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Interview Archives

Between 2004 and 2010, Just Vision interviewed more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. The interviews in this archive represent a fraction of the civic leaders working in the field at a particular moment in time, and aim to provide audiences access to a range of perspectives and approaches.

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Buma Inbar

Assisting Palestinians in need of healthcare in Israel and supporting their families, organizing soccer tournaments and day trips for Israeli and Palestinian children, helping Palestinian farmers harvest their olives, collecting food for the hungry in Israel – these a few examples of Buma Inbar's work. Buma chooses to work independently, occasionally cooperating with other organizations in order to promote a civil agenda for peace, that will affect the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.

  • Please tell me about the work you do helping Palestinians access medical treatment in Israel and supporting them.

    My information comes from working and not from stories I hear. I work with officials in hospitals in Israel - Ein Kerem, Wolfson, Ichilov and Rambam, but mostly with Tel Hashomer - to assist Palestinian patients from Gaza. In 2008, the Civil Administration issued 140,000 permits for Palestinian patients who need medical procedures in Israel. That includes mothers who accompany their children for outpatient treatment or testing. I think that this [large] number attests to Israel's good intentions. However, it isn't only humanitarian, there is also an economic aspect - Israel makes a lot of money this way [treating Palestinian patients]. Most of the funding comes from the Palestinian Authority, from the Peres Center for Peace, Physicans for Human Rights and from private Israeli donors. But there is a humanitarian aspect and it's undoubtedly a beautiful side. Now, after the war in Gaza, the situation became problematic. Some patients managed to return for treatment, while others didn't. About fifty children from Gaza, most of them are cancer patients, each accompanied by a parent, are in hospitals [in Israel] now. I'm in touch with Physicians for Human Rights regarding a girl who underwent a bone marrow transplant; she's been hospitalized for seventy days accompanied by her father and she hasn't seen her mother. Some children have to stay for five to seven months, and haven't been home for that entire time. This week I took a fifteen year-old, now healthy, back to Gaza after 11 months in the hospital. Because she learned Hebrew we can talk on the phone nearly every day. People who accompany [Palestinian] patients are granted a one-day permit although it's clear they will need it for several months. These people don't have money. They have five, six, seven children at home in Gaza and they can't leave the hospital grounds. Things have improved though. But the child who is hospitalized is given food, yet the person accompanying them is only given one meal a day because the hospital isn't equipped to take care of this. Who brings them food? Where do they sleep? We try to raise funds, and some things are organized by the hospital, but still there are huge daily problems ranging from phones and keeping in touch with family, to what a child who is hospitalized for half a year does. I'm surrounded by volunteers who help in different ways, including driving patients to and from the hospital.

  • Why do you need to help Palestinians reach hospitals in Israel? Why do they need assistance traveling to the hospital?

    I'm happy to say that at the Erez crossing [from Gaza] I have wonderful cooperation and I can get patients across as though they were VIPs because I work independently on humanitarian issues and not as part of an organization. Every trip from the Reihan checkpoint5 [in the West Bank] to [the hospital in] Haifa, or from the Tapuach checkpoint [in the West Bank] to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, or from the Erez crossing to Tel Hashomer hospital costs the patient around 300 shekels. Palestinian patients travel in Israel and though they have permits, their permits sometimes expire and if they run into a policeman, he'll say the permit isn't valid. If there weren't volunteers with them, this could become a serious problem. I can show you weekly volunteer driver schedules, scores of patients are driven to the hospital and back. I'd like to mention Yafit Gamila Biso and Yuval Rot, who are devoted to coordinating the drivers. People sign up to drive patients from the Hawara checkpoint [in the West Bank] to Tel Hashomer and there have always been volunteers willing to drive patients. If we can't arrange phone cards, they [the patients] won't have any. They can't call home because they can't afford the phone calls. We have a group of volunteers who collect food every evening. We distribute it among the [Palestinian] families at the hospitals and poor Ethiopian families. Our network is based on volunteers and their work really helps. Physicians for Human Rights and the Peres Center for Peace take care of [Palestinian] patients and I think they're doing important work. I'm in touch with these organizations, as well as with the Bereaved Families Forum, Peace Now, B'Tselem and Windows. They're working, but there are many requests. I'm an individual and my direct relationships with people and organizations enable people to call me twenty four hours a day. The fact that I work as an individual and not with an organization means I don't have the organization's ego to consider, so usually I get positive responses to my requests for help. I have a permit from the IDF Central Command allowing me to enter Jenin. I don't do things that are against the law. When I go to Nablus, and I'm very active in that area, I notify the army before and sign a waiver for their responsibility. I don't get turned down. My experience, as well as my approach is that I can do a lot in the Occupied Territories, but coordinating with the army is necessary. I don't believe I've ever been turned down.

