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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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Michal Zak

Michal Zak heads the facilitation training program at the School for Peace, a conflict resolution program in the unique mixed Palestinian and Jewish village of Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam [Oasis of Peace] in Israel. With other members of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, she is also involved in providing medical aid and supplies to nearby Palestinian villages. Michal has lived and worked in this intentional community since the early 1980s.

  • When did you first become involved in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam?

    It was very small; it was very complicated. It wasn't something I was attracted to. It was very small and crowded. That's something that really didn't appeal to me. Before, during my military service I served in the Nahal1 on a small kibbutz, and even that was a thousand times bigger than this! There were maybe six or seven families here. In the kibbutz I decided I couldn't live in a place where everyone gets in each other's business, so of course here... I didn't really like that from the beginning. It was too crowded for me. But after I was done with university my partner and I decide to come back and try it out. The bigger it got the happier I was, even though my daughters are worried about that and cling to the nostalgia of "when it used to be a little place"... but I don't feel that way.

    • 1The Hebrew acronym for "Noar Halutzi Lohem," "Fighting Pioneer Youth." It is "a military cadre in Israel that combines military service in a combat unit with civilian service in a kibbutz or moshav." see a href="http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/society_&_culture/nahal.html">Jewish Virtual Library

  • What was it like at Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam when you first moved here?

    It was very small; it was very complicated. It wasn't something I was attracted to. It was very small and crowded. That's something that really didn't appeal to me. Before, during my military service I served in the Nahal on a small kibbutz, and even that was a thousand times bigger than this! There were maybe six or seven families here. In the kibbutz I decided I couldn't live in a place where everyone gets in each other's business, so of course here... I didn't really like that from the beginning. It was too crowded for me. But after I was done with university my partner and I decide to come back and try it out. The bigger it got the happier I was, even though my daughters are worried about that and cling to the nostalgia of "when it used to be a little place"... but I don't feel that way.

  • You said it was your first encounter with Arabs, and that it was something completely new, that before you only went to demonstrations. What surprised you?

    I don't think it was anything dramatic - boom. It's a long and painful process. It's not simple. I don't think it was any one thing. I think it was dealing with and facing all kinds of very basic assumptions, and coming to terms with the fact that there's a big gap within the Israeli left-wing, and I'm a by-product of it, something that's very much about declarations and liberalism, "we're so good, we're so very in favor of all kinds of things..." But in applying it to daily life, to working in a communal and equal routine, it's very difficult. You need to let go of some basic assumptions that you may not even know you have. For example, the issue of thinking we're better, that we're actually better than they are, culturally or ethically - I never thought I had those assumptions, but to be honest, that's how we were. These beliefs were ever-present when I was growing up. It's very hard, it's a harsh and painful awakening.

  • Can you give me an example of a time when you discovered you had these assumptions about Palestinians?

    There are all kinds. It's complex because it's not like anybody told us anything explicit when we were growing up. It was just that way; it's how you grow up. When you have the ability to examine things critically you suddenly see how warped things are, how wrong they are. I was a child during the war of 1967, so it could be phrases like, "Egyptian mothers have so many children that they don't care about them dying in wars," things like that. It's not things I heard at home, but then again nobody at home said they were shocking. Even though if I talk to my mother today, she also thinks they're shocking, but that was the discourse at that time. It trickled in silently, that's the best way... I think it's the best way to produce "good citizens." It's not something you're told and you can contest. Then you ask yourself if it's really like that... hints of "we're better than them, we're more ethical." And it's everything, like how militaristic our society was, and still is! You're not aware; I never had that kind of awareness! Even though I never grew up in a militaristic home- the opposite actually- but it is part of society, and it's very hard to see it from outside. It's kind of mainstream. One very powerful moment... I think it was a point when someone, some Arab guy at work, said something, I can't remember exactly which kind of situation it was, but it was about me trying to take too much responsibility, or thinking that I have too much sense of responsibility, during some task. And then he asked me, "Who asked you to take so much responsibility? You either take responsibility or you don't." If we're supposed to be living as equals, why the patronizing, "If we don't do it, it won't get done well," or that "we know how things are supposed to be done." It really shook me up. Who said that I'm better, or that anybody else is less, or that other people's concerns are less legitimate. It's all those subtle messages.

  • Did you and your coworkers do anything formal to work together, to build equality?

    Look, from the very beginning I've worked at the School For Peace and I have belonged to Neve Shalom. In the School For Peace we're always working. In the past few years we've been much more politically aware, we know what we want. At the beginning it was more intuitive and I think it didn't always work towards equality, because equality isn't only about good will. But what was the process? I think that over the past few years we simply adopted a stance that questions the reality and deconstructs the idea of equality which we were formerly naïve about, the idea that equality is a balance - of fifty/fifty. At some point you see that it's simply not true, that the reality is so unequal that much more drastic means are necessary for there to be equality. So you need to turn reality around, and for the group that's empowered it's a very difficult switch. Suddenly they feel they're being asked to give up so much. And that's true. It's difficult, but it's what needs to be done. It's true that if we establish the fifty-fifty type of equality here it's better than what goes on outside. But reality is so powerful that that alone won't lead to equality. What's fifty-fifty? The number of people? The number of people, Jews and Arabs, and all sorts of important positions, like dividing funds for projects. It's many things that are important, it's a very important step and it isn't happening outside and I'm not underestimating it. But several years have gone by, and although we've been busy and trying to take bigger steps we haven't progressed that much. For example, the meetings. We understand that the fact that [the meetings] are conducted entirely in Hebrew is no trivial matter; it's not that "language doesn't matter as long as we're talking to each other." The fact that everything goes on in Hebrew proves that there isn't an equal opportunity environment here, and that we are sticking to inequity. Language is far more than just a medium for communication; it's a matter of culture, identity, lots of things. Not only does it mean that the Arabs are giving up so much within our dialogue but also that by not speaking Arabic I'm not taking the important steps that I'm supposed to be taking. I can talk all I want about how I support equality, but it's limited because there's a difference between someone who speaks only their own language and between someone who's bilingual. It hurts because it's a difficult criterion. It's not easy learning a language. But I think that's the way it is, and we need to address it.

