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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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Ayelet Shahak

Ayelet Shahak's daughter Bat-Chen was killed in a bombing outside a Tel Aviv mall in 1996. During the mourning period the Shahaks discovered that Bat-Chen's diaries were full of writings and poems about peace. Ayelet and her husband Tzvika have made it their mission to pursue their daughter's hopes for peace, becoming founding members of the Parents Circle-Bereaved Families Forum, a group of over 500 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones to the conflict, and who advocate reconciliation over retribution. Ayelet, along with her Palestinian partners, lectures in schools throughout Israel and in the West Bank. The Shahaks, who are featured in Just Vision's film Encounter Point, have published Bat-Chen's poems and diaries in Hebrew, Arabic, Dutch, German and Japanese, Italian and recently in English. To view a scene from the film about Bat-Chen's poems please press here.

  • Please tell me where you were born and a little about your background.

    I was born in Jerusalem. Most of my family is still in Jerusalem but they are not really Jerusalemites. My mother was born in Amman, and when the British left Jordan1 they came to this country. They lived next to Rehovot, in Givat-Brener,2 because my grandfather was in the British Air Force, stationed in Tel Nof.3 Later, before the War of Independence, they moved to Jerusalem. My father made aliyah from Turkey; most of his family is in Jerusalem, but they were not born in Jerusalem. So not everyone has deep roots in this land.I was recruited to the Navy. I met Tzvika in the Navy. After my service I went to study at the Seminar in Tel-Aviv, to become a teacher. I studied for three years and in the third year we got married. We lived in Ra'anana, where Bat-Chen and Yaela were born. Later, when Bat-Chen was three and a half we moved to Kibbutz Kfar Aza4 where we stayed for three years. Then Ofri was born. When it was time for Bat-Chen to go to first grade we moved to Tel Mond,5 and from then on we've lived here, in Tel Mond.I am a teacher, and this year I am working half time. The rest of the time, I am active in the Parents Circle-Bereaved Families Forum. I organize and coordinate the Parents' school presentations, and I give a lot of presentations in schools myself. This year we also tried to do the presentations for teachers. Our daughter Bat-Chen was killed by a suicide bomber in Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv in 1996, exactly on her 15th birthday, according to the Hebrew calendar. She was born on Purim6 and she was killed on Purim. The doubly happy day of Bat-Chen's birthday and Purim, which is the happiest holiday, has become a very sad day. For us Purim is when fate got turned upside down.7 There is no more Purim at home. Instead of sending mishloach manot8 and receiving mishloach manot, our friends bring us memorial cakes. Ofri and Yaela do not wear costumes and do not go to parties, although Yaela, in the past two years has begun to go to parties. Ofri still has not. This period of Purim is hard.Our whole lives have changed since we lost Bat-Chen. The things that help us to survive and to carry on are the diaries that Bat-Chen left behind. In retrospect it has become clear that they also really helped her to survive her adolescence and the days of the Oslo agreements, which she writes about in her private diary. Today the same diaries help us to continue on. We see in the diaries and writings and what she did, a kind of legacy that today we have to fulfill. Our activities are based on that legacy. It was natural that we would do some of our activities in the framework of the Bereaved Families Forum, because Bat-Chen left us a lot of writing in which she talks about peace.There is one text, which she calls A Dream of Peace. It begins, "Everyone has a dream, one wants to be a millionaire, one wants to be a writer, and I have a dream about peace." We feel that we have to try to realize her dream about peace, so that peace will really arrive. We didn't know that she had diaries. We actually found them during the shiva;9 at that time we discovered three diaries, and 2 1/2 years after she was killed we found another. We read most of the diaries during the shiva. But we published them (not including the one we found much later) in a book one year from the day she was killed.10 We published the first book in Hebrew. There was someone who likened her diaries to Anne Frank's, and published them together in Dutch. On what would have been Bat-Chen's 20th birthday, we decided to translate the book into Arabic, because that is what she would have wanted.11 I want to talk about the experience we had during the whole process of translating the book into Arabic. We asked around looking for a translator, and found Dr. Mahmoud Abbasi,12 who lives in Shfaram. We started the project of translating just two weeks after the outbreak of the riots in October 2000. At the time we didn't know that it was actually the outbreak of the Intifada. We thought it was something fleeting. It was Sukkot13 the first time we went to Mahmoud Abbasi's house in Shfaram. At one intersection we passed we saw signs of the violence: traffic lights torn down, burning tires.People asked us rather innocently what we were doing during those days in Shfaram. Actually the process of translation presented us with an opportunity to make a very special connection with Dr. Mahmoud Abbasi and his family. Ofri joined us for all our meetings. It really turned into such nice hospitality, us coming to his place, and he to ours. At their holiday we went to see him and during Shavuot14 he came to see us. I'm talking about a very hard year. It was the first year of the intifada and in any case we continued. We didn't imagine that this would be an intifada. As a mother, I thought it was really good for Ofri, along with us, to become familiar with Arabic culture, he was able to learn and see and meet them, something that I as a girl did not have the privilege of doing when I was growing up here.But Bat-Chen began this, and today we also try to continue with it. It was a very special experience. Until today we keep this very special connection with Dr. Mahmoud Abbasi. In general, the whole process of translation was a very powerful experience because he didn't have anyone to ask when he came up against difficulties in translating. For example there was a word that Bat-Chen uses, "l'havreez m'haShiurim," which means "to play hooky from class." He didn't know the word in Hebrew, and he had to ask me and look for a word in Arabic that fit. Maybe there's no word because they don't play hooky from their classes!So it was really an experience and an honor to host him as our guest that year on the evening that we gave out the scholarships.15 It was just an experience to hear him speak. For most of the people that were present that evening, it was the first meeting with an Arab intellectual that could talk on their level, and not an Arab worker that was building their house. Everyone really thanked us for the experience of meeting Dr. Mahmoud Abbasi.We found that the subject of peace was really important to Bat-Chen. In fourth grade she first started to keep a diary, and it was during the first Gulf War. She calls it War Diary, but maybe she isn't comfortable with the phrase, so on the inside cover she draws the sun and writes, "hope for peace," and inside the mouth of a child she writes, "I want peace." It seems like the name War Diary was too strong for her, so on the same page she writes the word peace twice. It starts in fourth grade and continues through the years and into seventh grade. In her private diary she writes "About Jews and Arabs." It's as if she were writing a text for a lesson. It's in 1994, two years before she was killed, and after the signing of the Oslo Accord. She writes: "For some of us the word "Arab" brings to mind a knife in the back, death, rocks, murders, Molotov cocktails, burning tires, terrorists, the Hezbollah. Some of us make a distinction: there are Arab murderers just as there are Jewish ones. Every country has its good and bad people, and there are some who will say 'The Arabs are our good friends, they too have rights and terms for living.' There is a lot of unrest in our little country. There are three opinions on Arabs: the settlers and the radical Right hate the Arabs; the Left makes a distinction and the radical Left demands rights for the Arabs too! It's very hard for me to make up my mind about which position to take. One moment I'm for the Left, then suddenly the radio newsreader says, 'Jews have been murdered, the terrorists have been captured,' and I say, 'It could have been one of my family.' All this hatred has lasted over 2,000 years And we and the Arabs all live in fear. I always say that there are good Arabs too, But I only hear about the murderers. I want peace and believe that it will come in the end, Because peace is vital for the continuation of life. The question is what kind of peace will there be? Peace like the one with the Palestinians is not peace, On both sides the people are angry. Peace is a beautiful word. A word with a wonderful meaning. A word of value and significance. Every day and every hour, We talk of peace directly or indirectly." This she wrote in her private journal in 7th grade. This is one of the poems from which we derive our motivation to fulfill her wish for peace. We coupled this with the writing we found that she had done in 8th grade. In 8th grade she had to choose a subject she would work on in school, and so she chose to work on what she called "Peace and the Law." In those days we were about to sign an agreement with Jordan.16 There was this atmosphere of the end of war, so she chose to interview Tzvika [her father] about his Medal of Courage from the Yom Kippur War, and to interview my mother as someone who was born in Rabat Amon.17 Yitzhak Rabin invited her to the ceremony of the signing of the peace agreement with Jordan. She interviewed the two of them, and in the end she wrote three texts, one of which really is a sign of her reaction and aspirations for peace. She calls it "Summary of War and Peace:" "There is not much left to say We're in a sort of halfway spot. Nor is there 'real war' And us, we're marching forward towards peace: Ready to understand the others, Prepared to make changes, With one clear goal: To be rid of the hatred Buried deep inside us for so long, And with the understanding That it's easy to make enemies, But the wise thing is to find friends. We are people who know a lot about war But very little about peace. From now on we'll begin to change that. Behind the fine words are years and years Of suffering, pain, anxiety and fear. Now to all these words A new word-hope-is added: A little strange, a little different, perhaps. In fact it was with us all along (Even in war) And because of it we never remained alone in the struggle. If we talk about peace, we cannot conclude Without the song that became the hymn of peace. Together with the hope in our hearts That remained with us all our lives." In the same year, she chose to take part in a project of kids from Kfar Kassem.18 It wasn't a project that the whole class participated in, where the teacher came and told everyone to take a piece of paper and write a letter. Only those who were interested, and for whom it was important, participated. Even though she had trouble in English, she chose to participate. For half a year she exchanged letters with a girl from Kfar Kassem. Later we discovered that she had written the letters in Hebrew and had a friend translate them to English for her. She met Nida in person a year before she died. When Bat-Chen was killed, Nida learned about it on the news, and during the 30 days of mourning she came to visit us with her teacher, and their principal. They came with a whole group to visit us here. In other words, long before we at home had thought for ourselves that we had to meet and get to know Arabs, Bat-Chen had already done it. In all of our activities today, we are trying to find a way to work toward her dream of peace.