  • Why is it that you don't encounter refusal, while organizations in this field do?

    I deal with humanitarian issues, working in ways I think Israel should, and I think wants to manage its affairs. But on the ground, you don't see that. There are lots of volunteers and people who do good deeds, as does the State of Israel, but these things aren't seen. I mentioned the 140,000 people [who receive permits to enter Israel for medical procedures], but nobody mentions them. This is true only for Judea and Samaria, and is a result of the dedication of the Ministry of Health's representative in the Civil Administration. Of the 140,000 permits issued, unfortunately only 10,000 people from Gaza have received permits, and I'm certain this isn't because of [Israeli] security. There's a serious problem - the Palestinian Ministry of Health decided not to grant [Palestinians from Gaza] permits to receive medical treatment in Israel. This decision was made after the war [in Gaza]. [obstacles and challenges] Some, such as Physicians for Human Rights, say this isn't true, but it is. Just this morning I talked to a man whose son was supposed to be treated [in Israel] after a bone marrow transplant. Hamas isn't allowing people to enter Israel, so not everything is the Israeli side's fault. Things have been improving.

  • Why do people turn to you?

    People know, people also donate funds. People want to give and help. There are people who need help, and they come to me. I took care of a child a while ago. I'm very sad because he died. I drove them back and forth, to and from [treatment]. In Arabic "Buma" means barn owl or some kind of nocturnal bird, not very popular in Arab culture. This child said to me, "Buma, my grandmother said there's a Buma perched on our roof, protecting our family". I had a dream of taking children from Tel Hashomer hospital on a trip for a day. Now, taking children from the hospital on a trip is a problem, some are connected to IVs... I made the mistake of mentioning it, and you should have seen how the kids reacted. They are in such shape. In January 2010, seventy [Palestinian] kids treated for cancer at Tel Hashomer and Ichilov hospitals (and their parents) will be taken out for a day of fun activities, thanks to good people's donations.

  • You avoid advertising what you do in the media, why?

    I think the media has a role but when I see how organizations operate and how important it is for them to make their work seen in order to fundraise, that's public relations work rather than focusing on the essence, the mission, the work itself. What kind of peace is that, who are they making peace with and why the props? Why do they travel abroad? Why can't people meet in the Territories? Why can't they meet here? Their stories about the difficulties in getting permits are nonsense. I manage to get thousands of permits every year and bring thousands of children to visit Israel. I help make their dream - visiting Jaffa and going to the beach - come true. If I turn to the media, interviewers tend to connect my work with bereavement and what I've experienced, and that simply isn't the point. It's no problem making tomorrow's news on Channel 10, but they'll show ten minutes followed by nonsense, and it will be over. Large-scale, true change can only come from the people, only people can make the change. I think the Palestinian and Israeli leaders are contemptible.

  • What are you trying to achieve through your work?

    I'm just a screw in this system. I want to attract more volunteers. We're a very small group and we collect food at night. I don't need a hundred volunteers for this, just six or eight more. For olive harvests we need as many Israelis as possible, to demonstrate solidarity and also to help. I think that the more Israelis who are involved in this work, not necessarily in demonstrations, the better. I told Yaakov Manor that hundreds of Israelis come on the weekends to help pick olives in the Territories, children, women - they come to pick olives. Let's continue this work. Let's keep organizing these people once a month and go to kindergartens in the Territories and clean. It's very important that many Israelis do something, not only read and hear about the situation.

  • Please tell me about the joint children's soccer initiative.

