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Promoting Dialogue: Palestinians and Israelis Break Fast Together in the West Bank

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Dozens of Palestinians and Israelis participated in an iftar (breakfast) meal in the occupied West Bank on the last day of the holy month of Ramadan as part of an initiative to establish dialogue on Thursday.

On a Palestinian property near the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, in the southern West Bank, an unexpected group of guests share a meal organized by the “Roots” initiative.

The iftar meal is a rare attempt at dialogue between the communities amid escalating violence in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.

Khaled Abu Awad, the Palestinian partner in the initiative, said, “(We are) a group of people who want to end the state of violence and hatred between the two peoples.”

Two brothers died in the conflict, while many of his family members have been imprisoned by Israel.

Among the approximately 50 guests were some Israeli settlers.

Alaa, a Palestinian from Jerusalem who requested that his surname not be published for security reasons, said he was attending for the first time and did not feel “very comfortable with the people here”.

But the 25-year-old called it a “big mistake” not to talk to Israelis, saying building a “relationship” could help the Palestinians achieve some of their goals.

About three million Palestinians live in the occupied West Bank, along with hundreds of thousands of Israelis who live in settlements that are illegal under international law.

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The Roots initiative, known by its Hebrew name Shurashim or Judor in Arabic, was established in 2014 to promote dialogue between the two sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Traditional Palestinian dishes were prepared under the supervision of a rabbinic so that observant Jews who keep the rules of the kosher diet can enjoy the food.

Muhammad, 33, from a nearby village and works in construction in Israel, was honored at the breakfast.

He recently rescued an Israeli couple in the West Bank when a group of Palestinians surrounded their car and threw stones at it.

He said, “I spoke to them in Hebrew, and told them to enter here (my house), and I told them: ‘You are safe and no one can harm you.'” He did not mention his surname for security reasons.

Jacob, a paramedic and the father of the man who helped him, said he was attending the Roots event for the first time in order to thank the person who saved his son, a soldier.

“(I think) meetings of this kind can contribute to a change in the situation,” said Jacob, who only gave his first name to protect his son.

Shaul Gudelman, one of the initiative’s co-directors, acknowledges that there is a great degree of “resistance” to such events that could be seen as “betrayal.”

Gudelman called for a “new discourse on conflict,” adding that “most Palestinians don’t attack us.”

Violence escalated last year, but it has worsened in the West Bank since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office in December in a ruling coalition with ultra-Orthodox Jews and their far-right allies.

The government of Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption on charges he denies, has vowed to continue expanding settlements in the West Bank.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War. The Palestinians seek those lands for their future independent state.

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