    • 1The independence of Transjordan was recognized by Britain on March 22, 1946. In 1948, it changed its name to Jordan. See Ritchie Ovendale, The Middle East Since 1914 (New York: Longman, 1998).
    • 2A kibbutz located 2 km south of Rehovot (about 25 km south of Tel Aviv). Founded in 1928 by Jewish immigrants from Russia, Poland, and Germany.
    • 3An airbase located outside Rehovot in Israel, originally founded during the British mandate period. The base was used to launch air-strikes against the Arab forces during the Wars of 1948 and 1956 and remains an important training base for the Israeli Air Force and Israeli paratroopers.
    • 4A kibbutz in Israel located north of the Gaza Strip.
    • 5A small town of approximately 2,000 inhabitants located near Ra'ananah that was originally founded in the 1930s.
    • 6A Jewish festival commemorating the deliverance of the Persian Jews from the plot of Haman to exterminate them as recorded in the Book of Esther. Celebrated on the 14th and 15th of Adar in the Jewish calendar (late February/early March), with a reading of the Book of Esther and the giving of gifts to friends and the needy. A joyous celebration, Purim is celebrated with masquerading and parties. See http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=613&letter=P
    • 7In Hebrew "fate" is pur and Purim is named after the turning over of the pur to save the Jews in Persia from destruction.
    • 8Hebrew for "sending of portions", the act of sending food gifts to friends and the poor during the celebration of Purim. See http://www.torahlearningcenter.com/jhq/question164.html
    • 9Hebrew for "seven", refers to the seven-day mourning period observed by Jews following the death of any family member older than 30-days. Family and friends of the mourner visit to offer their condolences and to prepare food for the mourner.
    • 10The book is titled It Passes Alongside Me. See http://www.bat-chen.israel.net/institu_e.htm
    • 11The book is called Dream Peace in Arabic and over 500 copies have been distributed to schools, libraries, and teachers of Arabic. See http://www.bat-chen.israel.net/institu_e.htm
    • 12Mahmoud Abbasi is a well known Hebrew-Arabic translator who has been working in the field since the 1960s. See the following overview of Hebrew-Arabic translation in which he is mentioned http://www.erudit.org/revue/meta/1998/v43/n1/003311ar.pdf
    • 13Sometimes referred to as "The Feast of Tabernacles" in English, Sukkot falls on Tishri 15 in the Jewish calendar (late September/early October). Historically the festival celebrates the forty-year period when the Jewish people wandered in the desert. Agriculturally Sukkot is a harvest festival that lasts seven days during which each observant family builds a temporary structure called a sukkah pl. sukkot from which the festival takes its name. See http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm
    • 14"The Festival of Weeks". Agriculturally the festival commemorates the time when the first fruits were brought to the temple, historically the festival celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Jews count forty-nine days (seven weeks) from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavuot, hence the name festival of weeks. Also known as Pentecost owing to the festival falling fifty days after the Passover. Celebrated over two days, in late-May/early-June. See http://www.jewfaq.org/holidayc.htm
    • 15Refers to an annual event held in Tel Mond by the Bat-Chen Association to celebrate Bat-Chen's life, which includes the awarding of a scholarship in her name.
    • 16The Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty was signed on October 26, 1994 at the southern border crossing of Wadi 'Araba/Arava. See http://www.kinghussein.gov.jo/peacetreaty.html and Ovendale The Middle East Since 1914.
    • 17Biblical Hebrew name for Amman, Jordan. See Columbia Encyclopedia Sixth Edition: http://www.bartleby.com/65/am/Amman.html
    • 18A Palestinian Arab-Israeli town east of Rosh Ha'Ayin. On October 29, 1956, on the eve of Israel's war with Egypt, Kafr Kassem was the site a massacre in which 47 Arab-Israeli citizens, including women and children, were killed by Israeli border police. Arab-Israeli villages near the Jordanian border were placed under a wartime curfew; however, many villagers in Kafr Kassem were outside of the village at the time and did not know the curfew had been implemented. When they returned to the village past the curfew hour, they were shot. The IDF border policemen who carried out the killings were later convicted of murder. See Joel Greenberg. "School Official Wants to Mark Israeli Atrocity," The New York Times, 6 Oct 1999, pg. 12.

