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Interview Archives

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

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Amnon Sadovsky

Amnon Sadovsky was born and lives in Jerusalem. His interest and experience in social involvement began in high school in the scouts, followed by a year of community service in Tel Mond. Amnon helped found the first non-professional high school in Beit Shemesh and later participated in dialog workshops for Israeli and Palestinian teachers in MECA. After 2000 Amnon joined Ta'ayush's South Hebron committee and taught at the Hand in Hand Jewish-Arab School in Jerusalem. His various interests connect social, economic and political struggles. Amnon helped found Tarabut-Hithabrut, an Arab-Jewish movement for social and political change, where he continues to be active.

  • Please tell me a little bit about yourself.

    My name is Amnon Sadovsky. I was born in Jerusalem and was raised in a Jewish home. My education was Jewish-Zionist. I grew up in Rehavia [neighborhood], loving this city. I really care about what happens here. I'm very attached to this place and like to walk around both parts of the city. As a child, I remember my father taking me to what he called the Temple Mount. I remember the joy following 1967. I can vaguely remember the war; we sat in a shelter on Gaza Street. I remember the war atmosphere but what I remember mainly is the excitement after the war when, on Saturdays, we walked to see the Old City [of Jerusalem]. My parents took me on trips to places in the Territories to see the liberated land. My parents aren't orthodox but there was a lot of excitement after the war. I grew up in a Zionist environment. My grandfather came here in 1925. He left Russia as a doctor, and came here driven by his belief in Zionism. My father fought in the World War Two in the British Army, and also fought in what he calls the War of Independence. My father was very Zionist and loved the country. We visited all sorts of places, without regard for the Green Line I remember visiting Bethlehem, Solomon's Pools, Herodium, Jericho and the Old City [of Jerusalem]. At the time it didn't seem problematic. I had no contact with Arab kids who grew up in Jerusalem and that always bothered me a lot. I tried to make contact and create relationships with children from other communities. I was bothered by the fact that I never had contact with Arab kids, I could only speak very basic Arabic. After high school I volunteered for a year, because I felt strongly about social gaps. I'm interested in such gaps, and today I try to bridge gaps.

  • What happened in 2000 that made you get involved?

    In 1996, I started teaching at a school in Beit Shemesh. I participated in a meaningful experience: founding the first high school in Beit Shemesh that was not for professional training. Beit Shemesh was a development town. I was a homeroom teacher for a large class with kids from Ethiopia, the former USSR and what's called mizrachis - children from North African families. The community was a very interesting place in which to work. I was the school's community coordinator. In 1999, when I was teaching history there, a friend told me about MECA, which is a joint organization of Israeli and Palestinian educators. He said they had a group of history teachers that was dealing with the history of the conflict, especially focusing on the history of the conflict. I joined. That was my first contact with the conflict. It was very interesting because it was the first time I met history teachers from East Jerusalem and Ramallah; they introduced a very different narrative. My academic studies were far from the conflict's issues. I studied European history - mostly modern history - and political science for my undergraduate. We didn't deal with the conflict, but my studies gave me tools for a critical historical approach to narratives. I compare the things I learned about, such as Germany and France's difficult relationship, despite the hatred of the past, they manage to live together. That grants me perspective for what I see here. I feel my studies gave me an important tool: a critical approach to the history I learn about and teach. I feel that I'm not familiar with the events here over the past 120 years. I very familiar with the Zionist narrative from my high school studies, from relatives and books, but I didn't feel I'd really studied the history of the conflict. I'm unfamiliar with the Palestinian national movement and its factions and I'm unfamiliar with Arabic. I'm still missing information.

  • You mentioned that during MECA's workshop you met with Palestinian teachers who talked about the Palestinian narrative. Was that your first encounter with the Palestinian narrative?