  • And is something being done about the inequalities in knowledge of language?

    We've been working on it through our activities; we decided that both Hebrew and Arabic are legitimate languages during meetings and dialogue, and we always translate for those who don't understand. Initially we were translating from Hebrew because everything used to be in Hebrew. But even as a formality, the fact that we're integrating Arabic into meetings and also from the technical aspect, allowing people to communicate in their own language, it's not always a solution, it's not simple. Because often the Arabs, usually the younger generation - if they are bilingual - choose not to speak Arabic because it connotes inferiority. This is very profound, and it often happens to minority groups. Our team decided that everyone who works here must learn Arabic. This year we decided that workers who are bilingual will receive a bonus in their salaries. It's radical relative to what's going on outside, but it exists, take Canada for example. Whoever works for the Canadian government has to pass language exams.1 We haven't reached that level yet but we want people to be able to participate in Arabic even though the meetings are still held in Hebrew, or at least to be able to understand what's being said in Arabic.

    • 1In fact, not all Canadian government workers have to be language tested. There are language requirements for certain positions, and they vary depending on whether they're at the federal or provincial level, for example. Also, the government offers some funded language training and bonuses for bilingualism. See, http://www.psc-cfp.gc.ca/staf_dot/modules/mod_d/index_e.htm

  • Are you talking about yourself, do you speak Arabic?

    I can understand Arabic, but I'm not great at it. I can understand, I can follow a conversation, but I'm not very good.

  • Are there Arabic lessons here at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam?

    Yes, there have been. This year there aren't though! But we do have classes every year. Because we deal with all this knowledge professionally within the school, a real consolidation of knowledge in this field has evolved. It also influences the village in all sorts of ways. Sometimes it annoys the people in the village because it's as if we're better or more sophisticated, it causes the occasional antagonism. It's not a simple position to be in, but there is a certain influence to it too, and it's reaching them as time goes by. In the school here, in the elementary school too, they take mostly, or seem to look for, bilingual teachers. The Jewish teachers learn Arabic now, that's new. I think our influence is evident, I don't know whether they'd admit to it, but I feel it's true, that it's a privilege to be working in this field. I think that we've created a truly avant-garde environment in the village. It doesn't influence everything, but I think it can't be ignored. It just can't be ignored.

  • What's your job here at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam?

    At the School for Peace I'm responsible for the adult education and training programs and everything that pertains to training facilitators and people who are interested in learning our methodology. That's mostly it, that and adult education programs that vary greatly. Every year we develop different programs depending on our financiers and what we're doing.

  • Are the programs for adults in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam?

    No, not at all! We hardly work at all with people that live here, it's mostly for people who come here to learn. Last year we had a program for literature teachers, Palestinians and Israelis, who studied texts together. Some years earlier it was History teachers. This year it's working with universities in Israel and Israeli students, Jews and Arabs. We work with different groups and we have to develop programs that apply to that particular group's characteristics, it's not a regular program that we re-run. Before that I was responsible for youth activities, which is a regular program, you just keep using the same exact model. In my current job I have to continuously think up new programs based on the framework. The way in which we view the conflict influences how the programs develop. We stress interaction between groups and not between individuals.

  • Can you explain what you mean by stressing the interaction between groups not individuals?

    There are two approaches. When we started working in the late seventies there was nothing of the sort here [in Israel]. There were activities, like that of the communist movement, which was historically involved and organized meetings between Jews and Arabs.1 They would get teachers together but there was no information or data on the subject. The popular approach at the time was very North-American oriented, such as the inter-personal encounter approach that says, "you get to know me and I get to know you and then we understand we're all humans and then we kiss and hug," and things don't fundamentally change. In the eighties there was a sense of a lack of satisfaction regarding the existing models, both here and abroad. The main advocates for a different model were the Arab facilitators here; they claimed that this approach doesn't address power relations; it presumes a non-existent kind of egalitarianism. The participants in these meetings felt very good, they participated, were stimulated, were challenged, they wept, they laughed. Anything could happen during the workshop, but it couldn't be applied to reality. It was something totally different: inside it's like this, but the Arabs out there are like that, Jews are like this. It can't carry over and there's no conclusion of a generalization between the two spheres, the workshop inside and the reality outside. As educators we weren't in it for a good time. It was supposed to give people a sense of learning or personal development. The evolving approach addresses Arab-Jewish relations as group relations and not as individual dynamics. That's because the conflict is between groups and not individuals, because the collective identities are so important. The former approach tries to negate that, tries to say, let it lie, leave being Jews or Arabs out of it, let's just be human beings in here. And we say, no. Bring it with you. It's true we're all human beings! Fine, but bring everything in and we'll deal with it. Bring the other parts because they produce conflict, it's not just between us on the level of being human beings, but rather a very politicized approach. It addresses the reality in terms of power relations and the asymmetrical nature of reality, so it resembles reality and doesn't try to contradict reality; that's why we can learn about reality from it. It can serve as a lab that reflects contemporary reality. As an educator I can accept this approach, because you might as well do pottery workshops otherwise.

