JERUSALEM, Israel – An overwhelming percentage of Palestinian Arabs want peace with Israel and one prominent leader says they would prefer living under the Jewish state than the Palestinian Authority.
CBN's Scott Ross traveled to the ancient city of Hebron where he talked with an Israeli Jew and an Arab who both believe peace between them is possible.
Hebron is often known as one of the most volatile cities under Palestinian control in the West Bank (biblical Judea and Samaria). But, in fact, it's also the most prosperous Palestinian Arab city. Here a different kind of peace between Israelis and Palestinians is discussed on both sides.
Hebron, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
Noam Arnon is the spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron. He has lived there since he came as a student in 1972, and there were "no dull moments" since then, he said.
Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs (Machpelah in Hebrew), the place where biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives are buried, has been in Israeli hands since the 1967 Six-Day War. Arnon said his fascination with the city goes back to that time.
"I felt [a] connection to the place, the spirit here, the air, the energy, everything here is so magnificent," Arnon told Ross.
About 800 Jews live mostly in the historic sector of Hebron, separated from the Palestinian population of about 200,000 Arabs.
Noam Arnon and Scott Ross at the Cave of the Patriarchs, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
"But you see this is actually the same percentage as Jews in the Middle East," said Arnon, an Orthodox Jew.
Arnon took me to meet his friend Ashraf Ja'abri in the Arab sector. Ja'abri, 43, a leader in his community, heads a powerful family clan of some 30,000. To get there, Ross, CBN News and Arnon had to pass through an armed Israeli checkpoint.
Sitting in the large living room of Ja'abri's beautiful home, he told Ross he is married to one wife and has nine children.
"I have only eight so he is richer than me," Arnon quipped.
Ja'abri and Arnon have been friends for 30 years.
"You two are friends. You're an Arab. He's a Jew. Why are you friends?" Ross asked.
"He's our neighbor," Ja'abri replied.
"So it is possible for Jews and Arabs to live together in friendship without any conflict?" Ross asked.
Ashraf Ja'abri Hosts Ross and Arnon in his Home in Hebron, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
"Yes, no doubt," Ja'abri said. "We want peace, really peace. Thirty years ago we were working together, doing business together."
"Why don't more Jews and Arabs live as you live with your friend?" Ross asked.
"Because of the politicians," he said. "The politicians destroyed this peace (that existed before the so-called 'peace process' began)."
More than 25 ago, Israel opened the door for Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Tunis by making them the sole representative of the Palestinian people in negotiations.
Arafat and then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn in 1993, creating the Palestinian Authority to govern the Palestinians.
The aim: to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and eventually establish a Palestinian state in biblical Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.
Ja'abri says it hasn't worked.
"The so-called Palestinian problem is like a company. When anyone wants to earn money, he has to deal with [the] company," Ja'abri said. "The PLO signed the Oslo Agreements 25 years ago. Until today, we didn't reach peace. It's the opposite. We started with a very big problem."
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin Shakes Hands with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat on the White House Lawn, Screen Capture
Until recently, the US alone has given around $600 million each year since 1994 to the Palestinians.
Ross asked Ja'abri what the PLO thinks of him.
"I don't care what the PLO thinks about me. What's important to me is how we can all live together in this area, in the State of Israel. If we follow (the PA's) way, we won't have peace even in the next 50 years," he said.
According to Ja'abri, the only way for Jews and Arabs to live together here is under the government of Israel. "In the end, this is the only solution."
Ja'abri said in general Israelis are fair and just, but "there is huge pressure on the Israeli government."
Before the Oslo Accords, Arab residents of the territories were free to travel the whole country, without checkpoints or the need to obtain permits, he said. No one from either side gained anything from the accords," he added.
"Ninety percent of the Palestinian people are looking for their own future," Ja'abri said. "We don't care who is governing us."
Even though Ja'abri says the masses want a change, saying so would get them in trouble with the PA. But he said neither he nor his family is afraid.
"We speak from our hearts. We speak the truth," he said.
"There is hope but we have to continue in the way of real peace from both sides. We're ready. We have no real problem with the Jews because they are Jews. The problem between us is a political problem," he added.
Praying at the Cave of the Patriarchs, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
Ja'abri, who is a businessman, and other Palestinian and Israeli businessmen have ideas about how to make person-to-person relations work, and they want the world to help.
"We established a non-profit in Ariel, Samaria, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We work together. We have no problem with the Jews in any place in the country – in Tel Aviv or in the territories," he said.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman recently visited the Judea, Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Ariel that Ja'abri helped found. It's intended to develop greater economic opportunities and integrated business models.
"I'll tell you something more. If someone threatens the situation, I'll stand up for Noam and protect him. I'm against all the troublemakers and will protect our area," Ja'abri said. "It's in our culture. He's my friend. I wouldn't betray his life ever. This is how I understand peace."
Ross asked Arnon if he agreed with his friend.
Noam Arnon with Scott Ross in Front of the Cave of the Patriarchs, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
"Of course," Arnon said. "What I think [is] that in the Oslo Accord and the Hebron Accord in Hebron, the Israeli government betrayed the local population. The Israeli government brought the PLO to control the local population and they asked, 'why do you it to us? You bring those people, the corrupted and the terrorists to control us. Why?' But unfortunately, Israel did it. I feel ashamed about that. We betrayed them. We betrayed, actually, the land and the people here. That's the problem."
President Trump has yet to unveil his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan and it's unclear what it proposes. But if it's up to Ja'abri and Arnon, it will be a whole different ballgame.