    Yes, it was my first encounter. From university, I knew about narratives. From studying post-modern theories, I learned that history is subject to interpretation. During MECA's workshop I sat up nights - long beyond the workshop's hours - to listen to Palestinian teachers talk about the events of the first half of the twentieth century. I wanted to know how they interpreted the Balfour Declaration of 1917, what we call the "Arab Rebellion" or "Arab Revolution" and the events of 1936-1939. How did they understand the Palestinian people's preparations for 1948 compared with what was happening in Jewish society here? I learned about what we [Israelis] call "the State's creation." We reviewed the history step-by-step and saw the parallels. I heard what the Palestinian instructors teach, how they teach it and the way things are written in their books. I was fascinated. I talked to serious people, history teachers, about their view of history. In retrospect, I was open to hearing what they had to say. I saw other teachers clam up when they heard the other side speaking. It was hard hearing some things, but it didn't anger me. I tried to be matter of fact and hear them out, and bring what's called "my facts" as matter-of-factly as possible. They presented "their facts." We even tried putting them together, see what we agree or disagree over. That revealed something that I could only sense when it was manifested in a way that was so revealing. For ten days I sat in a different place and listened to things the way the Palestinian teachers presented them, the way they teach them, the way they appear in their textbooks.

  • Was there any event in the Palestinian narrative that surprised you?

    It's hard to define a certain event, but I realized just how angry they are at the Zionist story. They are angry at Britain for having promised "you" [Jews] what they call the "Balfour Project" - a Jewish homeland - without really being here. How could Britain do such a thing? They talked about the cooperation between "Zionist colonialism", as they call it, and colonialism or the British Mandate, and suddenly I realized how they view matters. I was surprised by their terminology for the events of 1936-1939, what they call "revolution". We argued over this word: whether it's "rebellion" or "revolution". It was very interesting. I was very surprised that the Palestinians weren't actually prepared for 1948. I thought they would be prepared as we were. I realized that we defeated a nation that wasn't prepared for war with us. On Independence Day, I used to join my parents in visiting their friends and listening to the stories of their generation, the elite who founded the State. I also read books with that perspective. Suddenly, I was hearing the other side talking about Palestinian villagers who were abandoned by their leadership. I recall that on trips with the school at Beit Shemesh I'd say to my students, "Pay attention to the Sabra cactus. It means there used to be something here." I can't say I know what used to be there. I didn't, and suddenly I heard about it from the Palestinian teachers.

  • How did this new information affect you?

    My contacts with Palestinians developed through teachers from MECA. They described the most difficult parts of the [second] intifada to me. I felt that something was happening outside as well as inside me. At the time, there was a sense of ties being severed; I felt it in my society. I remember my mother said, "How can you bring Arabs to your house in such times?" We sat up nights talking about what was happening in East Jerusalem and in the Territories. They used to come several times a week. During the intifada's first months, when we tried to understand what was going on, they were my interpreters. In February 2001, I joined friends who helped found Ta'ayush in Jerusalem at a demonstration in the village of Rantis to move a blockade. We were a large group of around 200 people and we managed to push back the blockade. The next day, [the army] came and put up large concrete blocks to prevent any access. I think that, by and large, this symbolizes my political involvement. It was simple yet active. I found myself part of Ta'ayush in Jerusalem. I went to the Southern Hebron Hills with Rabbis for Human Rights, and it was a very powerful experience. Like anyone who visits, I saw this was the heart of the conflict. These are the weakest people, the most unfortunate, who suffer from the settlers and the army. I joined Ta'ayush, and the first activity I took part in was in South Hebron in September 2001; after that, I was very active in Ta'ayush. I was part of the leading group in the South Hebron Committee. We visited the area at least once a week, made phone calls and organized activities and demonstrations. To a lesser extent, I was part of the separation fence protests. I began to protest the separation fence's Jerusalem and Bethlehem sections. Every demonstration was significant to me. I was among 400 Israelis who met and marched with people in Bethlehem. That was the largest demonstration based on the aim just to meet, with no intention of dismantling or preventing anything. The soldiers met us on horseback, armed with whips and batons and people were injured. These were very significant experiences for me. I was one of the organizers and participated in the political debates. That was my political education. I participated in political conversations, listened to other Palestinians and Jews and formulated my views. I felt a change in me. I was to the Right in this group in the sense that I thought we could talk to settlers without fighting them - that not everything should be anti- this or anti- that, that we shouldn't be against the State, that we aren't anarchists. I am on the verge of being a Zionist in the sense that I view Zionism as it I believe it should be and not as it is today and how it is affecting the Palestinian people.