  • Before Bat-Chen was killed, were you involved in any aspect of the conflict?

    No, not in the slightest. We were not active or involved and we were not members of any party. We were a little bit involved in our community here, because I am a teacher, but we were certainly not involved politically. All of our activities began due to the tragedy.

  • When did you first get involved in the Bereaved Families Forum?

    We were actually among the founders. When the Parent's Circle-Bereaved Families Forum started, we were really among the first that joined the Forum. Yitzhak Frankenthal called us and sent us some written material. The Forum was not really established yet, but he had the idea. Yitzhak kept in touch with us. I think what happened was that during the shiva, Tzvika called Peres, who was the Prime Minister then, and told him not to stop negotiating with the Palestinians. The policy then was that after every terror attack the peace process and the talks with the Palestinians were suspended. So Tzvika called Peres, and I think Yitzhak read about that in the papers and called us afterwards. He understood that we might join him.

  • What made Tzvika call Shimon Peres to urge him to continue negotiating with the Palestinians?

    Look, even before this we were on that side of the political map. I think he understood that there was no end to the conflict, that we could not continue like this. The conflict should be resolved; the peace process should be implemented. In those days we believed whole-heartedly in the peace process. Those were the days after Rabin's assassination, after the Oslo Accords, after the peace treaty with Jordan - we felt peace was within reach. So I think we shared the understanding that peace is the solution, that talking--rather than violence-- is the solution. Yitzhak Frankenthal kept in touch and asked us if we wanted to be among the founders. Tzvika is actually a signatory to the establishment of the non-profit organization. So from the very day of the formal establishment of the organization we have been active, and participate in its activities.I remember the first meeting, close to twenty Israeli bereaved families gathered in Jerusalem, and Yitzhak Frankenthal, who was the organizer, turned to us and said that tomorrow all those who were gathered there would go to meet with Palestinian bereaved families. I remember that there were some families that were really shocked by the idea, and they actually quit, they didn't continue with us anymore. To me it seemed very scary as well, and not really right to go to Gaza. Yitzhak tried to explain that it wasn't scary, that he had already gone a lot of times. He had arranged it, and there was a group that wanted to meet that was already expecting us. I got up and said that I was afraid. Yitzhak then understood that he had to do some preparation with us.In the interest of preparation, he had us meet with Hisham Abed El-Razek,1 who works with the Palestinian Authority on the issue of Palestinian prisoners that were in jail in Israel. And in this meeting, Hisham Abed El-Razek began to tell his life story. The meeting and hearing his life story helped me understand one thing: that peace is made with one's enemies. Hisham Abed El-Razek was about 16 when he joined Fatah. At the age of 18 he was sent by Fatah to perpetrate an attack here in Israel. He brought an explosive laden car that exploded before it reached its destination. He was injured very badly. Still today when you meet him you see the scars on his hands and face. Obviously he was caught. He was in our prisons for 21 years, and he was actually freed under an agreement during the days of Oslo. But what he did to save all his years of imprisonment was he enlightened and educated himself.The first tool is language. He speaks fluent Hebrew. He learned the language really solidly. He learned the Talmud, the Jewish culture. When I met him I could very easily have given him Bat-Chen's book. By then we had it in Arabic, but I knew that he could have read it [in Hebrew]. All the communication was no problem; we didn't need a translator, we could speak Hebrew normally. With this tool of the language, he became the spokesperson for all the Palestinians in the prisons. He was the one who carried out all the negotiations with the Israeli prison authority. By way of these negotiations, he achieved a lot of improvements for his friends the prisoners. So he discovered the power of negotiation. He discovered how much he could accomplish through negotiation. He learned how to conduct negotiations with the Israeli authorities, so it was natural and clear that when he was freed he would fight for peace. When I understood this switch from terrorist to fighter for peace, I could understand the essence of what peace is, and it was clear to me that I had to go to Gaza. So the way to Gaza was paved.