    • 1Founded in 1922, the Communist Party of Israel was anti-Zionist and had both Jewish and Arab members." http://mondediplo.com/focus/mideast/israel-5-1-2-en Matzpen was "one of the first Israeli left groups to... establish contacts abroad with individuals active in the Palestinian liberation struggle." It "recruited Palestinian Arab members." Lockman, Zachery "The Left in Israel: Zionism vs. Socialism" MERIP Reports, no. 49, 1976, pg 14. For a treatment of how the Communist party "historically involved" Arabs and Jews before Israel's foundation, see: Lockman, Zachary. Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906-1948. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1996; See the Communist Party of Israel: http://www.maki.org.il/english/english.html

  • How did this change emphasizing group dynamics over interpersonal relationships affect you?

    Well, I must admit that when I first came here to work I sensed something was awry. When we used the inter-personal approach I was enthusiastic because it was exciting and it was moving and beautiful- even when it wasn't always simple. I couldn't view it critically. But when the change came from the Arab facilitators, like I mentioned earlier, I really felt it. It suited me. I think it's because I believe we must listen to what the minority says so we can have a better understanding of the reality. I think in general that they have access to the truth, not because they're Arabs, but because they're a repressed minority within the power structures. They know how they live, and they also know the nature of the majority and we, the majority, aren't really familiar with the minority, because of what I said about the language, and because we're not politically or economically dependent on them. We have a lesser understanding, in my opinion. It doesn't necessarily have to be that way, it's the outcome of this reality. Sartre1 said it to the French too, about the Algerians: listen to what they're telling us. They understand what oppression means. And in this sense it's not something inherent to Arabs, I think my approach is a good one, and that it's hard to accept things, but I'm not one of the bad guys. There's always the attempt to make the switch, because the approach identifies you, as a member of the privileged group, as producing this inequity. It's difficult. It's very hard now.

    • 1Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), the French political and literary writer, was highly critical of France's colonial control of Algeria. In Sartre's own words, "[t]he only solution will be revolutionary rupture and independence." Smith, Tony "Idealism and People's War: Sartre on Algeria" Political Theory vol. 1, no. 4, 1973 pg 427-429.

  • What's hard now?

    I think what was so hard initially was to take responsibility, to recognize my part in it. Now I think I've changed. I feel I'm involved in trying to create an alternative Jewish-Israeli identity that isn't a part of this. I'm not a Zionist, and when I first came here I was. I'm not anymore. I raise my children not to serve in the army, but it doesn't make me Arab, and it's true I have many privileges now. I'm Jewish-Israeli and I bear the responsibility that goes with being the majority but I don't feel the same kind of identification- I mean, as time goes by I feel less and less attached to that sense of identity. It's not at all like the Arabs feel, I know that. It's in a lot of things still. It'll take me a minute longer to say, "the police fired at citizens." Because it's a part of who I am; the Arabs don't feel the police are there to protect them, they never felt it was their police force, so if you tell them, "the police shot citizens," then that's it, period! And it will take me a minute longer, as part of a process of developing a more realistic view of reality here. Because there is something to it, after all.

  • Are you referring to what happened in October 2000?

    Yes, but just as a marker. It took me longer to term it murder, longer than it took Arab people to say, "they were murdered." I didn't give back my identity card. I didn't. I'm Israeli and Jewish and that makes me a part of the collective society, but over the years I've been trying to create an alternative identity that is opposed to those definitions.

  • What do you mean when you say you used to be a Zionist but now you're not?

    I'm not really into historic definitions. Even when I was a Zionist I never identified myself that way. Only when I stopped being a Zionist did I realize that that was what I had been before. I wasn't really interested in it. I was born in this place; this is my home here. I always took it for granted. Today I say I'm not a Zionist because the term is meaningful for me, but not because it's no longer my home or I don't feel a part of what goes on here. It's just that I'm opposed to it being a Jewish state. I support having a state that exists for the benefit of all its citizens. So I'm talking about today's parameters, and not the question of whether it should have been established like that or not. Not historically speaking. I think that the Jewish national mission has been accomplished and maybe it couldn't have been undertaken any other way. But I think that to continue to impose Jewish rule in this manner is unjust because it's not democratic. In that sense I feel we need to aspire to change the state's characteristics to become something different.

  • I'm not sure I understand what you do, are you responsible for training facilitators?

    Yes. I myself am a facilitator, but over the past few years I've conducted courses that train people in our methodology.

  • Where does one find work in facilitation after graduating from the School for Peace?