  • You said you were relatively to the Right and that you are a Zionist - is that unusual in the circles in which you worked?

    I believe in the Jewish people's right to self-definition and their own state, just as I believe in the Palestinians' right to self-definition. I think the path is problematic. The attempt to live together was interesting but didn't work. The more momentum the national movement gained, lands were occupied/redeemed/liberated. I think the Jewish people have a right [to self-definition] and not only because of the Holocaust. The Holocaust adds another component: justification, to ensure it doesn't repeat itself. I think people have the right to self-definition. I think the path is problematic. Being Zionist in Ta'ayush is difficult; saying you're Zionist is hard. Of course, the Arabs aren't Zionists; they object to Zionism as the Jewish activists become more and more extreme. However, I want to stress that my political education came from Ta'ayush. What I heard in Ta'ayush I never heard from the teachers in MECA. Ta'ayush had a large group of Palestinian citizens of Israel and from them I heard things I had never heard before. I learned how to be politically active. In Ta'ayush I learned how to put together a demonstration and how to create the foundations for a struggle. For example, there were large demonstrations in Abu Dis - we brought 800 people there - and that isn't to be taken lightly. I learned how to operate events and how to respond immediately. I learned how to work with a large group, which involves taking a lot of responsibility for people. During the demonstrations we organized, no one was badly hurt. Mostly the Palestinians were hurt by tear gas, I got hurt once.

  • How is nonviolence incorporated into the demonstrations in which you participate?

    You hear about nonviolent activity all the time. It took a long time and lengthy discussions for us to organize a demonstration in Bethlehem. We confronted the army and they stopped us. I saw good friends take the sticks of their banners and use them against the soldiers. It was hard for me to see that. Other times, it was hard for me to confront the soldiers because, as a reserve- officer, I found myself demonstrating and getting beaten up. We demonstrated at A-Ram against the removal of Palestinian families from their homes. It was in the middle of the night. A specialized police unit arrived and I picked out a brother of a student of mine. He said, "Amnon, what are you doing here?" I said, "I'm doing what I have to do." He and his colleagues beat us up, punched us in the stomach, rolled tear gas canisters, I started bleeding. For me personally, it was difficult. And who carried me back? My Palestinian friend. Confrontations with the army affected me. I was very scared. There is a split second when demonstrations catch fire; it happens very quickly. It happened during a few demonstrations I had helped to organize.

  • When does a nonviolent demonstration become violent? Why does this happen?

    Take a joint demonstration in Abu Dis: Soldiers tried to stop the demonstration and we Israelis stood between the Palestinians and the soldiers so they didn't approach each other. A few Palestinians managed to get around us and shove the soldiers. The soldiers' guns were loaded and, with one more push, chaos broke out. The soldiers shot tear gas and there were casualties. These situations can be prevented; I tried to prevent such things from happening. Even though people spoke out against violence and we all said we opposed violence, there were voices in Ta'ayush that said, "If there is no blood, we won't reach the news." I remember asking a reporter from Kol Israel [Voice of Israel], "Thousands of people are protesting the separation fence. Why don't you cover a demonstration?" "Is there blood?" he asked. "No, no blood." I said. So he said, "Then I won't cover it." That amazed me but then I realized how uninteresting we are to the media. Ta'ayush organized many activities and the media rarely showed up.

  • Could you talk a little about the anti-Separation Barrier protests?

    The first to discover the plans for the separation fence were people from Ta'ayush in Tulkarm. At the time it wasn't clear it would be the fence we all know today. A lawyer said, "I'm getting expropriation warrants in many places and something is about to happen here." We went to a large demonstration in Tulkarm and started to realize a fence was going to be put up. Everywhere we tried to fight the fence - in Budrus and in other villages - we failed. We managed to create local struggles but we couldn't stop the fence's construction. It was already underway and more than 80% of Israelis support it. We've succeeded in reducing support for the fence by very little. The fence was constructed and swept over the land, this terrible structure that separates Palestinians from Palestinians, people from clinics, schools, grocery stores and neighbors. It isn't just one fence but many fences, pens and separate areas.