    • 1Leading Fatah member for Jabaliya, born in Rafah to a Palestinian refugee family. Spent 21 years in Israeli jails before being released in 1994, where he learnt fluent Hebrew and received a BA in politics. Palestinian Authority minister for Prisons August 1998-June 2002 and from August 2002. Active in the drafting of the Geneva Accord in 2003. See http://middleeastreference.org.uk/palbiograph.html#HishamAbdalRaziq

  • Was your initial fear about going to Gaza about physical danger, or something else?

    It was everything together. It is the very thought of going there-- an unknown, unfamiliar place-- it was terrifying. But also the idea itself was frightening. It was then that we made a decision that the Forum would not accept the parents of the shahids, those who committed suicide attacks. It helped us to go there, because we knew that the terrorist who killed Bat-Chen came from Gaza. That decision still stands. It made it easier.

  • Was the decision not to include the parents of suicide bombers made before you went to Gaza for the first time?

    Yes. I think we made the decision here, before we left for those meetings.

  • Did you discuss it again with the Palestinian members of the Forum over the years?

    It might have been discussed but I wasn't present. You should ask the others. It is probable they [the Palestinians] know it is a condition, but has it been discussed, I don't know.

  • Please try to explain to someone who does not have any knowledge of the conflict why you think what you do is important?

    Even with the backdrop of the recent intifada, we maintain a thread of discussion. We maintain a thin but continuous line of contact-- discussion and activity. Today, even schools that used to participate in co-existence projects, not between the two sides of the Green Line but within the Green Line, discontinued them. When we come to schools, especially during the past year, they say that they must dust off the co-existence projects and get them going again. In a way we are a ray of light; we give people hope of some sort. We are the "advance party." If we talk and keep in touch then they obviously can do it, too. We serve as an example, as the pillar of fire in front of the camp. And because it is so difficult, it is more important.

  • In the recent Bereaved Families Forum seminar there was a play called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and an actor played the sister of someone who carried out a suicide bombing. How was it for you to see that?

    It wasn't my first time, since I saw the play before. It is important, it is important to hear, to meet, to know and to understand the motivation. It is very important. It is also important from the aspect of hearing and listening to "the other." But there is still a difference between this and meeting the parents of the terrorist who killed Bat-Chen. For now, I'm not capable of it. Maybe with the passing of the years; maybe if the situation changes. Especially with the backdrop of the intifada, when it only gets worst, girls are even starting to commit attacks1 - it is very hard. I am not ready for it now.

    • 1From 2001-2003 six Palestinian women were involved in suicide bombings. See http://www.ict.org.il/articles/articledet.cfm?articleid=499

  • What do you need to do in order to be ready for that?

    It is not only about me. It depends on the surroundings. If the number of suicide terrorists decreases and if peace arrives, then maybe. I see it as one of the stages of the reconciliation process. They say today that what happened in South Africa occurred because the conditions there were ripe. I do not think the conditions here are ripe. It is not only something that I have to go through, it is something that must happen in the background, with the peace process.

  • In South Africa the reconciliation process began after the signing of the treaty. Is your work a preparation for that stage or just a hint as to what is possible?

    Yes. It is a preparation. Even in the Forum we do not know how to crack the code of reconciliation. We are searching for people in academia who can explain what it means, what the stages are. It is not so clear. It is even less clear what exactly is suitable for us. It is clear that what was appropriate for South Africa does not necessarily suit us.

  • What did you hear so far that helped you understand what reconciliation is?

    The play helps a lot. With all its difficulty, the play helps to understand that there is a stage in reconciliation when you must, on the one hand, recognize the suffering of the victims and on the other hand give the victimizers a chance to express their remorse and to acknowledge this remorse. It is these two very hard things that create a certain foundation for reconciliation: the acceptance of remorse and the cost for the victim.

  • What is the role of the bereaved families in this process?

    They should lead. This is what Ofer1 thinks - that we have the strongest mandate. This is why he is working with us.

    • 1Lawyer and consultant on the reconciliation process to the Bereaved Families Forum. See interview with Just Vision: Ofer Shinar

  • Do you have to give up something in this process?

    I don't know if it is to give up. It will always be with me, I can not give it up. I can accept the condition of the other side, and the other side should acknowledge my situation, to know, to understand. These are the preliminary stages. The play really helps to understand that there is a process involved, that it is not something simple. It is procedural - it is not that tomorrow we sign and suddenly there will be peace and everything will fall into place. The play legitimizes and acknowledges the process called reconciliation. That is, alongside the peace process there should be a reconciliation process because otherwise it will be like the Oslo Accords, which were not successful. I think that one of the things the Forum does is to work with the people, not only with the leaders. It enables the people of both nations to talk.

