JERUSALEM, Israel - For the first time in the history of the Knesset - Israel's parliament - a group of Palestinian journalists joined their Jewish counterparts to share differing viewpoints on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The event, organized by the Mideast Press Club, an offshoot of The Media Line - a U.S. news agency covering the Middle East - aims to further professional and personal relationships between Israeli and Arab journalists in an effort to broaden press coverage of events in the region.
Media Line President and CEO Felice Friedson welcomed journalists and parliamentarians, including Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin; MK Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee; Deputy Prime Minister Danny Ayalon; Minorities Minister Avishai Braverman, and Israeli Arab MK Dr. Ahmed Tibi.
"It's about democracy, folks, and we in the media profession bear an awesome responsibility. No institution is more of an indication of a nation's relationship with democracy than the press with all its modern manifestations, from blogs to new media," Friedson said in her opening remarks.
"Being here today inside of Israel's Knesset is a testimony to its democracy," she said before calling each of the MKs - whose parties crisscrossed the political spectrum - to address the journalists.
Deputy Prime Minister Ayalon said Jews and Arabs, who are destined to live together in this land, can build a future together.
"I do say to many of my Palestinian friends that at this point there is no point to argue about the past. We will never agree. Let's build a future together. And we can build a future together," Ayalon said.
"I say the real definition of our objective should be peace, should be historic reconciliations between Palestinians and Israelis, between Arabs and Jews throughout the Middle East. This should be the real goal," the deputy foreign minister said.
Tibi - a one-time advisor to former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat - retorted that Israel cannot define itself as both Jewish and democratic.
"Israel defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state. We believe there is a contradiction between the two values," he said. "You cannot deal on equal terms between Ahmed and Danny if you are defining the state as Jewish," he said. "We cannot accept discrimination on ethnic grounds."
The debate continued, with Palestinian journalists expressing their views to their Israeli colleagues and the Knesset members. As the meeting adjourned, conversations continued over lunch, followed by a tour of photojournalist David Rubinger's gallery documenting the history of the Knesset since the founding of the state.
"Politicians sign treaties. People make peace," Rubinger said.
Eli Nisan, a veteran journalist with Israeli television in Arabic, told CBN News that while he didn't hear "anything new" in the meeting, it's important to bring Israeli and Palestinian journalists together.
"Meetings like the one that took place today in the Knesset could bring people to a better understanding from which to see each other's perspectives. This would open opportunities for more dialogue instead of animosity between us," Nisan said.
"Arab journalists need to be more open to what is happening on the other side just like Israeli journalists are open to what is happening in the Arab world," he said.
Friedson, who said it was no small task to organize the historic meeting, was also pleased with its outcome.
"I just think that people have perceived notions of what journalists are about - what Israeli journalists are like, what Palestinian journalists are like," Friedson told CBN News.
"And I think until you get to know people - it's like with any field, whether it's medicine, whether it's environment, whether it's just teachers teaching kids - it's a matter of just that common denominator of that profession. And you have more in common," Friedson said.
"And it's not about peace. It's not the peace initiative. It's about respect," she said.
*Originally published January 27, 2010.