    In the past people came mostly because they wanted to learn how to facilitate and moderate groups of Jews and Arabs and they hoped there would be work in that field. Over the past few years a lot of people who already worked in the field read the warning signals of October 2000, people who encountered problems with the existing approaches and whose methods weren't working came to learn our approach. Also, people who were trained in different fields come here. For example, we get counselors from the center for sexual assault victims who choose the approach of asymmetrical relations, who observe power relations. So we are getting people from radical social work groups that aren't directly linked with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It's interesting that our approach influences other fields and also intersects with feminist approaches, and I don't think it's coincidental. So it's usually people that already work in the field or are engaged in the final steps of their studies and are looking for training. Where do they find work afterwards? Our graduates are very much sought after. It's regarded as a prestigious course in the field. We can't promise work, but some work here, staying on and getting involved in other programs. This year we offered our fourth training course for Israelis with Palestinians from Palestine. There's a growing interest in this type of profession. This year we did it together with the Nablus Youth Federation, two years ago it was with someone else, the Palestinian Peace Movement. We did it a few times. It's a little different, their orientation is much more pragmatic, and there tend to be fewer people from therapeutic backgrounds. I mean, the Israelis usually come from fields such as psychology, counselors, social workers, while the Palestinians don't, or usually don't. They're more interested in the political, so it's a little different, and we too have to learn how to work with them.

  • Who do you approach to participate in the facilitation program?

    We don't have to approach anyone, they flock to us. Over the past few years the resumes have been flowing into our offices. At first it was very hard because it took a while for the project to become reputable, and in 2000 a book was published about our work.1 Throughout the years we established our status among the organizations in Israel, also because we stayed focused in our field while other groups who depend on donors had to change fields accordingly. There were years when democratic education was very popular, and so some groups went in that direction, and some even took up projects with immigrants, and went in other directions. We were among the organizations that religiously kept to our mission.

    • 1Feuergerver, Grace Oasis of Dreams: Teaching and Learning Peace in a Jewish-Palestinian Village in Israel London: Routledge, 2001. Other publications can be found at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam

  • Was it trial and error or did you have experts to help develop the facilitation program?

    When we first developed our approach it was by trial and error. We brought over experts from the States and it just didn't work. Slowly things took shape here, first a body of knowledge evolved, and then intuitively we found experts or theoreticians who matched our approach. It's not like we read them first and said, let's apply this to our group work, but rather when we started speaking the language of power relations between groups we found the theories. We did it! Not everything is made in the USA. An important pedagogue, Paulo Freire from Brazil, speaks in these terms. And there are also all the Algerian theoreticians such as Fanon1 and Memmi2 from Tunis, who write from within colonized cultures, or rather, from a decidedly anti-colonialist approach. Applying theories to group work is problematic, we encounter a lot of resistance because of its allegedly unprofessional nature. In the field of Social Psychology it is not easy to add political elements. But today we are very confident with what we developed, and that our approach differs from other approaches within our field. There are various disciplines in existence.

    • 1(1925 - 1961) An author, psychoanalyst, revolutionary and essayist on the issue of colonization and decolonization.
    • 2A Tunisian-born French writer and essayist (born 1920).

  • What did you study in university?

    My B.A. is in Jewish Philosophy and what we call General Philosophy, which is really European Philosophy. Then I took a program that trains Community Center managers. Years later I went back to school and got my Master's in the School of Education, but I studied the importance of language in Arab-Israeli meetings and developed a model of language usage, I looked at the obvious use of language for communication, as well as for marking identity, and as part of power relations. Language as an important factor in power relations; that was my thesis.

  • Your family lives in Neve Shalom. How do they feel about the community here, about your work?

    It depends who you ask. My immediate family lives here. I have one brother and he moved here. My close family, like my mother, really supports what I do and we're very open about it, even though we argue. She always says I exaggerate, that I go too far left, but I know that when she's at work or with her friends she takes on that role! It's like a chain: if nobody else is playing that role then she takes it up herself and represents the spirit of the things we discuss here. But when she comes here she tells me, "Don't push it." Fine. But it's all very supportive. I don't usually share things in larger social circles; I usually censor what I say. I never am as candid as I am at home, or with you. The possibility of influencing people is very small. People won't really be convinced because you tell them what happened in Rafah1 was shocking. People usually have their own realms of perception, and have a very clear picture of the world, and it makes it very hard for me to... well, I share more by what I do. I don't hide what I do. For example, I'm very active in a project for humanitarian relief for Palestinians. When we founded it two years ago it was difficult for Jews in Israel to think of assistance when they were bombing us... cafés, buses. Why should we help them? I never hide what I do or what I believe in but I never get into arguments about it. If somebody comments on it I really don't get involved in it. My daughters are always arguing with the bus drivers and I always tell them never to argue with drivers, there could be an accident... They're really fine with arguing, they love speaking up. It's a different generation. They grew up in a different environment. I don't hide things: if I'm asked I say I'm from Neve Shalom, and people are always interested. So I tell them what they expect to hear, that everything is dandy. You know, they don't really want to hear that we're occupiers, they don't! I pass on, I don't get into it; I can't take arguing with everybody, because it generally does no good.