  • Do you see any success?

    There is an interesting phenomenon. Ever since the intifada began our activity in the Forum increased tremendously. It is true that according to the numbers, the number of Israeli participants has grown proportionally to the number of victims. The number of Palestinians has also grown, and in this case I don't know about the percentages, only the absolute numbers. Our activity has increased. I can interpret this as a kind of therapy in these hard times. The need to do and try, not only to talk, even if only for the feeling that I tried something and did not just sit there. In addition there is our whole realm of activity in schools, which is very affirming. You go out of each activity with written feedback by the kids and you can see the reactions, the changes, the support, the request for further meetings, etc. The feedback is a very important source of support and affirmation for our activity. It also provides great material for research.

  • Who requests the lectures?

    In high schools there is a person in charge of "social education," pre-recruitment activity,1 Israeli society studies, etc. They are the ones who usually invite us, but sometimes it could be the initiative of the principle, of a teacher. Many Arabic teachers request Parents' Circle speakers through us, because we, as the Bat-Chen Association,2 distributed Bat-Chen's book to almost all the Arabic teachers' in the country. So they have a connection to us. The Arabic teachers who have the book, and know about the Forum's activities, think they can combine it in their classes.

    • 1Refers to activities or classes for Israeli high schooler students before they are drafted to the army.
    • 2The Association for the Commemoration of Bat-Chen Shahak was founded in 1997. It is a non-profit association that works for Arab-Israeli dialogue and fostering literacy through creative writing, and gives grants to support these goals. See http://www.bat-chen.israel.net/institu_e.htm

  • What kinds of questions do the students ask when you lecture with the Bereaved Families Forum?

    I am not the right person to answer that because in my lectures, most of the time, the kids find it hard to move from the emotional story I tell to an intense debate and questions. They usually remain in the emotional experience. But when they ask, one of the hardest questions I can remember was whether I would send my boy to be a combat soldier. They ask a lot about the family, the other kids in the house. They ask how we dared to publish Bat-Chen's diaries. They are interested to hear about what is happening on the Palestinian side, and whether we lecture also to Palestinians. And they ask us where we find the strength to do it. That is a good question. If you ask other members of the Forum you would get a variety of answers. I have not come across this yet but there are places where students still say that they think the solution is "death to Arabs." Our people then ask those students to elaborate on how exactly they plan to execute this operation - what do you plan to do tomorrow, what the day after. Then, in most cases, the students suddenly understand that they are planning the Holocaust of the Arabs and they begin to realize that slogans aside, perhaps this is not the solution. The most interesting thing is to read the students' feedback. The students write that we confuse them, that we give them new information to think about, that we provide another point of view, that we change their minds, that we give them hope, that we must give these lectures to all schools, that this was the most interesting lecture they ever got and that they want more. That gives a lot of strength to keep on doing it.

  • Do you think you manage to tell the story in an emotional way each time?

    I sometimes criticize myself for not being emotional enough, that I do not cry, etc. But the story itself is emotional, the dry facts, that Bat-Chen was their age, that she was killed on her birthday on Purim. I read them many of her texts. They relate very strongly. They relate and immediately project it onto themselves; they are at the same age, what if it happened to them? It is very powerful. I sometimes use a short video about her that Ofri made. I do not have a problem with taking them to the emotional side. That is my advantage over any other lecturer. Through my status as a bereaved mother and because of the emotional story I get a lot of attention. Then I move on to tell about the Forum and they listen, even if they do not agree, out of respect. Listening is the first thing. The first step in reconciliation is to listen to the other side. That is basically the idea - we utilize our status to create a small opening to get them to listen to the other side.

  • What does your family think of your activity?

    In general, most of them are supportive of us. My daughter Yaela is going through changes. There were periods when she did not support us but she is opening up more and more.

  • What are the most difficult challenges the Forum faces?

    There is a new difficulty, one which I am beginning to cope with, and that is the joint lectures, when I go with a Palestinian partner to a school. I have a problem with the language. If it is in an Arab school I have a problem because there is no translator apart from my partner, who is part of the discussion and thus it is uncomfortable. I need to know all of what he said and answered, especially concerning the Forum, so that I don't repeat something he already said. This is something that we need to manage ourselves - it is a difficulty. When I go to a Hebrew-speaking school, or a school like the one in Jaffa, where the discussion is in Hebrew, I am very comfortable. It is even stronger because we complete each other. I'm also very comfortable with Khaled because I know him already and we worked together planning the seminar. It goes well. That is one difficulty we need to solve. It is part of a greater challenge - the language barrier. I understand and read a little but it is not enough.

  • When you speak Hebrew, do the Palestinian students understand you?

    It depends. Once we were in Acre where I spoke in Hebrew. They understood, but not as much as I thought. When we were in East Jerusalem I spoke in English. They understood but again not with the same immediacy. Khaled on the other hand, speaks wonderful Hebrew so there is no problem. He manages to discuss and argue with them - it is a pleasure. But we don't have many Jewish lecturers that can speak Arabic on the same level. They thought about it in the Forum, to have a seminar that will help us, at least to understand Arabic better, but I think that we have a long way to go before we can speak Arabic. Especially when you do not have to use it every day.

  • What are some of the other challenges?