    Hapoel Tel Aviv football club has an amazing program called the Education and Social Project, but as a fan I never knew about it. It's a project in Israel that's been going for years involving approximately 20,000 children, half of them are Jews and half are non-Jews. Among these children are children from unrecognized villages, children whose parents are in jail, immigrants from Ethiopia, difficult groups. In this project, children are trained and given uniforms and extra lessons. They participate in a program that stresses leadership, respecting their parents, and meeting their neighbors. They have tournaments, they meet on the playing field and are taken to games at Bloomfield stadium. I heard that this week Bedouin children from the Arad area went to a soccer game and there was an announcement over the loudspeakers that the children from Kseifah arrived and the entire crowd clapped. Do you know what that means for children? The project organizers called up Yoel Marshak, head of the Kibbutz Movement's task force, and requested we run the program in the Territories. I got involved and we got the ball rolling. Currently there are approximately fifteen groups in the southern Hebron Hills area, Sussiya, Um al-Hir, Twane. In every village or camp we set up a soccer team. In Twane we set up two teams. In the Jenin area we have four groups and in the Jerusalem area there are three or four. There are lots of problems. In some places, Palestinian security forces confiscated the equipment and spoiled our work. I've been after Jibril Rajoub [the head of the Palestinian Football Federation] for half a year or so, I even requested that [Member of Knesset] Ami Ayalon meet with him. [The Palestinians] refuse to recognize the program because they see it as normalization, acknowledging the Occupation. The participants in this program take responsibility for themselves. There are villages that are dying to take part in the program, in Salem - the kids, the council, the head of council - but the governor won't approve it. The southern Hebron Hills area is the hub of the soccer program. I took children for a day at the zoo and at the beach [in Israel], not soccer-related activities. Later, we set up four teams and organized tournaments and they competed against each other. Each group has a counselor, a trainer and a local student who gives them extra lessons. Obviously this requires many donations and a lot of funding. The peak of activity was less than a month ago. In March 2009 I got permits for about 100 Palestinian children from the southern Hebron Hills to participate in a joint tournament for Palestinian and Israeli boys from kibbutz Na'an, Kibbutz Harel and Gedera. The teams were mixed - we don't play Jews versus Arabs. Prior to the tournament we held workshops, including for the counselors of both teams. We did some preparation with children and parents, because it isn't easy for parents to let their children come. Children go home and tell their brothers how they enjoyed themselves at the beach, on the soccer field, how they met Israelis there. That can portray another Israel. In January 2010, approximately 120 Palestinian kids from this program are going to visit Israel again. They'll meet Israeli kids and go see a play in Jaffa, the Israeli kids - from Kibbutz Harel, Na'an and Avigdor - will host them.

  • Why are the teams mixed?

    It's very important to get children to meet each other as much as possible before they are imprinted by hatred or the daily difficulties they encounter from settlers or the army. For me, it's very important to have these kids encounter a different Israel, and I think it's important to have Israeli children meet Palestinian children. My dream is Israeli children traveling [to the Territories] and I'm positive the average [Israeli] mother won't allow it. But I refuse to give up. I've spoken to the coordinator and I've asked her to give me half an hour to talk to the [Israeli] parents and I hope I can convince them.

  • What are Israeli parents afraid of?

    As part of the Scouts activities in Israel, Arab kids visit Neve Monosson, where I live, but I don't see kids from Neve Monosson visiting Kfar Kana. Arabs and Palestinians are always portrayed negatively. I believe that through children we can create change.

  • Please tell us about the sewage treatment systems in the West Bank.