    • 1Rafah is a Palestinian city (including refugee camps) of about 130,000 in the southern part of the Gaza Strip near the Egyptian border. Zak is probably referring to the highly publicized incursion by the Israeli military in May, 2004. Experts with the United Nations raised human rights concerns about the military's actions (see http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article2747.shtml). The Israeli military claimed the operation was to dismantle the "terrorist infrastructure." (see http://www1.idf.il/DOVER/site/mainpage.asp?sl=EN&id=7&docid=31511.EN)

  • How do you think the existence of Neve Shalom and the type of work you do affects the situation here?

    I don't think our work has any direct influence on it, but I think we can influence people who take part in our programs; their perception of self can potentially change. I'm sure of that. I'm referring to Jewish people, because that's what's important to me. I'm sure it raises dilemmas, and I'm sure they don't leave the same. Still, it doesn't mean a leopard will change its spots. But something is shifting. I chose a profession... I mean, education is not a field where you can see grand changes, but it's THE field. My parents were also educators. I'm not expecting to see a revolution, it's not like I'm an architect and a drawing suddenly materializes into a building! It's the small and profound changes, but I think that in this sense it's a matter of influencing people's perceptions, and I think just the very fact of the existence of Neve Shalom and the School for Peace is surprising considering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's not surprising things happen during workshops, and that's what's important. The reality that changes are taking place is a big step and it creates a change in reality. It's not going to stop the bulldozers. It won't do that. But I researched the roots of the change in South Africa, and from a few articles I read I realized they mentioned nine causes for the transition to democracy. The first was the economic sanctions on South Africa.1 The second was that the security forces were exhausted and couldn't enforce the violence they initiated and used. And somewhere between 1 and 9 was the fact that there were always groups that engaged in dialogue and cooperation, and white people who joined in the black people's struggle. There was a continuous joint effort, and that was among the nine reasons. True, it wasn't number one, nor was it number two or three, but it was there among the nine reasons. And in that sense, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, actions are meaningful. Maybe it builds a group that, once things hopefully happen, will have trust, relationships, an understanding of the other side. I think it's something that has been developing over the past three and a half years, something I never felt before. I was more occupied with the groups' dynamics, the Israeli-Palestinian dynamics. But now that it's so unfathomable that there are meetings going on, I think that's meaningful. It's not much. Only the politicians have the power to really make changes. Neve Shalom is now a little different than it was. I'm very critical. I think we're trying to create a model of equality and I hoped that it could influence other places, maybe not villages, but workplaces, government offices, wherever there's cooperation or there are encounters. But for the meantime I think the model is still underdeveloped. I think that here in this village we're closer to the fifty-fifty model than to a more radical one. It's also because it's a village and you can't always dwell on inter-group relations. There are relations, and they tend to be inter-personal relationships, I never claimed they don't exist. I only stressed that during the workshops we stress something else, but we aren't saying that there aren't people involved. But when you don't live there permanently then the other forces impinge. It's very hard to keep to the Jewish-Arab idea. Lots of other things enter the picture, and as soon as the village gets bigger, the better it will be, in that sense. It'll be possible to see how things are progressing, what Arabs want, what Jews want. Now is only the beginning. But there's still a lot of personal baggage.

    • 1The system of Apartheid - or systematic racial segregation - ended in South Africa in 1990 after a sustained global movement. Ian Campbell "apartheid" The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics. Ed. Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan. Oxford University Press, 2003. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. CDL UC Berkeley. 14 December 2004

  • How many families are there in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam?

    Something like 55.

  • Is the village getting bigger? Do you have a permit to expand?

    Not yet, it will take some time, we have permission to add... we are allowed to be a total of 150 families.

  • What are the criteria for living here in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam?

    You need a strong will and a lot of persistence. Are you asking what the formal criteria are or what actually happens? The formalities are: you fill out an application form, and if the committee approves your application you are invited to participate in a series of interviews and a round of tests. And what is the committee looking for? It varies according to the committee. I used to be a member of the absorption committee and even was its head for a few years. When I acted as head I offered something different because what I got to work with was a list of criteria that really doesn't correspond with my thought process and I didn't like it, I don't think people make decisions by using the 1 to 10 system. I think that if we have a committee that is made up of both Arab and Jewish members then everyone should use their intuition and decide according to their own personal principles, and that the sum of these intuitive decisions ultimately represents the community. My claim was that since the committee members changed every two years it would reflect the varied perceptions and ideas in our community. And for a few years that's how we went about it, but every time the committee changes its members somebody always comes along trying to organize it better. That's how I think it should be done, according to intuition. To certain people profession is the most important factor, some think politics, some the children's ages. There are all sorts of reasons. I think that the more we progress the less influenced we are by what people say during the interviews, because people can talk pretty, "I'm in favor of this," or whatever, and it doesn't mean they are capable of community life. It's not really the right term, "capable," but ultimately it's a matter of personality type. I think that's more important than any statement they are bound to make.

  • How does the conflict affect your life, your family's life?

    On the one hand it doesn't affect us at all. I say this in light of the pictures from Rafah and I think it would be an insult to claim we are affected if that's a criterion. But it affects us in two ways over the past, say, three years, since the beginning of the second intifada. First of all, on the level of motherhood, I've become very over-protective. Now I'm done with that. I've changed and now I'm a total believer in determinism. During the first two years we wouldn't let them budge. Anywhere. And they really didn't go anywhere. We used to go to the weekly demonstration and that's it. That was their only outing. We went every week, got falafel or pizza - that was our good time. Afterwards I stopped being like that. I decided that it's all in God's hands anyhow... not in mine.

