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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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Raed Hadar

When he was in high school, Raed Hadar's close friend was killed by the Israeli army as they stood together during a demonstration in the first intifada. Raed later spent three years in an Israeli prison for his participation in attempting to build a bomb. Years later, after the beginning of the second intifada, a friend invited Raed to a gathering of Israelis and Palestinians, during which he met and spoke with Israelis who opposed the occupation of Palestinian territories. At this gathering, he made a connection with an Israeli soldier who refused to further serve in the army, which led to the founding of Combatants for Peace, a group of former Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers who renounce violence and promote reconciliation.

  • Please tell us about yourself and give us some background about how you became who you are today.

    My name is Raed Al Haddar. I was born in Yatta,near Hebron. I completed my high school studies in Yatta. During my final exams I was pursued by the occupation forces1 for a year and spent three years in Hebron's central prison. After my release I went to Bir Zeit University where I studied sociology. After completing my studies at Bir Zeit I settled in Ramallah, where I have been living for the last thirteen years. I am married and have two daughters.

    • 1A term used to refer to the Israeli army.

  • Where did you work in Ramallah?

    I was employed at the Ministry of the Interior when the Palestinian Authority was first created. I later joined a Palestinian organization as a government employee.

  • Why were you pursued by the Israeli army during the first intifada?

    I was pursued for resisting the Israeli occupation. I took part in activities as part of the resistance to the occupation's presence on the streets of my hometown. As a teenager, when I first became aware of the issues around me, like all Palestinian youth, I didn't accept the occupation's presence on our land. We took part in demonstrations and simple resistance measures, which were mostly popular and consistent with the nature of the first intifada, such as throwing stones and going on strike. At the time there were also armed demonstrations, but they were rare. During the final high school exam period I was on my way home with a friend when we came across an Israeli army patrol. A group of us began throwing stones when we saw the jeeps. The stones we threw didn't even make it halfway to the jeeps, but that didn't stop an Israeli soldier from shooting my best friend dead. There was no danger presented to the Israeli soldiers at all, but they still killed him in cold blood. My friend's death greatly saddened me and caused so much pain inside. It drove me to become involved in more violent resistance against the Israelis. My friend was killed beside me when we were on the way home from school. It is hard to come to terms with such an incident. Coping psychologically was not easy at all. This is why I put all my weight behind resisting the occupation. I felt a very deep bitterness toward the Israelis at the time. This marked the beginning of my involvement with organized groups, which were part of Fatah and carried out organized activities against the occupation forces and their presence anywhere in the Palestinian homeland. Our activities at the time took place mostly in Yatta. I looked for ways to inflict the maximum number of casualties on the occupation forces in order to avenge my friend's death. The means we used at the time against the occupation were demonstrations and stone throwing. Later on we managed to develop Molotov cocktails, and occasionally, somebody would open fire on some army units, but this was very rare because of the scarcity of firearms at the time. We tried to produce bombs, but we had an accident and one blew up while we were working on it, injuring the hands of one of my friends. The information eventually reached the Israelis and one person from our group was arrested. After he was tortured in detention he gave up our names and the details of the operations we were planning. They put him under severe physical pressure and took full advantage of his injured hands, so he eventually broke. Armed with the new information, the Israelis tried to arrest us. We managed to get away and were hunted by the occupation for nearly a year. Eventually we were captured, and after being interrogated at length we were put in prison for three years. I attended Bir Zeit University later. Nevertheless, prison was a very important time in my life. It was a personal experience that caused me to understand the nature of the struggle between me and the Israelis and it strengthened my ties with Fatah. This led to my involvement in the organization and its youth movements, especially at Bir Zeit. All of these experiences hadn't changed my view of the conflict and my attitude towards resisting the occupation. I was convinced we had to end the occupation by force and violence because there simply was no other way we could end it. My work became mostly organizational and political after my release from prison. Still, my opinion was that only force and violence could end the occupation. The nature of the occupation and its ugliest crimes confirmed my attitude. A few years later, with the beginning of the second intifada, things started to change. Almost two years into the second intifada my views began to transform.

  • Why did your views begin to change during the second intifada?

    First of all, I had never previously had the chance to meet an Israeli. I didn't know Israelis and had never dealt with them, talked to them or even considered how they might think. With the establishment of the PA there was a relative period of calm during which the Palestinian people felt some kind of relative security.1 This went on until the outbreak of the second intifada and the violence committed by Palestinians and Israelis. The Israeli policy was to drag the Palestinians into armed conflict. Going back to the change and transformation I underwent, I met with some Israelis nearly two years ago. After meeting them, I discovered there were some Israelis who are very decent and have sincere and balanced positions and agree with the Palestinian right for a state and self-determination. They believe in the Palestinian right to live like any other people.

