Yeah, kinda goes against your preconceptions and prejudices, doesn’t it.

Recently, TUFI ([British]Trade Union Friends of Israel) went on their own fact-finding mission to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority West Bank to meet Israeli and Palestinian Trades Unionists.

Each day one of their number wrote a short blog article about their experiences.

You can find their blog here.

Here are some of the interesting and revealing things they had to say. Yes, I know they are ‘Friends of Israel’ but the TUFI mission statement states:

TUFI was established to promote Israeli-Palestinian trade union co-operation and strengthen the links between the Israeli, Palestinian and British trade union movements.

On the every first day, Terry McCorran, clearly on a first visit to Israel says at the beginning of his blog entry:

The first thing to say is that Israel was not what I expected, at all….. I was expecting a large Israeli military presence – like there used to be in my home town of Belfast – but throughout the day we only saw a handful of soldiers walking around Jerusalem.

It is often the case that those who only know a place by media reporting and British media reporting at that, form preconceptions that are not matched on the ground. In a recent BBC programme about the Frankincense which tracked the ancient trade route from Yemen to Gaza, when report Kate Humble arrived at the Jordanian-Israeli border to enter Israel she was expecting a different reception. She told us that the Israeli Army has reputation for being formidable and she was clearly apprehensive. She was then amazed that the only person at the border post was a diminutive female border guard and instead of being delayed an interrogated by those nasty Israeli soldiers, she and her camera team entered Israel in a matter of minutes. Humble, like McCorran have be conditioned to think of Israel in the way it is represented by the media and anti-Israel propaganda.

McCorran continues:

It is hard to describe how intertwined the significant religious sites are in the Old City  – Churches, Mosques and Synagogues next to each other, overlapping and sometimes even on top of one another.  The proximity is astounding.

I expected to see friction and stand-offs, but people were just getting on with their lives with complete religious tolerance and freedom.

Well, yes, again, life is always different from propaganda. McCorran, no doubt, had seen and read about the problems on the Temple Mount because Muslim clerics and the Palestinian leadership have been trying to manufacture stories about Jewish plans to both undermine the Al Aqsa mosque and to storm the Temple Mount and claim it for Judaism. As a result there were tensions and incidents but it seems Israeli Arabs and Palestinians didn’t buy in to their own propaganda and despite ongoing attempts to stir things up, so far, the Third Intifada has not happened. As McCorran witnessed first-hand, people just go about their daily lives.

The thing that struck me the most was the mix of people in the different quarters – Arabs, Israelis, Jews, Muslims, Christians and secular people all walking and working freely side by side.  Our Jewish guide seemed to be friends with every Palestinian in the Arab quarter and everyone was working together.

But aren’t Jews and Muslims supposed to hate each other?!  This is the same Jerusalem from which every Jew was expelled by the Jordanians in 1948 and every synagogue destroyed. Those Israeli Jews are amazing: they actually allow their non-Jewish citizens to work and practice their religion in freedom and respect – like any other decent, enlightened, democratic nation.

I got the impression that if left to their own devises – if the extremists on both sides backed off – the people of Jerusalem, Israel and Palestine would have peace.

Amen to that, brother.

And so to the Knesset:

It just so happened that when we walked in an Arab Member of the Knesset was making a speech against some of the government’s policies in the West Bank.

What! Freedom of Speech! Freedom to criticise the government! Freedom to vote and organise politically! I can hardly contain myself. But Israel is worse than Iran, isn’t it? Ok, some Arab MK’s have been making very anti-Israel statements and, yes, the reaction of some Israeli MK’s (heard of Avigdor Lieberman, for example?) have been pretty extreme and, yes, Israeli Arabs do face some discrimination, but there are a whole raft of NGO’s, political groups, individuals and also the Supreme Court who are working in the interest of Arabs within Israel and the Territories. At least mechanisms exist in Israel to stand up for minorities and to try to right wrongs.  Name me one Arab country where the same could be said. Go on. Still thinking are you? You’ll be thinking a very long time.

Later in the day we had a very positive meeting with a representative working for Tony Blair at the UN Quartet office in Jerusalem.

He said that although there were still many problems for people in the West Bank, there had been significant achievements in the last twelve months.  He said that for the first time the Palestinian Authority was performing on the security side, which in turn has lead to improvements with security and access.

He emphasised that there was no comparison to how it was just two years ago, with checkpoints being opened up and dismantled and the economy growing dramatically in the West Bank.

Again this was another positive that has not been reported by the media.  And this is my concluding point – the main eye opener of the day for me is that there seems to be little or no resemblance between what I have seen today and how Israel is sometimes portrayed in the media back home.

I don’t think any comment is necessary, just read that last sentence again.

And so it goes on. Day Two, Gerry Maloney:

One of the most surprising things about Israel is the lack of ill-well and bad sentiment between Jewish Israelis and the Israeli-Arabs.

We have visited both Jewish orthodox areas and Arab areas and found both communities mixing freely.

Each community seemed to be perfectly at ease with the other.  This was the exact opposite of what I expected to see – it was certainly the opposite of what the media in the United Kingdom report….

… The media propagate Israel as being a “military state” but the reality is that there has been no military presence in evidence at all.

Now here’s the rub:

Listening to people from both communities on the subject of the proposed international trade union boycott, it is evident that all parties oppose this action.  In a meeting with the Jerusalem Municipality workers, one view from the Palestinian contingent was that a boycott would be more detrimental to the Arab workforce than any other.

The reason for this was that in the event of economic sanctions, it would cause a detrimental impact on the employment levels of their community.

Are you listening Israel boycotters everywhere? THE PALESTINIANS DO NOT WANT YOU TO BOYCOTT ISRAELI GOODS. The Palestinians that really count, that is, not their leaders or the fanatics among them but every day decent Palestinians trying to earn a living. The boycotters would harm the very people they are supposed to be trying to support. But they don’t really care about that because the boycott is not about Palestinians and their rights, it is about demonizing and delegitimizing Israel. Boycotters hate Israel so much they are willing to make the Palestinians pay for it.

Finally, having spent a few days in Israel, I certainly intend to return for a holiday. …. the climate is a warm and inviting as any Mediterranean resort and, most importantly, completely safe.

Completely safe!! Yes, you heard and read right. Completely safe!!! I can vouch for the fact that in Israel you feel much safer walking at night than you do in London or Manchester. I am not saying Israel is crime-free, on the contrary there is a growing problem with crime. But attacks against the person are far less frequent than in Europe. Let’s hope it stays that way. Oh, you may scoff and ask how safe it is for a Palestinian who lives near an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. How about one who lives in Gaza City under a fundamentalist Islamic regime> I know where I’d rather be.

As the delegation moved to Nablus, Mike Dixon reported on the positives but also found negativity with a Trade Unionist referring to Israel as her enemy. But even here in the heart of Palestine the boycott was not wanted. They were more concerned with the traditional trade union concerns of pay and conditions.

You can be cynical and say TUFI were pre-disposed to finding the positives in Israel and that may well be true, but they report what they saw and they spoke to both sides.

Boycotts are cynical, political, anti-Israel mechanisms which harm Palestinians and ignore the facts. Let’s hope that that lesson is learned around the world and here in the UK. Somehow, I doubt it. TUFI is a minority in the Trades Union movement and boycotts or attempts to boycott will continue to be used against one country – Israel.