    The bottom line regarding sewage treatment is that I failed. Arnon Goren, a wonderful man from Kibbutz Ma'abarot near the Alexander Stream, set up a system for treating water and recycling wastewater. We need to take into account the damage that polluted water does to groundwater in the aquifer, contaminating it. The initiative was based on the idea of using the [recycled] water for irrigation, especially in the Occupied Territories - Judea and Samaria - where there is a terrible water shortage. A liter of water costs you and me a few shekels, but there a liter of water [in the Territories] could cost ten or more. We thought that recycling water could help. There is a huge flow of sewage from Nablus, and we can see it flowing. There is enormous potential to utilize this water for agriculture. I take people to see the sewage flowing out of the settlement Elon Moreh. This isn't to say the Palestinians' sewage doesn't flow freely - it does, but so does Ariel's sewage. There are terrible problems because of sewage, I'm no expert. I tried to work there, but I'm just one person, I can't do much there. We asked Arnon Goren to work on it. We made a few attempts to treat sewage in Salem and Dir al-Hatib. For example, we took the sewage from the girls' school, tried treating it and using it to water the orchard just below. I hope the effort in Salem will succeed, things are moving forward. This work requires a huge budget. I think that there are lots of organizations that deal with this, and that environmental work is picking up speed. I think funds could be raised, and that it's an important goal. The problem is that we're still dealing with food shortages, people's daily bread.

  • You mentioned the difficulty in operating here because you work alone.

    I cooperate with organizations. Certainly I am not capable of organizing sewage treatment or running the soccer program. I'm discouraged by fundraising abroad - it's hard for me when people abroad dictate what I should do. We need to work here. I don't usually fundraise, and most donations come from Israelis who hear about my work, and they usually donate money for specific programs. I recently heard I'm included in the list of benefactors of the Leonard Cohen Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace.

  • Why did you choose to get involved instead of counting on your leadership to solve the problem?

    What leadership? Does anyone there even care? Perhaps because in the past I could access the leaders on both sides I concluded that they don't care about anything, regardless of which side you're on. We are all familiar with the example of Gilad Shalit. I don't believe any leader who claims to be dealing with it or dedicating time to it. The only people who deal with it are his family. The difference between Gilad Shalit and me is that for me it's final, my child won't be coming back. That's difficult for me but that's how it is, that's what I have to live with. For [Gilad Shalit's parents] there is still hope. But the leadership, on both sides, doesn't care about anything, regardless of the agenda, elections or any promises they've made. I believe change can only come from the people, from non-partisan public movements. I'm certain you won't find anyone in this country who doesn't want peace, only the way to peace is disputed. Civil movements can affect the leadership, and they've been doing just that. People can claim it isn't true, but Four Mothers influenced the withdrawal from Lebanon. Shuvi as a movement influenced the withdrawal from Gaza. It's interesting that these are women's organizations. I was on the People's Voice's steering committee. I think this organization influenced the Israeli and Palestinian public to press their leaders. I'm absolutely sure that if the people press [their leaders] or work to promote peace, the settlers will leave and there will be peace and things will change because leaders work according to the surveys. They read the surveys. They do what the people want. In the past, the people wanted to withdraw from Gaza, so Israel did. Only people or organizations - civic pressure - can create change.

  • What is this conflict about, in your opinion?

    I'll quote Eliezer Ya'ari: it's about real estate. He said this to me near the settlement Elon Moreh. It can't be a short answer, but unfortunately human life and the sanctity of life as values no longer exist on both sides. People used to say about the Arabs, "So they'll go have another child". I don't know whether you were raised on this, but people used to say that. On both sides, the sanctity of life, the value of human life has depreciated. The killing and the price both sides are paying - and I'm explicitly saying on both sides - eroded the value of the sanctity of life, the value of human life. What rose? The sanctity of stones. When I meet with people from [the settlement] Yitzhar and ask them, why are you settled there? They say, because of Joseph's tomb. I say, what's the problem? I'll arrange that whenever you like you'll be able to visit Joseph's tomb. The conflict here is over the way people relate to places and stones and beliefs. I tie this to faith and fundamentalism, that's what I think the source of the conflict here is.

  • You talked about Israeli parents' fears of sending their children to participate in joint activities. How does fear affect the conflict on both sides?

    It's hard for me to relate to fear because I don't know what fear is. I think it's a good trait. Fear protects you, makes you more rational. I don't think fear deters or separates Israelis and Palestinians. I think not knowing each other separates the sides, not being familiar with the other side's narrative or language. I don't speak Arabic. Who are the Palestinians that speak Hebrew? Usually they are older people who were in prison or worked in Israel while the young people don't speak Hebrew. Israelis don't know what goes on at the checkpoints. When is the last time a regular Israeli talked to a Palestinian? This doesn't happen anymore.

