I was born on an urban kibbutz in Brooklyn, where everyone spoke Hebrew, and dreamed of establishing or joining a kibbutz in Palestine. I had a typical New York Jewish childhood of the ‘50s, going to school, playing on the streets and taking piano and guitar lessons.
I joined a Zionist youth movement at the age of ten, and I longed to realize the kibbutz dream for myself. I came here to live on a kibbutz in 1963 because I believed that was a model for humanity, not only for Israel, a collective, egalitarian, democratic way to organize how human beings live together. I also considered myself a Zionist, and believed in the Jewish right to national self-determination like any other nation. [On kibbutz] I was a shepherd and a part-time music teacher. There was no television in Israel (it only arrived in 1968) and the outer world, the conflict, seemed rather dormant.
I always believed in peace. Even back in the States I was supporting the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King. Then along came the Six Day War, the 1967 war. Kibbutz Barkai, where I lived, was three and a half kilometers from the West Bank border. My friends and I, who had come together to the kibbutz, were assigned the responsibility of defending the kibbutz in case it was attacked. We were very young, and we had one day of training.
On the eve of the war, I felt very vulnerable and threatened. Radio Ramallah was a very popular radio station at the time because it was the best source of rock and roll. On the eve of the war, Radio Ramallah and Radio Cairo broadcast programs where people were saying, "We are coming to get you." I totally identified with the sense of vulnerability, of being threatened, and having to defend ourselves. Then the war broke out and after six days it was over. Everyone felt a tremendous sense of relief. Within six days everything had been transformed. I didn't realize at that point to what degree everything was transformed. There was a sense of euphoria, and very few people were concerned with the implications of what had happened. There were a handful of people, like the philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who said we had to immediately give back all of the territories. Some said we should use the territory as a negotiating card - territories in exchange for peace. Most people—and I was also part of this—just felt relief that we could go about our lives without feeling threatened.
We were also very curious to visit these new territories. We went in groups, we had this big truck at the kibbutz and we got into the truck and toured the West Bank. We had a five-day tour of the Sinai going down to the Suez Canal and we had a tour of the Golan Heights. It was a discovery, a curiosity about the neighbors. I remember the astonishment I felt that Bethlehem was just ten minutes away from Jerusalem. I thought it was another world...yet it's so close. It was basically curiosity. There was one person on our kibbutz who refused in principle to even cross the [Green] Line. The rest of us weren't saying this land is ours, but we were curious. I do remember a little child in the West Bank, taking a stick and pointing it at us. That image stuck with me.
In 1973, the Yom Kippur War, the October War, I was in the IDF. I was called up with most of the younger generation, and it was total chaos, nobody knew what was happening. I spent the next eight months in combat duty on the Syrian front. I always felt what I was doing in the army was defensive and not offensive. I served in the IDF reserves for twenty years, always carrying a rifle. I never fired it, because I never had a reason to, but I always carried it. I came off eight months of being on the front lines with a very different perspective. Suddenly I had a very deep, profound, experience with the conflict. My conclusion was that that status quo was totally untenable; we could not occupy the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and Sinai indefinitely. We had to work towards a solution, and here was an opportunity to do so. It was unfortunate that it took a war to put things in motion, but we now know in retrospect that this was Sadat's strategy, a partial military action to put things in motion.
I had completed two years of studies in literature at Tel Aviv University, and I began going to demonstrations, and did somehow manage to complete my studies. I eventually left the kibbutz and moved to the city. I had just accepted a job setting up the Modern Literature program at the newly established Open University, when in November 1977 I attended the 20th anniversary celebration of New Outlook Magazine, which was founded in 1957 as a joint Jewish-Arab initiative in Israel, an English language monthly based in Tel Aviv, which included analysis of the conflict and the reality in Israel and the region. It was also intended as a catalyst for dialogue and initiatives for peace. I was given an opportunity to become involved, to be plugged in to the making and changing of history, and for the next thirteen years I worked in all sorts of capacities at New Outlook.