    There is some difficulty in adapting to the increase in our activity. We are re-organizing with many committees - another difficulty. More difficulties? Someone brought up the point that we do not have enough women and mothers that lecture. We are few women and mothers - only four compared to twenty male lecturers. The women's voice is tiny but perhaps stronger. I do not know why. We do it equally - both Tzvika and myself go to lecture. Only Hagit goes to lecture, not her husband. With Boaz, only he goes. Many wives whose husbands participate in the Forum do not come to the Forum. A situation was created where there are more men. It is the same with the Palestinian side but there it has to do with the status at home, in the society.

  • Did you ever have any doubts that what you are doing is the right thing?

    Just yesterday. In general I feel very complete with what I do, I get a lot of strength out of it. I even call it the "double strength of the diaries." The diaries helped Bat-Chen to cope with her difficulties and today they help-especially me-to cope with the loss. Through her diaries I do a lot. I investigate them and use them to reach students. Much of my activity, besides the Forum, is concentrated on that. But yesterday someone said that perhaps I linger on in my daughter's death instead of rehabilitating myself. Until then I thought I could serve as an opposite example - how I took the wreckage and built something new out of it. So it shook me a little. But the more I think about it I realize that this is what fits me. I do think that it is my luck that Bat-Chen left us the diaries and showed us the way for action. This action makes me feel very good, so I don't mind if someone sees it as meddling with death. I cannot disconnect it; it is part of it. It is a reality that exists and I must figure out what to do with it. I chose the path that fulfills me.

  • When you saw the demonstrations at The Hague, the bus that had been bombed and the bereaved parents, what did you think?

    I hardly watch the news. I try, but ever since the second intifada we almost never see news. The ritual of watching the evening news ended. We canceled our subscription to the newspaper. It was impossible to open it every day with the pictures and names of those who were killed. Once upon a time I would sit at 8 and watch the news. Now it's just not in my routine anymore, I skip it. We make do with Globes, an economic newspaper, which is much less graphic, fewer of those horrible headlines, and we keep ourselves updated with the Internet, and a little with the television. What surprised me is that people asked me, "are you not in The Hague?" I told them they were not the first to ask but that the line of thought presented at The Hague does not suit me. What do I think? They say each person in the "bereaved family" processes his own grief in his own way. Research concludes that if you held a specific point of view before, you would not change it after the tragedy but rather keep it or become more extreme in it. If Bat-Chen had been killed during the second intifada, and they used her picture, I would be very angry. I would not agree. But Bat-Chen was killed eight years ago and they did not use pictures of the veteran casualties [at The Hague]. I do not have much desire to go against them in public. Unlike them, we do hear the Palestinian side, the wrongs caused by the fence. Maybe there should be a fence, but one should think twice before building it because it has caused more damage than it has contributed to security. The frustration and anger it will cause will bring about another wave of suicide terrorists.

  • With the other group of parents, the "Dizengoff Group," are there families that are upset with you and with the Forum?

    The hardest is with the three daughters. One family of Bat-Chen's girlfriends' that was killed with her very much disagrees with our way. They even charged once that because of us all three girls are identified with the Left. It was very hard to hear that. I never use their name, and if I do so it is for the respect that I want them to have. But I certainly do not include them with Bat-Chen. Were you friends with that family? No. We did not know them before the tragedy.

  • Where do you feel a sense of belonging?

    In general I feel very good in the Forum because of the people that think like me, because of the fact that they are bereaved like me. They have the same thinking, language, humor, the same crises. There are also very special people there-intelligent-it is pleasant to be in the company of most of them. But we have our ordinary friends here in Tel Mond, we have our own circle, friends from the army.

  • I am wondering if there is something that drastically changes when you start doing work like this. Is there a sense of not belonging to your old group?

    I do not think so. Most of them appreciate what we are doing, support us, are interested, help us - I use my friends to get to more schools. They open doors for us. I do not think it caused us any kind of rift with our friends.

  • Do you think your work has affected them?

    I do not know. I will be wiser after the annual evening of Bat-Chen. Khaled is supposed to come and talk then. If he comes then I will be able to hear people's reactions. I know that in previous years Dr. Mahmoud Abassi came and people actually thanked us for giving them the chance to hear him. What happens to the average Israeli in this society is that people do not meet so many Arab intellectuals on a daily basis, only the workers who build the houses or work for you. For many people it was the first time they met an Arab intellectual, who spoke on the same level, if not higher, who spoke in high Hebrew, a very special person. The same happened last year when Fatima from Acre, the Arabic teacher who is Arab, spoke at Bat-Chen's evening. She became the centre of the evening and people left charmed. I hope Khaled will be the next step, will take them "beyond the Green Line." That will be the first time someone from beyond the Green Line comes. Tzvika was kidding, saying that we should hand out our feedback papers to our friends who will attend the evening.

  • What do you gain from doing this work?