    • 1A reference to the Oslo years, between 1993-2000.

  • What were the circumstances of your meeting with Israelis?

    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.

  • What are the principles of Combatants for Peace and who can become a member of this group?

    After many meetings, we agreed upon several principles. We began by sharing personal stories in order to build confidence. We later agreed upon the group's principles, which are all within the boundaries of international decisions and law. We believe there should be a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders that would provide peace, security and self determination for the Palestinian people. This of course requires the removal of settlements and Jerusalem being the capital of two states. We also believe in Israel's right to live peacefully and securely within its borders. The way in which we reach this goal is something entirely different, but we have agreed with our Israeli partners upon these general principles, and our goal remains realizing them.

  • Do you have to be a former soldier or fighter in order to become a member of the group? What is the structure of the organization?

    The Palestinian members of the group are fighters who took part in resistance to the occupation. They have all suffered at the hands of the occupation, its policies and violence, and therefore are victims of it. The Israeli members are Israeli soldiers who were also victims of the situation. People who have embodied both sides of the conflict are those who are now members of the organization. Of course anybody can take part in our activities, but our focus remains on those who are victims of the conflict and the violence.

  • Supporting Palestinians and aiming to shorten the occupation is an obvious Palestinian interest. What interests do Israelis have to be a member of the group?

    Israelis constantly wave the flag of security for the State of Israel. As Palestinians we want the Israelis to live in peace and security, but we also want the same for the Palestinian people. We are primarily opposed to violence, on both sides. As Palestinians we try to establish a non-violent culture within our society, one that opposes violence against Israelis. We realize that the end of the occupation is directly connected to violence on the ground. When I met the Israeli family during the Sulha meeting we discussed this issue at length. We debated what would end first, violence or the occupation. We compared it to the well-known chicken-egg quandary. We agreed on many issues, but not on this one. Their position was as long as there was violence committed against Israelis, the occupation should continue. I tried to convince them that the occupation was the direct reason for that violence, but they continued to disagree. This was a main point of disagreement. Our position is that we are opposed to any form violence, occupation and the killing and harming of anybody, regardless of the side he belongs to. It is an Israeli interest to live in security, therefore it is within their interest to talk with Palestinians who actively took part in violence against them. In the future we may even involve members of Palestinian opposition groups such as Hamas. I believe it would be a great achievement if we could bring Hamas members to agree to the principles of the group and become a basic part of it. Palestinian resistance to violence is in the greatest Israeli interest.

  • How many members do you currently have?

    There are nearly two hundred Israelis and Palestinians who are currently members of the organization. Most members are previous fighters and soldiers, but there are also many relatives and students who take part in the activities as well.

  • You mentioned one of your goals as a group is to influence the community. How far away from the Israeli and Palestinian mainstream do you consider yourselves to be?

    We don't consider ourselves a part of the political left or right. We believe in certain principles and have certain ideas, and try to pursue them. In the past, many people, especially in Israel, viewed us as members of the political right because we were involved in many kinds of violent activities, but I think our group isn't related to a certain political orientation. When talking to my friends and family about the group, its principles, goals and the way it was created, I noticed they were expressing support for the group in a way I could never have anticipated. In most cases people very strongly supported the very existence of our group. Usually Palestinians view any contact with Israelis with total mistrust, and any dialogue with the Israelis is automatically labeled as "normalization", but when we made our principles and ideas clear, we were widely accepted. You may have noticed in our activity in Anata that people taking part for the first time were skeptical about meeting Israelis. Young Palestinian fighters expressed some real concern when I first made contact with them, but after they attended the meeting their tone was very different. Nearly all of them told me how wonderful an idea it was and agreed that it was a way to achieve the goals and ambitions of the majority of Palestinians. I also met with many Israelis and took part in lectures about the nature and goals of our group. Some Israelis accepted the idea and supported it, but there were also those who were more conservative. The difficulties we face on the Israeli side are greater than on the Palestinian side. All the Palestinians are asking for is a right to determine their own future-- an independent state, an end to the occupation and to be allowed to live peacefully and securely. We have come across many conservative Israelis and our work over there will be more demanding. We want Israelis to accept the idea of a Palestinian state and that there is a people on the other side. We want Israelis to realize that their government is occupying the Palestinian people. Israelis are the ones who determine their government and its fate; therefore we must influence them. Israelis are strongly affected when they realize they are talking to people who have resisted the occupation and suffered at its hands but still found the strength to change their views. When I tell my personal story about the occupation, resistance and prison, I see their fear. Our goal is to destroy that fear. I tell them with the utmost honesty that I used to think in a certain way, but have adopted a new understanding of the way to solve this complicated situation. Usually fear is dominant, but trust is gradually built. We need to invest in gaining the support of ordinary Israelis. Israeli citizens are in most cases simple people who are greatly influenced by the one-sided Israeli media. I talk to them in order to establish some kind of trust.