  • You said the struggle against the Separation Barrier failed. In retrospect, what would you change about the protests?

    I don't think we contacted the media enough; I wasn't interviewed. My friends thought working on the ground was more important. It took us a while to understand that we should have taken the judicial path. When this was proposed by Beit Sourik for the fence in Bidu, we in Ta'ayush objected. I objected. A group from Mevasseret joined the Peace and Security Council and - as a result of the Beit Sourik case - managed to move the route of the fence by petitioning the High Court of Justice. We in Ta'ayush believed that if the fence didn't go through this village's land, it would go through another. What then would be the point of moving its route? But this case set an important precedent. The route of the wall was changed proportionally in many places. This affected the southern route of the wall, which was moved closer to the Green Line. We couldn't do that as part of our struggle because I object to the fence in principle. I think the fence is unnecessary and that it will fall. Anarchists Against the Wall was born because Ta'ayush weakened, and because it continued to struggle its own way, which was less media-oriented and less violent. Apparently, the struggle against the fence required a daily struggle, including staying at the villages in Deir Balut, Budrus, Mas'ha, and then in Bil'in. Anarchists Against the Wall activists got into that, while we weren't built to do that at Ta'ayush. We could come on Saturdays, for short periods, and the [struggle against the fence] required something else. The struggles against the wall, the horrible casualties created a different kind of media coverage, and more people got interested in the fence. We at Ta'ayush were less involved, we got burned-out, and that created other movements. Ta'ayush was the foundation. This Saturday there's a demonstration against the wall in southern Bethlehem. I believe the wall will fall, it won't be able to survive.

  • You said that the these activities barely reduced Israelis' widespread support of the Separation Barrier. What makes you believe that the barrier will fall?

    The fence will fall because it's impossible to divide the land this way. An agreement can't be achieved with this fence intact because it prevents a Palestinian state from being established in any way. Politically speaking, the fence is too big a concession for the Palestinians. I think that people who live near the fence and the thousands who suffer daily from it will take it down. I think fences come down; that's the way of the world. When I teach, I talk about the fence's significance. In Ta'ayush, I learned many things including politics and I learned that we need another way. Politics are good for stopping things that are already happening or to make people aware of a struggle. It bothered me that Ta'ayush wasn't active inside Israel. The struggles inside Israel were good but too few and that bothered me. I understood another way was necessary, so I chose education which suited me. By chance I came to teach at the bilingual school in Jerusalem. I was tired of politics and that led to a path that is right for me. I work at a school where I can talk about what I learned about the conflict - both narratives and the conflict's complexity.

  • Tell me a little bit about the bilingual school in Jerusalem.

    The school is important to me because it reflects my way of life as an educator. Teaching there is an opportunity to get to know Jewish and Arab communities and to learn how to work in a mixed class which was interesting. We studied our personal and family histories which are related to the region's history. We ask, "How is my personal and family history related to the history of the nations in Israel-Palestine?" The children interview their grandparents. Together, we checked and saw that, at the time, the Palestinian grandmother from Beit Safafa and the Jewish grandmother from the neighborhood of Katamon experienced similar things, but on different sides. For the past three years I've been responsible for the school's commemoration day for the Nakba, as a Jew and not a Palestinian. I'm also the coordinator of social studies at the school, and I'm trying to develop methods for teaching the conflict using geography, history and civics curricula. For example, I'll take a map to class and talk about the Green Line or about controversial subjects. It's possible to introduce the language of human rights through Amnesty International's program or to use materials supplied by other organizations and to address the conflict using pedagogical means. We've opened up the school. For instance, we have a joint program with a high school in Jerusalem; our eighth graders meet with their eighth graders and discuss the ways Jews and Arabs can live together in Jerusalem. We bring in [adult] Jews and Arabs to tell the students about life in Jerusalem and to share their solutions for Jerusalem.

  • What are the challenges of teaching at a Jewish-Arab bilingual school?

