Just ask! Don’t be shy.
The Ask an Israli/Ask a Palestinian Project was started by Corey Gil-Shuster, an employee from the Tel Aviv University who was originally from Canada and emigrated to Israel. The project is available on YouTube on Corey’s personal channel. It has approximately 135.000 subscribers and more than 57.000.000 views. The purpose of the project is to ask questions given by the viewers to randomly selected people in the street in order to know what Israelis and Palestinians really think. The videos are not edited and Corey reserves himself the right to give sarcastic comments.
Let’s start with four examples to give a better overview of the project. The following are quotes from four videos. Two are questions asked to Palestinians and two are questions asked to Israelis.
“Palestinians: Why do you say no to all peace proposals?”
1.) A woman in the street: “It’s true, agreements might bring us peace. But we have all rights to all our land.”
2.) A hairdresser busy with someone’s hairs: “The Palestinian leadership has it’s own work and we don’t interfere. – Why do you think they say no? – Maybe they are not convinced with what has been proposed.”
3.) A woman who did not wanted to show her face: “My own opinion, I believe the Palestinian leaders are just here to fulfill their own personal interests and that’s all. – Meaning money? – Of course!”
4.) An old man: “This is wrong. – They don’t say no? (…) Nobody said no to peace. Abu Mazen, Arafat, even the others. Nobody said no for peace. – So why is there no peace? – Ask the other side.”
1.) Yussef from Ramallah: “No, of course not. – Why not? – The land has always been called Palestine. We were born in this land and it was called Palestine. – Did you know that the land used to be called Judea? – No.”
2.) Rosana from Bethlehem: “No, they are not – They are not from here? – They were a few people from here but they are not who own the land. You know? (…) – You’re Christian? – Yes. – In the Bible, it’s all about Jews being here… - I don’t believe in everything that’s written in the bible.”
3.) Antonio from Bethlehem (wearing really cool sunglasses): “We believed Jesus was a Jew. But there is a big difference between the Jews today and the Jews before. – What’s the difference? – The difference is they are more political and they’re mixing religion with politics.”
4.) Anasf from Qalqilya: “As Jews, they are indigenous. But the Zionist movement was born through occupation, it’s a colonial movement.”
1.) Moshe from a settlement in the West Bank: “Yes. – If the same button killed them all, would you press it? – No.”
2.) Nor from Nanariya: No, because I believe in peace. But I do think that our education and Palestinian education needs to change. – How? – To educate towards being together and having less violence, more cooperation.”
3.) Ness from Ziona: “No. (laughter) I don’t support making Palestinian disappear. (…) I wouldn’t do it because I don’t want them to do it to me, even in their imagination.”
4.) Raz from Ashdod: “I would push it. – Why? – Because if someone doesn’t like me, I wouldn’t like him in return. – If it kills them would you push it? – Yes. – You have no problem killing them all? – No.”
1.) Tal from Modiin: “No, not to annex. In any way, share or form.”
2.) Saar (a soldier in uniform) from the South of Israel: “Yes, it’s an excellent idea. – Does that mean also the Palestinian areas? – Yes, also the Palestinian areas, the Palestinian cities. What’s important is that we’re at peace and live together. – How will that create peace? – Because maybe it will satisfy the Arab side.”
3.) Saar from Akko: “No, I don’t think so. – Why? – I don’t think it is relevant or that it should happen.”
4.) Reuven from Jerusalem: “I do agree. – Why? – I agree because it’s also their country in the end.”
The first time I met Corey was on a shabbat morning in a bar/coffee shop/restaurant of Tel Aviv. He was waiting for me and, when I arrived, he ordered a sandwich so we could have a good conversation. He explained me that he had started the Ask project because a lot of people were interested in this conflict and he was tired of “people saying things that aren’t true.” In the beginning, he had started with a video about settlers in the West Bank in which he straightforwardly asked them why they killed Palestinians. From this experience, he remembered identifying three types of settlers: those who were not that much extremists, those who were extremists and a majority of people that were actually neutral. We continued talking about the specifics of the Israeli Palestinian conflict and he explained me that it was impossible to solve a conflict without understanding what the conflict was about. Then, he mentioned what is known as the “Oslo process” and told me that during this era (beginning of the nineties), a lot of people were actually against it. He took the example of Bethlehem were the Palestinian police was being nice to Israelis while at the same time, a lot of “terrorist” attacks had been happening. “Why would they attack us while in a peace process?” But mostly, why so many people were against the peace process while the news said everything was going to be ok. He had concluded from this episode that there was a disconnection between the media and society. People did not understand what the other one was about. To illustrate his claim, he used the example of a Palestinian guy who had been in prison for fifteen years because he had been shooting at soldiers. The man had given a whole speech about who the Israeli were. It was plain wrong. After this example, Corey added that his own translator used to believe that Israelis took the organs of Palestinian dead bodies to transfuse them in their own body. So, he had been asking to doctors if that was possible and it was actually impossible.