  • Considering your personal history, how did your family and friends react to your involvement in the organization and the transformation in your views?

    I have an honorable record within Palestinian society, which largely respects those who have fought and sacrificed for the national cause. This gave me the confidence to talk to them straight. I have greater influence in my community than someone with no history of resistance. A young Palestinian fighter has a special status within our society. When I suggest these ideas and express the different views we have about the situation, they are widely and comfortably accepted. I face no problems expressing my opinion and am usually supported in continuing my activities.

  • Do you think it is essential to be a fighter or to have sacrificed or lost a loved one in order for your voice to be heard when calling for non-violence?

    It is not necessary to have been harmed by the occupation, imprisoned or lost someone. Some people are widely respected and are influential in society without having endured those things. As I mentioned before, the core of our activities are by people who have been directly harmed by the occupation. This was the original idea of the group. But they are not necessarily the most influential ones.

  • You said you would consider it an accomplishment if you could convince someone from Hamas to join your group. What would this require and what would it mean?

    In Israel there are factions who believe in peace and the need to establish a Palestinian state, but there are also groups, which we consider extremist, who call for driving Palestinians off their land. Moderate Israelis already have established ideas about the nature of the solution to the conflict, so we actually need to talk to the more extremist ones. They are the people whose support we need. We don't need to re-convince those who already agree with us. It is the same on the Palestinian side. Until now Hamas doesn't recognize the existence of the State of Israel, although I am convinced after they are integrated into the government they will change their position. Being outside the government is different and a lot less demanding than being the official governor, and I think there already is progress with the position of Hamas regarding the existence of two states living side by side. In Israeli eyes, and also in the eyes of many Palestinians, Hamas's position seems somewhat extreme, and their resistance to the two-state solution only serves to strengthen this perception. I am interested in winning over people from Hamas, the same as I am interested in winning over extremists from Palestinian society as a whole.

  • Do you think your group can make a change in the conflict?

    This is a big question. We are still at the beginning of the road, but to say we can transform the situation and change things overnight is quite a long shot. Change will be gradual, but we are sincere in our belief that through our efforts and faith we can make a change. We believe the group will continue to expand and have a direct influence on the conflict between us and the Israelis. I am confident our group will be influential within Israeli and Palestinian society.

  • What is your opinion of previous peace attempts, and what is the importance of the role of the people? Why don't you just leave it to the politicians to solve the conflict?

    As a group we aren't involved in politics. We are not political negotiators who may discuss putting an end to the conflict. Our role is to put pressure on the Israeli and Palestinian governments and try to influence Israeli and Palestinian society. We have certain tools that can be put to use to shorten the current cycle of violence. When negotiations began between the PA and Israel they were held under international law. Since then successive Israeli governments, especially right wing ones, weren't interested in the continuation of negotiations and constantly pushed events towards a dead end. Under the leadership of Abu Ammar may he rest in peace, Palestinians believed in negotiations and a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. The Israelis constantly laid obstacles in the way of negotiations because they weren't interested in reaching a solution that would include a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. This was the direct reason for the failure of negotiations over the past years. We work within Israeli society in order to influence it in a way that will hopefully make it elect a government that believes in negotiations and the creation of an independent Palestinian state according to international law while removing the settlements and accepting Jerusalem as its capital. This is our role; we are not negotiators and won't get involved in the political details of the talks. We are fighters who have emerged from the battlefield and are trying to convince people of the different approach we have adopted.

  • What is your view of the resolution to the conflict, and what is required in order to reach it?

    The solution must be a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital of both states. It is hard to imagine a different solution.

  • Are there minimal requirements you demand from your Israeli counterparts for you to work with them?

    All members of our group agree upon some basic political principles. We try to influence anybody with views contrasting ours because we believe the basic principles we have determined for the group are the only way that will lead us to the joint aim of both Israelis and Palestinians. We don't reject someone with an opinion different than ours, yet we try to convince him to join us.

  • What is the nature of your activities?