    I have this kind of dream, that as with the diary of Anne Frank, which was translated to many languages, the same will happen with Bat-Chen. I think Bat-Chen can be an equivalent to Anne Frank, because of her age, the quality of her writing, and because it documents a period of a young person's life here, at a time when there is no peace. I would not call it war, but there is no peace. I am headed towards that path. We are now discussing a translation of the book to Japanese, Italian and perhaps English. That is my dream. I also see how I approach this objective from all directions. The fact that my thesis was about Bat-Chen's diaries strengthens my activity and the message I send that it's important for kids to write diaries. Even if one kid, after reading Bat-Chen's book or learning about the genre in his class, begins a diary, we gained. He does not need a psychologist, since he has one with him at all times under the mattress, and with it he can face life. I find it very comforting to know that Bat-Chen had such an accessible tool, with which she handled the difficulties of every day life and of living in this country. Especially with the second intifada we, the teachers of Israel, must suggest this tool to our students. It is enough for me that in every class there will be one student who would acquire this tool, it is enough that we helped one kid to cope. My research also shows that it does not only encourage them to start writing, it also encourages those who already write. This is also important because they do not always feel safe. As Dr. Miri Baruch, who also wrote a diary once, described it, she felt she was a stranger, and didn't think it was a good thing. When you come to teach it in class and give it your full weight and approval, and say it is important, and good and that it helped so many people -those kids suddenly get filled with strength, some of them even "come out of the closet," declaring that they have a diary and sometimes they are even willing to show parts of it. It does good, so why not? I have a message, I come with a statement. Not only co-existence. It fills me up, each lecture. A week ago I had a meeting, I went as a volunteer, with a group of teachers and librarians who study children's literature. I lectured to them about my thesis. I was so happy to hear from them, those who are "on the ground," that the books are in the library, that they are frequently requested books, that students fight over them, that they contribute to the children - I need nothing else. For it is a lot. We have that, she left it - we need to do something with it. I have plans for publishing a new book for the ten-year anniversary of Bat-Chen's death. To take all of Bat-Chen's diaries and present them in their chronological order - it will serve the research better. Adding two things at the end: all the letters and greetings and the program that I developed so teachers can use it.

  • Have you thought of writing something yourself?

    A diary? The idea came up all through the years I was working on it, but it is not my strong suit. She got it from Tzvika. I am at a stage where I recognize its strength and importance. I think that at my age it is already a bit too late to start writing. It is easier for me to write today, perhaps also because of my Masters and the computer, to phrase things, documents, letters, with all this copy and paste. It is easier, but still not so easy to actually write. Hagit invited me to come with her for such a workshop, but not yet. Maybe, maybe.

  • Who is inspiring to you?

    I told you before - there is the story of Anne Frank, and what her father did. It can be a model for me to imitate. Someone who actually inspires me? I had a supervisor at the beginning, she is now retired, but occasionally she still assists me. Learning about entrepreneurship helped me to be an initiator of Bat-Chen's nonprofit and in the Forum and to try and get those things started. She did not hesitate to ask me whether it was not enough with the memorial evenings for Bat-Chen, if I should not stop. I appreciate her type of questions that force me to think. At the moment I do not see any reason to stop. It is hard but fulfilling. It is important, it gives us a stage for our activity and to see what other teachers have done and to get ideas and reinforcements. Moreover, I think that our educational system is-- I do not have a word for it-- so poor and full of negative slogans; at least we serve as a supportive place; we give a scholarship. It is not the money but the affirmation, the support, encouragement. So why stop? I do not see a reason to stop. I am aware of the fact that I will not continue with it for all of my life, but at this moment I do not see a reason to stop. The day I decide to discontinue, I will take all the money and print books and hand them out.

  • Can you tell me what you think the trips you took to Gaza with the Bereaved Families Forum did for you?

    The first time was terrifying. The first time Tzvika and I came with our car to the checkpoint. It was simply humiliating. They take photos of you, it takes many hours for the entire group to pass, and you must leave your identification card. We passed as ordinary people and it was very difficult. Surprisingly, the hardest thing was to return. We returned home, and since we had come with our own car we exited before the group. It was at the time when all the workers were coming back. It was absolutely frightening. You went against the stream, with a huge number of men passing you. My image is of them carrying all the junk from here [Israel] - a computer screen, etc. - I remember it as an image of people with sacks and many, many people. It was very hard. The second time, someone "up there" understood that we should be allowed to pass through the VIP passage, so we did pass through there with the bus and it was much more organized. It was very important. We were welcomed very nicely, like the Arabs know how to welcome. They guarded us from all directions - a jeep in front, a jeep in back. The Palestinian Authority policemen stayed with us the whole weekend. We stayed next to the beach. The meeting was a very absorbing experience. This experience will remain with me for the rest of life. The tour they gave us of the Strip, and their pride when showing us the airport, Arafat's new manor, the new housing projects they built. Three-quarters of what I am describing was demolished during the second intifada. We also took Ofri with us. It was the experience of a lifetime. Tzvika was there one other time, when he had a meeting with Arafat.1 The intifada had just begun and they thought that they might succeed, by meeting with him, to stop it. It was not even called intifada then, and Arafat was still in Gaza - ancient history.

  • Was it rare for Israelis to go to Gaza?

    Nowadays, yes. But then, when we went there, Israelis did go. There were organized tours. We met a group that was touring there. There was a beginning of it. The idea seemed strange and crazy. Even today when I tell people about our "weekend in Gaza" it seems taken out of a fairy tale. I see it as a privilege; we were privileged.

  • Was there someone special on the Palestinian side that taught you something, or said something that was important to you?

    I began to tell you about Khaled. Khaled is really a person you can learn a lot from. Khaled is a very wise man and one of the things he says is that he knows they made a mistake in this intifada. That this intifada caused them more harm. To hear it from him makes it easier for us. Because at the bottom line, as a left-wing person who was slapped in the face with this intifada, to hear someone from the other side say that they were mistaken, that they did the wrong thing, makes it easier to think about the future. In general, to work with him is a pleasure. He thinks. He is also a "democrat where there is no Democracy" - he stands for his rights. For example, when we planned this olive operation he said "you cannot just bring olive trees to one villager when the entire village suffered. You will get the opposite result. The village will hate him." The way he sees things, it is really a privilege to sit with him. He was at our house and spoke to Yaela. She said to me, "But mom, he was in prison." He told her that when they were outside. All those things, they are really... He was once with Tzvika in a meeting in Acre. They stayed there an extra hour with the kids to go through the process with them so they could thank Tzvika at the end of the meeting and not be angry with him. So they could understand where he's coming from. They worked very hard, both of them, so the students would say they made them re-think things. He has it - the ability to persuade. The way he speaks, he gives what he says a personal shape and does not use slogans. They [the Palestinians] have a tendency to speak in slogans, but he does not.