Our conversation was indeed going in all directions and the overpriced sandwich that we were sharing was not really helping as well. But Corey was a man who had been thinking a lot about the conflict. At that moment, he mentioned the notion of conflict itself. “When you’re in it, you can’t describe it from the outside. It’s never possible to fully understand a conflict. So, everybody takes conclusions. A lot of people ask me what’s my opinion. Who cares? I’m just an idiot who walks around with a camera.” He continued and mentioned the “contact hypothesis” that assumed that: “If you get two different group in a conflict into a room, they’ll try to find a solution.”. However, in his opinion, they did not try. “But they will humanize each other.” To illustrate that example, he mentioned his job at the Tel Aviv University were Israelis and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship were studying together. He explained me that during their coffee breaks, Palestinians and Israelis would not sit together unless they had to for the purpose of their courses. After this example, I asked him to tell me more about his videos. He had been all through Israel and the West Bank to produce these. He was usually going to film once a month and he was trying to publish two videos a week. He explained me that some people did not want to be filmed because they thought it was a trap. He added that some people hated what he did. “They have a story in their head and they think I’m trying to change the story” he said about them. But, he told me, they were also people who thanked him for changing their mind on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Then, we switched topic again and I asked him how he felt about Israelis and Palestinians. He told me that he knew Israeli better since he was one of them. However, he had spotted a very consequential differences between the two people of the Holy Land: the Israelis were rude in public and very nice in private while the Palestinians were the opposite. So, I asked him if the two people had something in common. He replied that both had a very good sense of humor, they liked the same music, they liked having fun and to travel and, finally, they liked the same food. We continued our conversation and he told me that, once, he had asked to Holocaust survivors “Why do you treat Palestinians the same way Nazis treated Jews.” One of them had been offended but another had simply replied: “show me the train lines and show me the firing squads.” Then he added: “You see? There are no sensitive questions.” Finally, we arrived at the end of the sandwich and I was about to stop taking notes when he said: “I don’t have an ideology except I want people to be nice to each other.”
During our sandwich, I had also asked to Corey if copy-pasting the Belgian institutional system (that allows two different communities with two different culture and language with a common capital to live together without too much problem thanks to a system that comprises seven government for one country of eleven million people) to the Holy Land could not be a solution to the conflict. He said he did not know but I could go with him and ask the people. So, we left the fancy place and went to the street with Corey’s camera to interview some people. The two first person who accepted to answer our questions were a couple. Corey began filming and I began to explain them the Belgian institutional system. They had a hard time understanding and I had a hard time explaining but with the support of my notebook and some drawings, I was able to explain them the basics. Then I asked: “Do you think this could be a solution to copy-paste this system here in Israel and Palestine?” The man replied: “I think yes but it needs leaders to beeeeeee… Big leaders. Now the Arab leaders and the Israeli leaders they are not big leaders. They just enjoy the conflict and we suffer from it. For the past fifty years.” Corey asked them if they saw any leaders in the horizon. The man replied with a laconic: “No.” He could not see any on any side. So, I asked him if he was that leader. He laughed and said no one would vote for him. Then, he said that for the leaders to wake up, the situation had to worsen. This was the end of this interview. Corey and I intended to find someone else to interview. To do so, we walked around the people brunching and walking their dogs in the Florentine neighborhood of Tel Aviv and asked to randomly selected people that were here and there. Most of them refused but we ended up meeting two young guys that were walking in a street and who accepted to reply to our questions. One had sunglasses and the other one did not. Both had a moustache. Corey pushed the record button of the camera and I asked: “Do you guys know something about Belgium? – About the chocolate?” I continued and explained them how in Belgium two communities with a different language and a different culture lived together with the same capital. “A little bit like Jerusalem” I said about Brussels (the capital of Belgium where both communities live together and share the local institutions). I asked them if the institutional system could be copy pasted in Israel and Palestine. The guy with his sunglasses gave a clear answer: “I don’t think so.” The other refused as well. Corey asked them why and one of them said: “I think in Belgium, they are the same kind of people.” So, Corey asked them to explain the difference because, for foreigners, the differences between Israelis and Palestinians were not that obvious. The one without sunglasses said that the difference was supposed to be obvious. Corey asked: “So why can’t you get along?” The guy without sunglasses replied that it was because of politicians. Therefore, Corey asked why they would not make it work. They rejected the responsibility on “the young