    Our current activities involve meeting Israeli and Palestinian audiences in order to explain to them the ideas and principles of our group and the way to shorten the occupation and mutual violence. We organize the meetings in schools, coffee shops, universities and private homes. We also meet with Europeans whose influence on the conflict, at present as well as in the past, is substantial. I traveled to Italy with an Israeli soldier to take part in a demonstration and held meetings with parties from the left and the center of the political map. These meetings were important to ensure a greater European role in the conflict in the future.

  • What stereotypes and pre-conceived ideas did you encounter while meeting Israelis?

    Many Israelis had wrong conceptions about Palestinians such as their being terrorists and naturally violent. It was apparent that Israelis were deeply affected by their media, which constantly projects wrong and negative images of us. I try to talk to them directly about the nature of the Palestinian people, our hopes and ambitions and the way we view Israelis. I try to dismantle their preconceived ideas about us, and in many cases it works. The images of a terrorist and violence are deeply engraved within the Israeli mentality, and I try to convince them we are not like that. The fact that there are Palestinians who use violence against Israelis doesn't mean we are all violent.

  • What is the importance of the international community in the conflict?

    The international community has a very an important role in the conflict. Europeans and Americans in particular can put pressure on the Israeli government on issues such as negotiations and acceptance of international treaties. Europeans have an important role in the conflict and can help solve it.

  • Is there a message you wish to convey to the international community?

    I ask the Europeans not to abandon the Palestinians and remain objective. The Israel lobby1 constantly works within Europe and the US, especially with the media. Even in Italy I met people with misconceptions regarding Palestinians. Many people simply didn't know the facts of the conflict and thought Palestinians were a minority within Israel who were just going through a hard humanitarian time. They weren't even aware of the national dimension of the issue and the struggle of an occupied people for independence. As a Palestinian it is my duty to make it clear to those people that we are two different people one of which was under military occupation enforced by the other. We stressed that we weren't a group of people in need of improvement of their humanitarian situation. I consider the proper presentation of my people's struggle a small triumph. Israelis have many more means than we do and have groups embedded within European society, therefore they can readily influence European decision-making. The result is that Europe leans towards the Israeli position. Our interest is objectivity and fairness in positions regarding the Palestinian issue, mainly from Americans and Europeans, because we don't have the means or a powerful media to show our suffering at the hands of the occupation. Another of our goals as a group is to show Europeans the suffering Palestinians are forced to go through; land confiscation and misery in general. I ask the Europeans not to leave us on our own while the occupation carries on killing, torturing and suppressing Palestinians. We ask them to take an objective stand towards the conflict and put direct pressure on the Israeli government. Many ways were suggested on how to create a Palestinian state. I don't make any distinctions between the Europeans and Americans, when I say international community I am referring to the outside world and how to increase its involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Europeans and Americans play an important role in the conflict and can put pressure on the Israeli government to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders or according to international law.

    • 1The term "The Israel Lobby" came into popular use after Professors John Mearsheimer (University of Chicago) and Stephen Walt (Harvard) published an article and later a book entitled The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy (working paper first posted 23 March, 2006). The thesis suggests that a conglomeration of pro-Israel individuals and institutions in the United States have been driving its Middle East policy, irrationally setting Israel's interests ahead of American security. The thesis is a subject of great debate. See Mearsheimer, John and Stephen Walt. "The Israel Lobby." London Review of Books. 23 March 2006. 9 January, 2009. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/mear01_.html. For a critique and analysis, see Zunes, Stephen. "The Israel Lobby: How Powerful is it Really?" Foreign Policy in Focus. 16 May, 2006. 9 January, 2009. http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/3270.

  • What is the origin of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

    Analysis of the history of the conflict can be problematic, because I may look at history from a different angle than the Israelis. We brought this issue up during meetings of the group, and it was suggested to try to determine a joint and agreed upon Israeli-Palestinian historical account. We ended up putting off the issue because of the likely prospect for disagreement. Basically, there is this piece of land on earth which we are both fighting over. The conflict is about who controls this piece of land. As Palestinians we have a historic right over the land; our right entitles us to live on this land. There exists another people, the Israeli people. The conflict has been going on for more than a hundred years, and the killing is still taking place. A fair solution would be to divide the land and live together in peace and security. The historical roots and the beginning of the conflict is a long story. The Israelis came to this land and enforced a reality upon the Palestinians and the tale is long and difficult, but land is the fundamental cause for conflict.

  • Does religion play a part in the conflict?

    Religion pays an important role in the conflict. Many Israelis take into account religious writings promising them this land and call it "the promised land" or "greater Israel." These are all religious factors that influence their management of political issues and their view of the conflict. On the other hand, there are Palestinians who consider Palestine a holy land and Jerusalem a sacred place. All these factors are important parts of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.