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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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Walid Salem

Walid Salem is the director of Panorama, the Palestinian Center for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development in East Jerusalem and author of numerous texts about the conflict. He was imprisoned by Israel a number of times in the 1970s and 80s for being an active political member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Walid joined Panorama after the initiation of the Oslo process, and has since conducted joint studies and activities with Israeli academics and peace groups. He also conducts training sessions in democracy, nonviolence and civil society building with Palestinian groups.

  • Can you please tell me a little about your background?

    I was born in June of 1957 in Ras El Amoud, which is a part of Silwan1 in Jerusalem. I finished high school at the Ummah School in Jerusalem. I was imprisoned for the first time when I was in 12th grade in 1975, so I had to write my Tawjihi exams2 in prison. I got out in June 1976 after ten months of detention and enrolled in Bir Zeit University to study social science. I spent a long time away from the classroom because I was politically active and was constantly sitting in the cafeteria engaged in politics! I was imprisoned for a year and a half while in university; 76 days of which I was in interrogation chambers--but I didn't confess. With all that, it took me eight years to finish my studies instead of four. After that I worked as a journalist in eleven newspapers and magazines for almost eleven years. All of them got closed down by occupation forces. At the time I was still politically active with Palestinian organizations that opposed occupation and all those newspapers and magazines had strong political agendas against occupation. The last time I was administratively detained was for a total of one and a half years in six months intervals. I got out in February 1993 and joined Panorama3 as a board member. That is when I started to have political and organizational disagreement with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which ended with my withdrawal from the Front. From '94 to this day I've been writing books and giving lectures about civil society, democracy and human rights-- Palestinian citizens' rights-- as well as being active in peace work. I worked in the media for a long time. I also worked as a trainer. I have trained 20-25,000 people in issues of democracy, civil society, management and strategic planning all over the West Bank. I have written a few books concerning democracy, human rights and civil society, youth, social development and the right of refugees to return to their homes. This is an over-view of the main fields I have worked in.

    • 1A Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem bordering on the Old City.
    • 2Matriculation exams, a required by the Palestinian Ministry of Education for graduation and university entrance.
    • 3An organization based in Jerusalem that promotes Palestinian civil society. It was established in 1991. See Panorama.

  • For an outside audience, could you explain why you were imprisoned or detained?

    This is part of my past and I have forgotten about it, but in 1975 I was detained for being a member of the political wing of the Arab Communist Ba'th party.1 The detentions in the eighties were for being charged with being a member of the DFLP, although I never admitted to it. In '91 I was charged with being a member of the higher central committee of the DFLP. According to the DFLP, it was considered a betrayal to admit you were a member, since it considered itself a secret movement. Admitting you were a member was considered a betrayal of your country and of the DFLP. Of course there were members that would confess, but the higher ranked leadership of the Front would never confess. I was considered one of those leaders, that's why I was committed not to confess.

    • 1A pan-Arab nationalist-socialist party. Historically popular in Iraq and Syria.

  • What about George Habash?

    What about George Habash? There are acknowledged leaders for every party. That is true, there are acknowledged leaders that lived outside the country, but we were present inside the country, in the occupied land. Of course all of that was before the PA came into power and fighting occupation was considered to be secretive. Despite all those conditions I was always involved in the political wing, I was never part of the militant wing; I never shot a bullet or learned how to use a weapon, which explains why my detention periods were not very long, relatively. The sum of the time I was in detention was five years, whereas the militant activists were detained for longer periods.

  • Please tell me about your role in Panorama and your activities there.

    I started my work in Panorama as a member of the board between 1993 and 1995. I then started working with the staff of Panorama. Since 1997 I have been the director of the Jerusalem office of the organization. I also participate in the organization's training programs.

  • What is the nature of Panorama's activities?