  • How old are your daughters?

    My eldest is 18, my second is 16, and my youngest is 8.

  • Is your eldest daughter going to do military service?

    No. She's a conscientious objector. The conflict did affect things; in that sense it did a lot. I can't say we weren't affected at all, I mean I didn't let them do things they used to be able to do. But it's not like things I hear from Jews in our workshops, "It's hard for us too, we can't go to the movies!" When we talk about people being closed in their homes under military rule, well, what can we say that can compare? But compared to our lives before the intifada, things have changed significantly. The second thing is that I have become very active in the humanitarian relief project, and I'm constantly involved. The household is united regarding that and they help out. It's not only me; it's a part of what we all do. They look after the little one when I'm out and they come along to do things. It's something I feel I need to give, not only for myself, but for myself as a mother, as a woman, there's always something that can be done. There's no such thing as nothing to be done. I'm a little tired of demonstrations; they don't have much impact. I'm just sick of it. It's something I just decided to do, and it'll probably change, but I was so motivated and I wanted to set an example for them, because ever since October 2000 the Israeli left-wing, or the so-called leftists, are stuck in their escapist reality saying there's nothing that can be done, "Call us when it's over, there's no one to talk to." It's that attitude that I really wanted to take on, as a mother.

  • Where do you do humanitarian relief work?

    We started in Nablus because it was just after Jenin and Nablus were re-conquered and because we're in touch with an organization in Nablus and they requested we come and help. Our first project was right here, in a village close by. Our biggest relief missions were to Nablus, but we preferred to stick to helping around here because things were so bad in Nablus that the Emirates [United Arab Emirates] funded and sent a new field hospital in addition to the existing one.1 So they thought they had sufficient medical assistance and our staff preferred to help out around this region, because the villages are the weakest link. They aren't refugee camps so UNRWA doesn't reach them, and they don't have access to the cities and their hospitals. There were no doctors there, hardly any doctors live there permanently. So we organized special medical treatment days, and we bring medication, which we distribute free of charge. Nowadays we do things differently because the doctors can travel and it's not the same situation as it was earlier. So we focus on two strategies: the first is assisting sick children in accessing surgical procedures in Israel, it's very expensive and usually it's terrible cases that the hospitals there can't handle and we try to raise the funds. We have a large-scale project for equipping three clinics in villages where we worked in the past. We're trying to improve their infrastructure because the people there can't reach hospitals in the cities. They need better treatment opportunities because although there are doctors, the clinics have almost nothing in them. Last night we got a shipment of medicine for Rafah, we had it here and sorted it all. Now I'm trying to think of how to send it, it's really a problem. Gaza is very different from the West Bank. Here we slip behind checkpoints, or go through checkpoints. Sometimes it's the army who compromises our teams' safety by shooting at them.

    • 1According to the Ministry of Culture and Information of the United Arab Emirates, its Red Crescent Society (RCS) funded "the Sheikha Salama bint Butti Eye Hospital in Nablus, in addition to various kinds of support...to most Palestinian hospitals, clinics and health centres."

  • Have you been to Gaza?

    Yes. I've been to Gaza twice. I was there as a soldier during the 70s, and once I went with Neve Shalom during the Oslo Accords period. We went to visit Arafat. We came for a formal visit. It was strange, afterwards we were hosted by the student union at the university there and we had joint projects and meetings. It wasn't like it is now. It was safer. And last Friday I was at the demonstration at Kissufim entry point.1 We tried to enter the Gaza strip, we knew we wouldn't be allowed to, but...

    • 1The Kissufim entry point is a "lateral" or "bypass" road that connects Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip to Israel.

  • How many people were there at the demonstration trying to get in to Gaza?

    About a thousand people! I think that's a lot for a demonstration without Peace Now. They usually bring a lot of people. It was only left-wing groups and Arabs, and the majority of demonstrators weren't Arabs. It was impressive, but it was also very rough. I haven't been to many demonstrations recently because they're all at the site of the separation fence and it's dangerous. It's been a while since I went to a demonstration of this sort. The police were so violent. I saw soldiers, but it was the policemen who came armed to the teeth in riot gear; they knew about the demonstration, not like soldiers who stand around confused when there are demonstrations by the fence. They came equipped to "defend" the demonstrators, but they were just plain violent. Horrible, really. It was very rough.

  • Among the members of the international community, whom would you want to influence most?

    I think the most powerful and influential here is the US, and we need to influence them most. I think it's pretty hard though. The Jewish community in the US is so strong in their politics and in their official support for Israel that it makes it difficult. I never liked outsiders getting involved, before and after the Oslo accords. I mean, why should they tell us how to do things, we're big kids, we got ourselves into this and we'll manage by ourselves. I never liked this international involvement thing, it seemed so patronizing. But since the current intifada I changed my mind. I think the US's involvement is so destructive that it must be addressed, and also that we can't solve this by ourselves. International involvement is really important, and I think the key is the European Union, they're very powerful even though they don't go about things accordingly, they always give in to the US's power, it's really irritating, it drives me crazy. I think the EU could have been much more significant in its efforts. I went abroad and attended several conferences and I think the most important thing for me is to address Jewish communities abroad.

