I've tried to be a good son, and a loving parent, father. I think that I have succeeded in being a role model for many people in terms of being a religious social activist. Especially given the fact that as we are taught that we are not free to desist from the ultimate tasks. We are not expected to complete them ourselves - but we are not allowed to desist. I hope and believe I have been able, in some way, to inspire others, especially the younger generations, about a religious model of commitment to social justice.
Unfortunately, a lot of things I am proud of are things I wish had never had to be done. Here in terms of the Middle East conflict, I am of course constantly spurred on by all that has not yet been accomplished. Just last year we had our 20th anniversary for Rabbis for Human Rights, but it was no reason for celebration because if we had done our job, we would been out of business by now. But I do think that there are Israelis with better health care because of the work we have done. There are people today in Hadera and Wadi Ara, and other places that are caught up in the Israeli Wisconsin Plan, that have food on their table because we helped them get their benefits back. There are Palestinian farmers getting to lands that they weren't able to reach, for two, five, ten, fifteen years, and others who had their lands taken by settlers and have their lands back because of the work we have done. There are Palestinians who have roofs over their heads because of the work we have done fighting house demolitions.
Sometimes I think that in terms of the work that I do today with Rabbis for Human rights, more important than anything that I or we have succeeded in doing vis-à-vis the Occupation at least, in terms of preventing or dealing with human rights abuses, has been perhaps breaking down stereotypes and engendering hope. The way I see it, opinion poll after opinion poll shows the same majority of both Israelis and Palestinians who want a compromised, negotiated agreement. An even larger percentage on both sides say, we want peace, the other side doesn't - there is no one to talk to.
Obviously, we have to be very careful about how we talk, when it would sound like symmetry when talking about Israelis and Palestinians because we Israelis have so much more political, economic and military power. But there are two ways which I find us very symmetrical. First of all, we all so deeply feel ourselves to be the victims that we are outraged if anyone says we are victimizers. "How dare you call us victimizers? We are the victims." The other way we are parallel is that "we want peace and they don't", and so what is the incentive to move forward, taking a risk for peace when there is no one to reciprocate? I don't know how many times we have gone to rebuild demolished houses and how many parents have insisted that children come and meet us and like déjà vu, I've heard the same conversation over and over - a ten year-old who has just seen their house demolished and his parents humiliated, what do you say to a ten year-old child when he says, "I want to grow up and be a terrorist"? We have to show them that not every Israeli comes with guns to demolish their homes, that there are Israelis who come help rebuild homes. And when people rightly get upset about propaganda against Israelis taught in Palestinian schools, my question is, well what are we going to do about it? Instead of just cursing the darkness, let's light a candle. What are we doing to empower that Palestinian parent that wants their child to learn something more about Israelis?
Some of the Palestinians that we worked with at certain points - certainly at the height of the second intifada - were getting asked why they were engaged in nonviolent cooperative activities with Israelis. As some of the results of what we did became apparent, there was newfound support from the highest level from the Palestinian authorities and Palestinian society. One of my heroes is man who spent thirteen years in our security prisons and says, "I was part of the armed resistance but there is no blood on my hands." Thirteen years gave him a lot of time to think, and he came out not only with respect to prisoners but totally committed to nonviolence. I have seen him a stop a stone thrower's arm in mid-air. We would talk about how important it is for him that his fellow Palestinians saw success as coming out of nonviolent actions.We Israelis can talk about peace and human rights until we are blue in the face, and if God forbid a bomb goes in a bus somewhere in Israel, who is going to listen? And Palestinian peacemakers can talk about peace and human rights until they are blue in the face but when our mortars are wiping out families in Gaza, who is going to listen? So I really think that what we have to create is a coalition of hope.The same majority on both sides, only I or we as Israelis can break down the stereotypes that so many Palestinians have about Israelis, thereby empowering Palestinian peacemakers within their own people. Only Palestinians can empower me to be a hero among my fellow Israelis. I think there is still a long way to go to that. I hear it all the time, people come in and see me with my kipa - my Jewish head covering - and my beard, and assume I am another violent fanatic settler... and it's a very eye-opening experience when you think I represent a whole organization of rabbis who think differently. Perhaps that, along with concrete successes that have been able to break down Palestinian stereotypes of Israelis and which empower Palestinian peacemakers to say, "Look we can move forward in this kind of way with these kinds of people", perhaps this has been more important than anything else that I have done.