels, Belgium.

"The convention is that when you make a documentary about the Middle East conflict, it's full of bloodshed and historical footage. We've made a documentary series that has neither blood nor historical footage," says writer-producer John Marks. “In other words, we're trying to talk about the future. We're trying to show people that peace is possible, that it can be achieved, and that people really don't have to live in a conflict for their entire life."

Mr. Marks is founder and president of Search for Common Ground, a 23-year-old conflict resolution organization that creates media to solve problems that most people might think of as impossible: problems like the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. The group’s latest production, The Shape of the Future, is the first program ever broadcast simultaneously by Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab television.

"We were on the ground in Jerusalem, Israel and the West Bank, shooting this for a year,” Mr. Marks said. “And we spent a lot of time talking to people about the future. We asked them, for example, what kind of future did they want, what would a normal life be for them, that was an important question."

Interviewed in their homes, Israelis and Palestinians expressed similar yearnings. "A normal life in this country, here in Jerusalem, is the kind of life where you do not have to be afraid,” says Israeli Riki Amedi.

“A normal life, in my opinion," says Palestinian Neveen-Abu-Rumeil, "is when every woman, her husband and children, are able to live in a home where they do not need to lock the doors -- where you do not fear there are military raids outside."

The series, which aired in both Hebrew and Arabic versions, interviewed people on both sides of the divide about how to solve the four basic issues: Jerusalem, security, Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements and borders.

“We used people's stories and their lives as a way of going through it,” Mr. Marks said. “And in each one of the programs, we would have a pair, several pairs of Palestinians and Israelis, people who were roughly the equivalent of each other."

"I prefer to see Jerusalem unified,” an Israeli journalist says in the film. “That means one city in terms of running the place and taking care of the population, while we are also talking about two capitals."

A Palestinian counterpart agrees: “I am convinced that Jerusalem could be the capital of two states and an open and joint city. That would solve the problem of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and also solve the problem of the city as a whole."

"We also tried to speak as much as possible to the center and to the right,” John Marks said. “We avoided what you would call the usual suspects for peace, who could be wonderful people, it wasn't a question of that, but we felt that we would have much more impact if we could get people who were more conservative to talk about what needed to happen."

And so, the Israelis who speak about compromising on settlements include a brigadier general, Dov Sedaka, and a former head of the settlers' council, Otniel Schneller:

"Under certain circumstances,” Mr. Schneller says at one point, “I would agree, for the sake of peace, to give up part of my land."

General Sedaka contends, “The dismantlement of settlements will not decrease the security of the state of Israel. I think that the state of Israel will be more secure if there is a Palestinian state."

Among the Palestinians who speak about the refugee issue is a former minister of prisoner affairs for the Palestinians, Hisham Abdel Razeq, who spent 20 years in Israeli prisons. He notes, "A political solution would deny both the Israeli grand dream and the Palestinian grand dream. It would require an agreement between the two sides to live in peace and to end the state of war and conflict."

“We cannot live on our swords forever. To kill and be killed,” the Israeli journalist says towards the end of the film. A Palestinian broadcaster puts it poetically: "Each side was brought up on dreams. Both parties should perhaps reach a truce with dreams.”

The Shape of the Future will have a second life after broadcast. John Marks says one Palestinian organization has already created an educational curriculum based on the film and trained 150 teachers. And an accompanying music video, by popular Israeli and Palestinian musicians David Broza and Wisam Murad, singing the same words in Hebrew and Arabic, is reaching many more people, appealing to the hopes of many Israelis and Palestinians for a peaceful settlement.