Don's diary: Incore in Jerusalem

May 3, 2002

Late evening at the London check-in for the flight to Tel Aviv. I am told the plane is full. I soon see the reason - dozens of rescue workers fill up the plane on their way to Jenin.

Driving into Jerusalem as the sun rises, I am in time for a breakfast of hummus, cheese, olives, herring, tomatoes, cucumbers, eaten looking out over the Old City of Jerusalem, with the Dome of the Rock and the ancient city walls gleaming below.

My first meeting with US colleagues in the evening at the American Colony Hotel is packed with reporters. Christiane Amanpour from CNN sits at the next table, and a British TV crew stand arguing over a $450-a-night (£308) suite for someone called Dimbleby.

I meet a friend who helped craft the Oslo process. The bear hug is as warm as ever but the face is exhausted.

Up at dawn to crack some manuscripts in need of editing. Then to the best English political bookshop in town, at the Colony. I hear a conversation between Palestinians who want to overwhelm the Israeli army with sit-ins and candles, and one asks me: "Do you think the Israelis will listen to candles?"

Another meeting. INCORE specialises in diversity issues and we've been working with Israeli Jewish and Arab policy-makers on this - pretty necessary in the volatile context that is Israel today, with a 20 per cent Arab population that is economically at the bottom of Israeli society.

Another phone call to check up on the Israeli Jewish/Arab dialogue in progress. We agree the application will stand - the future will need it. Down in the Old City for a few hours, there's a joint Palestinian-Israeli demonstration in progress at Damascus Gate. I remember this morning I heard a Jewish student complaining bitterly about being called a traitor because he challenged Sharon's approaches.

BBC Ulster rings - the mobile holds out, a clear line. The protests in the background add a bit of colour - or so they said when they rang back to thank me for the interview.

The Old City is deserted. Traders play desultory games of chess and cards, or listlessly drink coffee. They are so subdued they don't even bother to plague me with their sales patter.

Reach the hotel to find the rest of my colleagues have arrived. We swap our stories, try to remember where in the world we last met in the merry-go-round of conflict resolvers and researchers, and drink relatively decent Israeli wine.

Pinned to the wall by two Israeli academics - I had forgotten that I need to notch up my adrenaline here. One tells me about his paper on political leadership, for the US Asch Centre - I feel some proprietorial pride, as this centre was set up after a meeting of international psychologists in INCORE in 1997. We've just received a $100,000 grant for research on a War Lords v. Peace Lords project, so his bibliography will be useful.

The Palestinians, not surprisingly, don't turn up. But we get on and review dialogue processes, looking at what does and doesn't seem to work. Somehow, I manage to fit in an interview with Israeli National Radio who ask what I think are the prospects for peace. Good long term, I say, but it will take time, courage and compromise.

Breakfast with religious leaders from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions wanting to talk about how to confront extremist religious voices. I've already said I can only advise, given my current workload. But when they suggest I come to the Rockefeller Centre in Bellagio, the temptation is tough.

My taxi driver to the airport is Jewish, enthusiastic about Sharon. "We need someone strong. We only have Israel for our Jewish people. We need to feel safe." And as I endure the usual two-hour search and sequential grillings at the airport I wonder - safe, yes, but at what cost? There must be a better way than that of the past few weeks.

Mari Fitzduff is professor of conflict studies at the University of Ulster, and Director of UNU/INCORE, a United Nations Centre focusing on International Conflict Research.

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