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It’s complicated

Natalia Cieslik's picture

I have just returned from Jerusalem. It was my first visit to this part of the Middle East, and now I see why people always say that you have to go there to get an idea of what it is really like. It is complicated.

     Interviewing a displaced family in Gaza for the WDR 'Witness' project.

It helped to be traveling with Nigel Roberts, Yezid Sayigh, and Rex Brynen. They combine decades of field experience and academic research, with intimate knowledge of every detail and latest twist in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After spending two weeks with them I am convinced, between the three of them they likely know the shoe size of every actor in the region.
We went to Tel Aviv, Gaza, Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah, and Jerusalem again for our consultations on the upcoming World Development Report. We met dozens of people, individually and in groups: journalists, political scientists, human rights activists, doctors, businessmen, students, civil servants, among others. There were hawks and doves, moderates, people who had given up any hope for peace and others who refuse to let frustration win over their beliefs that a solution and peaceful coexistence are possible.

‘Humanizing’ the WDR

I worked on our ‘Witness’ project. An ambitious multi-media project whose first installment we hope to publish soon on interactive websites. It is all about understanding how conflict affects people. In several conflict-affected countries we interview a small number of policy makers, practitioners, professionals, and ‘ordinary’ people on camera about the way the conflict has changed their lives and views. Staying away from the radical fringes, we ask about internal and external dynamics, hopes, expectations, and confidencethemes we explore with much more academic rigor in the actual report. We are trying to ‘humanize’ our report with this project.  The outcome is stunning.

     Filming for 'Witnesses' in Neve Daniel, an Israeli settlement.

A doctor told us how he delivered five healthy babies on the phone by talking the panicking fathers through the process when security restrictions prevented them from getting their wives to hospital. A former peace activist fought off tears when she explained how her frustration eventually won over her belief in ending the conflict and left her channeling all her energy into a promising business career. An NGO worker explained how political violence has transformed into inter-personal violence and has increased aggressive behavior in families. She now deals with an ever growing number of violent children. And a deeply religious man told us that there is no trust in the other side and that the international community is missing this point when they embark on new peace initiatives.

I am not saying which side these people belong to, not yet at least. We interviewed people in all corners of an area that in theory takes less than two hours to cross by car. And here is a little detail that somehow sums the trip up for me: Using local crews I had to work with three different camera teams. None of them is able to work on the other side of this conflict, for security reasons or because they cannot get the necessary authorization. It is complicated.


Submitted by Zeeshan on
Natalia, This piece really sums up how complicated it is to simply engage with Israel and/or Opt in general. It's a terrible conflict to study because truly, each side has its own story, its own victims. Being just and fair is a tall order and I really wish you luck in your endeavor.

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