    Bilingual education in societies such as ours isn't easy. It isn't easy bringing Jews and Arabs together from such polarized societies but I think it's vital. I ask myself how we are supposed to practice a bilingual framework in terms of language. Arabic is weak at our school and Hebrew is very dominant Although we set aside many hours for teaching Arabic and Hebrew, very little Arabic is spoken. I don't speak Arabic, yet. We have to think about how we can attract bilingual teachers to our school. However, if we give so much attention to the matter of language, we will push aside other issues that are no less important, like getting to know both cultures not only through holidays but through the cultures themselves, various terms in culture and religion and terms that apply to nations and what language attests to. We deal with languages, but not always with what language stands for. That is problematic. The question of a high school is also interesting. There isn't a bilingual, bi-national high school. What would happen to the students once they finish high school?

  • Who are the children who attend your school?

    There are Arab kids from Bet Safafa and the area, from East Jerusalem and the villages on the outskirts of Jerusalem - Abu Ghosh Ein Rafa, Ein Nequba. There's also a large group of Palestinian [students] whose parent's decided to move to [West] Jerusalem during the 1980's, but they come from the north, the triangle area. The Jewish kids are from all over Jerusalem. I think the parents are ideologists, that coexistence is meaningful to them, they want the kids to get to know each other, they want high quality education for their kids - 8:30 - 3:30 every day, with two homeroom teachers, small classes, lots of resources. These things appeal to parents, and they should.

  • Do you see divisions between Jewish and Palestinian children at school?

    Not between the kids. Kids don't choose their friends by nationality; they choose friends according to other criteria. There are relationships among kids who speak more Hebrew or those who take the same classes, depending on a class' social dynamics. It's impossible to generalize.

  • You helped found Combatants for Peace when you taught at the bilingual school in Jerusalem Please tell me about that.

    Zohar Shapira called me up and said that he and his brother, having written the Pilots' Letter and the Commando Unit's Letter, sought contact with Palestinians. I put them in touch with Palestinians, based on contacts I had from Ta'ayush. These contacts led us to realize that perhaps they could lead us to high ranking officials at the Palestinian Authority, high ranking prisoners, and then to connect former prisoners and former combatants. Fascinating relationships developed. During Combatants for Peace's first meetings Israeli ex-soldiers met with Palestinian ex-prisoners. There was a completely different kind of discourse, conversations that never were never had before. It wasn't the Ta'ayush kind of discourse of resisting the Occupation or the fence, or organizing an olive harvest or activities, but that of a soldier vis-à-vis his deeds, and a prisoner vis-à-vis his deeds. I was exciting because it was different, and I believed it would have more or a different kind of impact on other audiences. The meetings began with a group from the Bethlehem area, and moved to the Ramallah area. Now this is the main group, and it consists of Palestinians from Ramallah, Anata, Hizmeh - they lead this relationship.

  • Did you participate in Combatants for Peace's meetings as a former combatant?

    No, I'm not a former combatant. I'm an officer and I don't refuse to serve; I had arguments over that in Ta'ayush. I think refusing to serve is complex. On one hand, we need to abide by the law. I'm not an anarchist; I believe we need a set of rules. While some of the laws are racist and some discriminate in crazy ways, I believe we need to walk the road of dialog and peace. On the other hand, I accept that in a democracy there are conscientious objectors who refuse to serve. I don't. At Combatants for Peace, I facilitated the steering committee. I wanted to prevent the Occupation's patterns from being replicated in the organization's work, despite both sides' good intentions. I was afraid of this kind of situation. I wanted to achieve more of a balance in the organization and to promote dialog and equality. I saw my role not as a former combatant, nor as someone who refuses [reserves service] but as an activist from Ta'ayush. My role was to moderate. I tried to expose inequality in the relationships between the sides and raise questions like, "Why aren't you taking part?" "Why are you more active than you should be?" I tried to get both sides to clarify and to expose the points at which they experienced inequality with each other. This isn't easy as part of the discourse of former soldiers, it's a very masculine kind of discourse. I think highly of Combatants for Peace's achievements. They've organized meetings in people's houses, spoken at schools and done things I'm proud and happy they have done.

  • Do you have any prerequisites for Palestinians you meet? Do you expect them to give up the armed struggle?

    I think it's patronizing to say that. I think they should operate the way they believe fit. I don't know what I would if I were in their shoes if I experienced the humiliation they do at checkpoints. If you ask me, I think violence won't lead us anywhere.