  • What would you say to Jewish communities abroad?

    I think it's very hard talking to them. For example, a year ago I was in England and visited the Jewish community there and it was very difficult! It's hard because things are so complicated. If we're talking about the people who really think what the Israeli government is doing is wonderful, well fine, I haven't got anything to say to them. I'm talking about Jewish people abroad who think that the Israeli government isn't doing good things but who aren't speaking up. It's the same in the US because everyone hates Israel anyhow. "Why should we..." those are the people I find most difficult to understand. Not the people who believe in what Israel's doing, so be it. My argument is on the level of politics. People who don't agree with how things are but don't understand they can voice their disagreement with the government's policies and say such things abroad, when you're a minority there, claiming they'd be helping the anti-Semites out. So they'll accuse you of helping out anti-Semites! So what? They call me a traitor and say I'm dangerous and like the Kapo,1 so what! I don't mean to disrespect their difficulties, but I think they should be braver. It's hard. Of course it's not a problem for me to speak to pro-Palestinian or to traditional left-wing audiences. I was recently in France and spoke to peace activists and radicals and it was very pleasant, it's heartwarming. They enjoy listening to a Jewish person speaking this way. I'm glad there are so many supporters but I think it's more important to try and change the trends that are so dominant within the Jewish lobby. But there are such forces, in the US, Europe, there are always radicals. Here too.

    • 1Refers to prisoners in Nazi concentration camps whom the prison guards chose to lead other prisoners in work gangs. They were often given preferential treatment in exchange for brutality towards other prisoners. See http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/pages/t037/t03732.html

  • What would you like to see here five years from now? What kind of solution?

    In Israel? Do you want a realistic answer? Realistically speaking, I want to see the end of violence. But regarding the solution, if you're asking about that, then I think we need to take steps, such as ending the violence. We need to sit down and talk and reach agreements. The solution I would like to see is the State of Israel becomes a democracy and the establishment of a Palestinian state. And I see that as the first step. In the distant future I would like to see a confederation or one democratic state for both peoples. But that... I think it's very far off, not because it's unfathomable but because there must be the statehood period for Palestine first. It's just like it was in Europe, even though the union seems to be stressing nationality and may not be such a success. But at least it's a kind of cooperation. But that can only happen after the Palestinians have experienced self-government.

  • At which points do you think earlier peace processes failed?

    I accept the version that Israel wasn't ready, and didn't really grasp what it needed to give up, even though I didn't delve into the protocols that record who said what exactly and what was offered and what wasn't offered. Barak really didn't deal with the important things; it's not like the South African case. I believe in the human race, I believe that if something genuine was offered then it would have been accepted. And the fact that it wasn't means that what needed to be offered wasn't. I'm saying this intuitively. I don't know where we drew the line and how many kilometers exactly we're talking about. I think Israel needed to include a declaration accepting responsibility for the past. Did they discuss the refugee problem? You can't put it off for later. It's the single most important issue for the Palestinians. And all throughout Oslo they went on and on about Jerusalem, long live Jerusalem, all sorts of models of Jerusalem... nobody cares about all that. And it's been proven how unimportant it is. And they always put off the question of refugees for later. I think it's impossible, that we can't shirk the responsibility of what took place. And that's why I think we need to acknowledge things, to apologize, to ritualize things and then I believe things can start to happen, the negotiations will be different. We can't negotiate first and then say, "Oops, well maybe we also did some things wrong." There needs to be a realization and acknowledgment of our mistakes that doesn't exist at this point. It's important to us as human beings; we need people to apologize and to take responsibility for much smaller grievances. And we can't always make everything better, but it's important that we try. So I think that in this case, which affects so many people, it is so very important that we do this. Me, I had some hope. I'm not sure I still have it, it's also a matter of the generations. The generation here that fought in the war of 1948 finds it very difficult not to legitimize their actions. It's very hard to admit you did some things wrong. It's always hard not to look for excuses. It's only natural. Only a unique person can admit to making a mistake, but as a society, unless a leader can do it, it's very hard. And they really believe in what they did. I grew up in this kind of family, it wasn't unusual; it was very difficult. And I think the differences between my grandfather and me aren't just a matter of ideological differences. He fought in '48 and more or less founded this country, or at least that's how I perceive him. It's also a matter of decades, because I wasn't there and I can see things differently. But now I'm not sure that's a good equation because somehow we seem to produce new generations who continue to legitimize those actions. It hasn't ceased. I can't believe there's a way out of this circle. It's not like the Germans, who stopped the circle of violence and hatred, and now it's possible to talk about what happened. It just never stops. Each generation makes up its own justifications. We never give it a rest. But we have to deal with [today's] generation of soldiers and not just with the generation of 1948. It's so hard. There's one long continuous war going on since 1948, that's what it is. It's impossible that this hasn't influenced us, the society. It's so significant. I'm less optimistic, sorry...

  • Where do you situate yourself: within the peace process, or alongside it?

