We met through a friend who invited me to a joint Israeli-Palestinian meeting in Tel Aviv,
under the name of "Sulha" (reconciliation).
At the time I didn't even think I would get a permit to enter Israel.
Sulha was the beginning of my dialogue with Israelis. To be more specific, I met with an Israeli family. I met with a mother and her daughters and we talked about the conflict between us and about the occupation's violence toward Palestinian civilians, the killing of women and children, confiscation of land and so on. It was then that I realized there were Israelis I could relate to and talk to who believed Israelis and Palestinians should both live peacefully and securely in their own state.
Up until that moment my view was that all Israelis were the same and shared the same mentality. At that moment I realized that that wasn't the case and that there were differences in beliefs among them. I saw then that there were Israelis who wanted to live side by side with the Palestinians and that not all of them wanted to kill and occupy us. I realized that there were Israelis who opposed their government's policy that aims to maintain the occupation of another people. Afterwards I began to feel that as long as there are Israelis who think like that, I must work to talk to them and gain their support as a Palestinian resisting or trying to shorten the occupation. This meeting was important for me. It let me look at Israelis from a different angle.
Also during the Sulha, I met with a retired Israeli soldier who refused to further serve in the army.
He spoke in front of an Israeli and Palestinian audience of his experience in the Israeli army and his participation in the occupation and humiliation of Palestinians. Personally I was bewildered by this situation. It was strange to see an Israeli soldier talking about his role in the occupation. Part of the program was to listen to an Israeli soldier who had taken part in the occupation, but also to a Palestinian man who had violently resisted the occupation. I was chosen to be that Palestinian, so I began telling my story. The idea was quite new to me, and at the same time very strange. I really didn't expect a soldier to talk like that. All this strengthened my belief in talking to the Israelis even more.
These reasons were combined with another, which was the martyrdom
of a cousin of mine during this intifada. The town he lived in was surrounded and under curfew. My cousin heard some unusual activity around his house, so he opened the door to take a look at what was going on. He hardly managed to open the door and put his head out when an Israeli sniper shot him in the head, killing him instantly. This was also an important reason.
The martyrdom of my good friend in high school directly caused me to resist the occupation with all my strength using all forms of resistance. The martyrdom of my cousin much later caused me to think about the nature of the conflict and the situation between us and the Palestinians in a different way. I was greatly saddened by the loss of another person who was dear to me, but the loss made me think of things differently. I asked myself how long this violence, killing and humiliation could possibly go on.
Also when I saw operations
carried out within Israel on a bus in Netanya
or a restaurant in Tel Aviv where children, the elderly or little girls were targeted, I felt pain. It is painful to see torn body parts of civilians although they might be part of a people who are occupying us. It was painful to watch from a human point of view. All these elements, and the ongoing violence and killing on both sides drives a person to think seriously about these issues and ponder the continuation of such things.
At the Sulha, contact was established between me and that soldier and we later went on to organize meetings with Israeli soldiers. Some friends of mine suggested this, and it later developed into more general meetings with Israeli soldiers refusing to serve in the army. Not long ago some of my colleagues met with a group of Israeli soldiers and began a series of meetings between the two sides. Things began to develop between us and we started discussing certain principles and putting together a future policy for the group. I clearly remember a specific Israeli friend telling us about the change in his attitude and understanding. His sister was killed in a bombing in Tel Aviv or Netanya. It must have been extremely painful for him. The loss of a sister must be one of the hardest things that can happen to someone. Later on during his army service his officer asked him to take revenge. He gave him his full support to kill any Palestinian from a crowd they were both observing. The bereaved soldier was deeply shocked by his commander's request despite the psychological state he was in that could have driven him to avenge his sister's death. He thought to himself, ‘was it right to start killing innocent people who have families and loved ones as blind vengeance? Was it right to kill even more people?' This was the beginning of the change in his attitude that later led to his refusal to serve in the army. He realized he was indeed taking part in wrongdoing as a part of an occupying military force that was suppressing another people.
On the Palestinian side, fighters had their own defining moments too. They all went through experiences that caused them to reject violence as a way to resist the occupation and as an effective means to an end. As a group we don't aspire to overturn the situation overnight or end the occupation immediately, but as long as there are Israeli soldiers and civilians we can cooperate and talk with, we can at least positively influence the current circle of conflict.
There are many Israelis with balanced and realistic political views, and I respect them for that. On the other hand there are many Israelis who hold extreme views whom we can also influence through our work. The fact that an Israeli soldier who used to think he was defending his country and didn't regard what he did as occupation can change his mind indicates that to a certain extent there is an acceptance of changes in opinion among the wider Israeli public. In the future this public may apply pressure on the Israeli government and establishment. This could lead to the shortening of the occupation and progress toward a two-state solution.
Palestinians may begin rethinking their philosophy of resistance and actions such as bombings inside Israel.