  • What are some of the most important things that you have learned through doing this work about people or about the conflict?

    First of all, to get to know the other side. To be aware of their needs, to be aware that they are humans like us, to be aware of their difficulties. Even now, with the fence: how much it destroys and how it has hardened people. The fact that they need to cross with a crane from one side to the other in order to go to school.1 The whole issue of checkpoints.2 If a girl wrote us, after meeting me and Khaled, that she is about to be recruited to the army and will probably be a combat soldier and if she is at a checkpoint she will try to be as humane as possible, then we did our job. It is important for people to hear all the stories about the roadblocks from the source, not from the media. To know to listen to the other, to know to accept the other, to know of the other's customs, holidays, those sorts of things.

    • 1Israel's construction of a barrier to separate the West Bank from Israel, which often runs through Palestinian towns, has divided many Palestinian families from each other and has separated children from their schools. In some cases, cranes have been used to allow students to get to school, but documentation of such incidents does not appear to be available.
    • 2Roadblock or military installation used by security forces to control and restrict pedestrian movement and vehicle traffic. The Israeli army makes widespread use of checkpoints in the Occupied Territories in order to control the movement of Palestinians between Palestinian cities and villages and between the Occupied Territories and Israel. They have been used on a few occasions to control some movement of Israeli settlers and Israeli citizens trying to enter Gaza and several West Bank settlements to protest Israeli disengagement from those territories. Checkpoints can be large and semi-permanent structures resembling simple basic border crossings (such as the Kalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem or the Hawara checkpoint between Nablus and Ramallah) or small, temporary impositions on roadways or outside towns or villages. The security forces at a checkpoint exercise total control over movement through the checkpoint. Depending upon the location of the checkpoint, soldiers may and often do check the identity papers of every vehicle passenger and/or pedestrian who wishes to pass through, and to refuse passage to all who have not obtained permits from the Israeli military's Civil Administration in the Occupied Territories. Palestinians and Israeli observers cite frequent, if not routine, incidences of delay and harassment of Palestinian civilians at checkpoints, regardless of the status of their papers. There are currently checkpoints at the entry and exit points of every large Palestinian populated area in the West Bank, on every major road within the West Bank, and at every crossing point on the Green Line between Israel and the Occupied Territories, in addition to many smaller checkpoints within the West Bank. According to the IDF, a checkpoint is a "security mechanism to prevent the passage of terrorists from PA territory into Israel while maintaining both Israeli and Palestinian daily routine," used to "facilitate rapid passage of Palestinians while providing maximal security to Israeli citizens." For facts, figures, and maps on the web, see BBC , the Israeli NGO Machsom (checkpoint) Watch or The Palestinian Red Crescent

  • What does the word peace mean to you?

    Maybe we should use what Bat-Chen has said, which is the essence of reconciliation: that unfortunately in our country, in our region, we know much more about war than about peace. She writes it. Now we need to learn what peace is and what is the meaning of reconciliation. This is exactly what reconciliation is all about-- it is the stage before, the way to peace. Maybe this is the meaning. But the word peace has been eroded. It has been destroyed. Maybe the word reconciliation is easier now... until we erode it also.

  • Is there something here that you think is the hardest for people to understand, if they are not here?

    If they do not live here? The non-peace. The fear to live here. The fear of going out today, on Purim. I need to drive and buy some things and I think a million times whether I should drive today or not. On the other hand it is a day off for me, a time when I can go. And the kids - that they should not go to Tel-Aviv, the big city, to have some fun. On the other hand it can also happen here. The insecurity, living in stress, this tension - it does not make it easier on anyone.

  • What do you think are the roots of the conflict?

    What we define as Independence Day and they define as the Nakba. And the land. The land is very important and holy for them and for us. And it is also the only land.

  • Is it also important to you personally, the land here?

    I am willing to give up Hebron and Bethlehem but I want a Jewish state to exist here, so from this perspective it is important. I do not think we have any other place. Apart from that, you are talking to generations that were born and raised here. So with all the sympathy... They were not really independent before. There never was a Palestine.1

    • 1Palestine did exist before the establishment of the State of Israel in the form of the British Mandate for Palestine and corresponded roughly to the combined land area of Israel, the Occupied Territories, and the Golan Heights. Before that time (pre-1918) this land area was controlled by the Ottomans and was divided between two different districts and an independent sub-district of Jerusalem. See Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (New York: St. Martin's, 1996)

  • What does a Jewish state mean to you?

    That Jews will be able to live here as equal citizens, that they can practice their faith and can live as any other human being. So the religious people can practice their faith with no disturbance. That a Hebrew language will exist here.

  • How do you relate to religion? Is it part of your life?

    Not too much. In a traditional manner, not fanatically. My feeling is that they should let me live and I shall let them live, without religious coercion. Each one will live according to his or her beliefs. I like the traditional parts of religion. I sometimes envy them for having the tradition, the family life, the whole family unit - but not enough to cross the line.

  • How does fear affect the conflict?

    Very much. Very much. The damage from the second intifada in the Israeli public is immeasurable. The fear caused many people to move to the Right. Many. I'm talking about people from the Left - not people who were undecided or from the Center. The fear, the distrust, the slap in the face. We are in a very deep crisis.