    I'm working with groups of soldiers from the first intifada that are opening up in light of the second intifada, also because a few years have gone by and there are the same pictures that trigger something inside them and they have stories to tell, sometimes things that can be regarded as apologies and attempts to reconcile. So with me it's not like that. I'm not toting something like that around inside. It's more what I mentioned earlier, being a part of the privileged group, so I feel that if there's an attempt not merely to talk but a real attempt to give up the excess power we hold, in that sense. I can't see how, I'm no politician. I wish I had that kind of vision and could lead a move. In my work I uncover that type of understanding. And uncovering that is not an act of weakness so much as an act of strength. And feeling that we're giving more and more up and that they'll take over us, because they're like that, they're horrible. And seeing it's not like that, and that it may lead to more humane behavior in the future, and that I have the power to change things. I don't feel the need to confront my grandfather with things from the past. It's not the point. I'm challenging him to think about the current situation. I don't feel that we need to confront people who did those things in the past, it's more important to decide what to do with all that in the present. I don't know if I've answered your question...

  • What does the word 'peace' mean for you?

    It doesn't mean much anymore. Not anymore.

  • Do you see any hopeful signs?

    I think that that this whole process revealed the true nature of the so-called liberal Left and its ideology. This really activated the previously subdued radical left-wing. It's no bigger now than it was before, but you can hear its voice now. I also can see it in the groups; it's not that more people now share these beliefs, but since the liberal left wing joined forces with the mainstream and is silent, well then this voice is prominent now. People turn to them for answers, but maybe the left-wing groups will be able to join up and be a more powerful leftist force. I'm optimistic because of all sorts of situations and ventures, and Jews joining Arabs. It's part of what I mentioned earlier. It's a sign of progress. Even among the peace organizations during the current intifada, the fact that an organization like Ta'ayush was established and given an Arabic name, and not like "Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam," which suited that generation's view of equality. Even though it's only symbolic I think it's a very important example that there are Jewish soccer-players on the Bnei-Sahnin soccer team.1 It's an Arab team, not a Jewish-Arab one! In the sense that it's totally non-political, it seems easier to make it work, and that's hopeful I think. There are so few examples. The Jews were always initiating things and expecting the Arabs to join and then angry when they wouldn't, and what the implications are...and they were never interested in finding out what the Arabs preferred. And the Arabs would do things but Jews never joined them because it was an Arab activity. I think when it happens on that side that it's very important. In October 2000 the school here joined the strike organized by the Supreme Monitoring Committee of the Israeli- Arab leadership. It's a committee that includes all of the mayors of the Arab cities in Israel. It's an informal body but it has certain privileges, it's acknowledged by the government, which holds talks with its members. The Prime Minister occasionally negotiates over certain issues with them even though they're not part of the formal establishment. They usually announce demonstrations and other activities. They announce a strike to grieve and protest. Every year the School for Peace joins in the annual strike on Land Day,and goes along with declarations, and people can choose whether to strike or not. A liberal approach, not like "out there" where an Israeli Arab has to call in sick in order to strike on Land Day. October 2000 was the first time the school was officially shut down. It was while we had an Arab principle, and he said the institution is closed-- not that people can decide whether to strike or not. That's a very different approach. It's not the liberal approach where everyone does as he or she wishes, but rather it was Jews joining Arabs in that sense, and it isn't simple. They tried that approach at the school and it didn't really work out, it angered people. It's not an easy move and it caused an uproar among the people there, as though they were afraid it was turning into an Arab school. They are a bigger group there. We're only five staff members running our programs so we can do as we please. But the fact was that we never did it earlier, even though there have been all sorts of strikes in the past, but we just never announced, "The school is closed." I think things are changing, along the lines of Jews seeing it's not so bad to join Arabs. It's not like you lose your identity and become enslaved to Arafat's authority because of it. The fact that people don't even know what the Supreme Supervising Committee is, well it's not just plain ignorance. It's a matter of knowing that you can join an Arab person and not feel you're swallowed up into their context. It's no simple process. It was surprising and it took me a bit to grasp that something was different this time, because I do join in and go to the demonstrations--it's not that I didn't strike during previous years, but I did choose it on my own. And then suddenly somebody came along and made that decision for me and it was different, it wasn't easy. The outcome is the same either way, but I think it was an important lesson, I think it's a change that the current intifada triggered. And it's not a major change but the things that happen here in the workshops, we see them taking place out there too. It's a kind of experiment in laboratory conditions--it shows what will be happening in the future in real life, but without necessarily influencing it. For example, we could see years ago that the Israeli-Arab sector was gathering its power in the groups before October 2000. And indeed the events of October 2000 proved our diagnosis to be true. We saw it developing over the years, that power relations were shifting, not changing, but the gap was beginning to close, they weren't afraid of saying things, weren't scared of being angry, they demanded their rights in a way they never did before. So when it came up we weren't surprised. It was horrible; even though we weren't surprised, I never thought it could reach such an awful point, but the fact that the police's reaction was so brutal means they were facing real power. It's true that the police are terrible and fascist, but it also means they perceived a real threat. There was strength like there never was before. It's tragic that it had to get to that point, but it isn't surprising. This is the situation. They couldn't put up with things like they had before.

    • 1Soccer team from an Arab town in Israel that won the Israeli State Cup in spring 2004, the first time a team from an Arab town won the cup. "Arab-Owned Soccer Team Wins Israeli Championship" Associated Press, May 20, 2004