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CHILDREN OF PEACE INTERVIEW:
ISHMAEL KHALDI, ISRAELI DIPLOMAT

In the latest of our regular series of interviews, Professor Sarah Brown talks to Ishmael Khaldi the first Israeli-Bedouin envoy, at the Israeli Embassy in London.

Ishmael Khaldi was born in Khawaled, a village near Haifa. He is the third of eleven children. He lived in a Bedouin tent until the age of eight. He walked four miles (6 km) round trip to attend school and tended flocks of sheep. He said his family's ties with its Jewish neighbours go back to the days of the early Zionist pioneers from Eastern Europe who settled in the Galilee region in the 1920s.

From modest roots Ishmael has risen to become Israel's first Bedouin diplomat.  He is currently serving as the Councillor for Civil Society Affairs in London, where he tries to forge ties between the civil societies of Israel and the UK.

www.ishmaelkhaldi.com

It is clear that Ishmael takes issue with those who seek to isolate and demonise Israel, viewing it as a pariah state.  He sees this as a particular problem in the UK, though he is uncertain why this might be.  One incident in particular stands out for him, the time when he was invited to speak at Edinburgh University's Jewish Society, but was heckled into silence by anti-Israel protestors.

'They showed no respect - it would not be tolerated that a British diplomat be treated this way in Israel.'

It particularly concerned him that many of the agitators did not seem to be members of the university and that the university authorities never issued any kind of apology for the way he had been treated.  He wonders why some people in Britain seem so very preoccupied by the situation in Israel/Palestine when there are many examples of injustice nearer to home - the predicament of the Roma in Europe, for example.

One factor he identifies behind British anti-Israel sentiment is a lack of balance in the media, which he feels doesn't always fairly report the Israeli perspective.

'Most Israelis want a Palestinian state - it's actually in Israel's best interests to have a successful, stable neighbour. Everyone wants peace, Palestinians and Israelis.'

He believes some British activists get a one-sided picture when they travel to the region, and judge the whole country from what they witness at West Bank checkpoints. (It is easy, and tempting, to seek out experiences and encounters which confirm your own preconceptions.)

I asked Ishmael what he thought of the controversial Prawer Plan. This was based on proposals by Ehud Prawer, and drew on recommendations originally made by retired Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg.  The plan would involve moving many Bedouins from scattered, isolated outposts to more established centres, enabling improvements in infrastructure and services.  Although it is asserted that the aim of the plan is to promote integration and equality, many Bedouins oppose the suggestions, and the plan has been criticised by bodies such as the European Parliament.  Ishmael, who hails from a similarly isolated community in the Galilee, believes the proposals are essentially sound, but thinks some elements within the report could have been handled better.  However he is generally optimistic about the status of Israel's minorities:

'Israel isn't perfect, but inequality does not arise from government policy. Ethnic differences grow less when everyone - from Bedouins to Russian immigrants - becomes more Israeli.'

Finally - I asked Ishmael what he considered to be the best and worst aspects of UK life.  He confessed that his very favourite thing about Britain was Dundee cake, while his main gripe was the fact he couldn't find a good barber.

All Ishmael's answers are made in a personal capacity and do not reflect the views of the Israeli government nor it's agencies. All Children of Peace interviews cover a wide range of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and do not necessarily reflect those of Children of Peace.

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