people in East Jerusalem and Gaza.” I asked him if he had met some of them to be sure his claim was based on actual knowledge and he replied: “You know, we meet Arabs all the time. In Tel Aviv, in my place where I live, everywhere…” As we continued that conversation, they kept accusing the Palestinian to be responsible and both governments to take benefit from the situation. To conclude it, I asked if it was some kind of relationship of codependency and the guy without sunglasses confirmed without confirming. We stopped filming, thanked them for their time and looked for someone else to question. In some street, we met a family that comprised a father, a mother, a grandmother and some kids. They accepted to reply to our questions and when Corey began filming, I asked to the mother: “Do you know how the Belgian (institutional) system works? – No.” Obviously, she did not… Even the Belgians did not know. I re-explained to her what I had explained before to the two young guys with moustaches and asked her if she thought it would work in Israel/Palestine. She replied: “It’s as they say one country for two nations. I think it can be good, yes. But each one will stay where he is supposed to live with peace and it can be great.” Corey added that it meant that the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) would be both Palestinian and Israeli. It changed her mind and she said: “Never!” Then, Corey asked how she would feel if there was an extra institutional level above the Knesset that comprised both Israelis and Palestinians. To reassure her before she replied I added that the security questions would belong to the community institutional levels. She replied: “I’m not sure about it.” Then, the grandma said that it would be possible to find a solution when the Palestinians would be ready for it. I replied that I had been to Palestine and that the Palestinians were saying the same about the Israelis. So, she replied:“You know, if you ask every Arab where they want to live, they will say Israel is the best country for all the Arabs compared to other Arab countries.”This quote concluded that interview. We thanked the family and moved on. I told to Corey I had to take my leave because I had other commitments for the day and concluded about that experience that Israeli and Palestinians were like two people with a drinking problem who would date together.
The next shabbat, I met Corey in a restaurant to have another sandwich before we would go interview other people near the beach. During that sandwich we got to know each other a little bit better. He told me about his youth and I told him about mine. Then, we moved to the area where we wanted to do, these interviews. We walked along the beach and asked a few questions that Corey had written on a paper to people that were here and there. One of the questions was“Why do you shoot at Gaza protesters?” We asked that question to a few people and usually, they were replying without any problem. However, one of them called us a “BDS asshole” or something like that. Another question was: “Could you invite a Palestinian to a shabbat diner?” I asked the question to a woman and she said: “I do not do shabbat diner.” So, Corey asked her if she would invite a Palestinian to a shabbat diner if she did do shabbat diner. She said no because she was not even Israeli… At some moment, we met an older woman who refused to be filmed. So, I took my sound recorder and, since she was Israeli, asked her a question that had been sent by a viewer to ask to Israelis: “Why do you shoot at Gaza protestors.” She replied: “I don’t.” Corey clarified the question and said: “Why does the army shoot at Gaza protestors? – They have their own reason, I don’t know.” She added to me: “I’m really against it. I don’t agree with the politics here. But what choice do I have?” I asked her what she think was the alternative and she replied: “I think we should have two state. – Why isn’t that working? – Politics, government, Bibi (Benjamin Netanyahu, the current (July 2019) prime minister of Israel)). – It’s always Bibi… - Always Bibi. – And before Bibi, there was no problem? – Oh, there were problems but we did settle them out. – And if you were settling the problem, why did Bibi come?” She did not really knew what to say.Corey reacted to that question as well and said and said: “I don’t think I have an answer to that either.” Then, I asked to the woman: “Did you voted for him? – No! – If you had voted for him, would you tell me?” She insisted she did not had voted for him and we moved to something else.
We kept walking and interviewing and reached the port of Tel Aviv where we had an ice cream. On the way to reach there, a man that we had interviewed had told us: “A good Arab is a dead Arab.” The same man had given us fruits and biscuits to help us stand the heat. After that, we entered a shop and interviewed the two girls who were there. One of them was an Israeli who had been born in Russia. She replied to the question in Hebrew so I could not understand. After the interview, we kept discussing about the things in English and she told us that she missed the Soviet Union. Then, we entered an art gallery and began to discuss with the owner. She did not want to be interviewed but she was willing to share some conversation. She said she was tired of talking about the conflict. I asked her if the conflict was because of “them”(the Palestinians)or because of the Israelis. She said it was because of the Palestinians. So, I asked if saying that it was because the other was not the reason why there was a conflict. She replied that maybe that was the reason. We thanked her for our time and took a bus because it was late and we had both to go back to our lives. During our commuting, Corey reaffirmed that without a credible leader, there would be no solution to the conflict.