  • What is your vision?

    I have hope. That keeps me going. I hope things will change, I don't know whether they'll change with the help of the United States or by using our brains or because everyone will get to know people on the other side. We could look at examples from other places - I witnessed the Berlin Wall come down.

  • Where do you see signs of hope?

    When I'm out there, and when I'm with people, in the people, people who come to harvest olives, when Israelis and Palestinians are all together under a single tree. I've been involved in harvesting olives for five or six years. When Palestinians and Israelis come together under one tree and spend the day together, you see we can get along together. If we could bring our leaders from both sides to the harvest, get them out of the air-conditioning and away from plasma screens, sit them down under a tree and not let them go home, I'm sure they'll make peace. The people want peace. The people can't live without peace. People want to work, they want development. The leaders won't have any other choice, they'll have to bring peace, just as soon as the people pressure them to. My hope is the people, the people at the bottom. After everything that happened to me, I lost my faith. I have no faith, but nobody can take away my hopes. That's what keeps me going. And I see positive things being done. I'm sure that all the Israelis, or most of them, want peace. I'm sure that's true for the Palestinians. The problem is that there isn't access to [each other] nowadays. People say I'm naïve. Sometimes it annoys me because they're right. But I get disappointed. Every year we plant thousands of trees for Tu Bishvat. For two or three years we planted trees in Salem, near Elon Moreh, where trees were cut down. A year ago we planted a thousand saplings in Kaffin. This year we were supposed to plant trees in Burin, between [the settlements of] Bracha and Yitzhar. Thousands of trees were harmed there, and we managed to help some recuperate.Some people can draw beautiful pictures, some people can write beautiful poems, poems of peace. Every person should do his or her part, but without people's work, nothing will happen here - I think that's what we all should do, Palestinians and Israelis. I'm certain that our work will cause our leaders to make peace. I have no doubt about that, and I think it's the right way, and I'll keep to it.

  • Is there anything else you'd like to say?

    I'm very happy for people to hear about our work at hospitals, and transportation to the hospitals. It's important volunteer work and every volunteer matters. I'd like to thank Uri Pinkerfeld from Kibbutz Revadim, my teacher. May there be many others like him in our region.

  • During a crisis, where do you find the strength to keep working?

    I have the strength. I have the organizational skills. Lots of people are willing to help me. I'm certain that if we go ask people on the street, they want to help. People volunteer, pick people up from checkpoints and take them to the hospital. People donate, there are always individuals who are willing to donate money anonymously for certain causes, and without their help I couldn't work and help others. Organizational work is very hard for me. I prefer... I chose my own way. It's got plusses and minuses, but it suits me. I want to stress that governments sign treaties, people make peace.

  • In January 2010 Buma updated us about his work:

    - We recently held the second soccer tournament for Israeli and Palestinian children at the Wingate Institute in Israel. Approximately 180 Palestinian children participated - some 120 from the southern Hebron Hills area and 60 from Kaffin, near Jenin, and visited Israel for the first time. The Palestinian kids are part of a year-long joint project with Hapoel Tel Aviv's Education and Social Project. - A computer classroom was set up in Sussiya, a Palestinian village without electricity or running water, thanks to the donations of good people. I've been working with my good friend Nasser and the local committee│ I've recruited a large hi-tech company, which is now funding a new center for arts and education for the Ethiopian community in Rosh Hayin. - Boys from Or Yehuda have joined Hapoel Tel Aviv's soccer group for youth. They went to a game at Bloomfield Stadium and participated in a soccer tournament in Wolfson soccer field. - We're setting up a Palestinian-Israeli seminar for youth in the Ecological Greenhouse in Kibbutz Ein Shemer. - My dream is to bring one hundred children from Gaza to visit Arab villages in Israel. - I'm trying to help patients in Gaza reach medical facilities in Israel. There are enormous obstacles because of Hamas and the Israeli Intelligence Service. I want to stress that the situation in Gaza is much worse than in the West Bank. - In January 2010 a playground was built in Salem thanks to donations. - I'm assisting in searching for a solution for water shortages in the unrecognized villages in the Southern Hebron Hills. End