    The organization went through four stages during its evolution. During the first stage between 1991 and 1994 we concentrated on horizontally spreading democracy in Palestinian society, through workshops from Jenin to Hebron. At that time we did not work in Gaza. In the period we also concentrated on developing Palestinian literature about democracy through conferences that we held. The "first conference" in 1993 resulted in a big report about democracy in Palestine. This was an international conference attended by academic and political people from around the world in addition to Palestine. The second stage was between 1994 and 1997. During this stage we concentrated on spreading democracy mainly among the youth. The third stage was between 1997 and 2000. During this period we concentrated more on vertical approaches concerning democracy. We held training sessions about democracy; we wanted to inform people about participatory mechanisms, and how to use participation on the level of planning, follow up, monitoring and evaluation and on the level of ministries, NGOs,1 security mechanisms, women and youth organizations. We trained all these parties in the mechanisms and tools of participation, which is democracy inside organizations. In other words, we tried to democratize the structure of the organizations. The fourth stage began in the year 2000. During this stage we started to focus not only on training for democracy, but focusing on building organizations. We help organizations build strategic plans. Part of our work, in addition to spreading democracy, is community development. Our name is the Palestinian Center for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development. We started working on community development and then on helping associations build themselves. These are the main stages in our development. During these stages we initiated many activities and discussions concerning Palestinian society, most of them about democracy, civil society, civil rights and civic education. These were the dimensions we concentrated on during our programs. You may ask about the joint projects we hold with the Israeli society. We started holding joint projects in 1997. This does not mean that we had no activities before. We had activities but most of them were with the Left wing, most of which wasn't Zionist. After 1996 we started thinking about becoming more open to Jewish groups that support Palestinian national rights, even if they considered themselves Zionist groups. It was then that the idea of joint projects began. Within this framework the director of the organization, Dr. Malki, founded the Copenhagen Group. The International Alliance for Peace was based in Copenhagen in 1997. This alliance included intellectuals and politicians from Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Jordan.2 This alliance still exists. In addition to this alliance we started having joint projects with Israeli groups. At the present time we have the following joint projects: one project is "Peace and Justice." In this project there is cooperation with Israeli groups. During this project we will hold activities in June about the Israeli occupation. We hold activities every year about this. This year we held a demonstration against the wall, in Ram.3 We held a conference in the Seven Arches Hotel4 about the issues of peace. 101 people, including 52 Israelis, 38 Palestinians and seven foreigners attended the conference. After this conference we held a meeting for 14 groups that support peace from both sides. The purpose of the meeting was to coordinate future activities. We organize domestic meetings between Palestinians and Israelis. The purpose of these meetings is to create an opportunity for both sides to talk about the issues of peaceful coexistence and the normalization of relations. These meetings don't replace general meetings that are held between Israeli and Palestinian activists who meet in order to exchange experiences and ideas about enhancing peace activities and contributing to peace. Another project is the Code of Ethics for the academics on both sides about the responsibility of being leaders during the current situation. Should academics be more committed to performing their work as academics than to performing their social responsibilities regarding events? If you are a teacher of human rights, what is your responsibility regarding daily killings? As an academic you should combine theories and reality. This project tries to develop a code of ethics in order to encourage academics to take a more active roll, to try to implement their ideas in reality. The European Centre for Conflict Prevention (ECCP),5 the Truman Institute6 and Panorama are cooperating in writing a book about the roll of civil society in peace building in Israel and Palestine. The book will be issued in English by the ECCP in Holland. The book is almost ready to be printed. These are four projects I work on in the Jerusalem office of Panorama. There is another project called "Bringing Peace Together." Our next steps in this project will include planning strategies for reconciliation and strategies for disarmament demobilization and reintegration of the armed groups in the political system.

    • 1Non-Governmental Organizations.
    • 2A group in which Egyptians, Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians cooperate for a common peace agenda. Kimche, David "Winning over public opinion" Edition 5 Volume 1 - August 07, 2003 http://www.bitterlemons-international.org/previous.php?opt=1&id=5
    • 3The separation barrier under construction by the Israeli government cuts through Ram (or A-Ram or Al-Ram) a Palestinian area north of Jerusalem. Ram's population is approximately 65,000 and it is located about 7km north of East Jerusalem's center. It is considered an important economic gateway to Jerusalem. See "Impacts of Construction the Wall in AL-Ram area" Health Inforum News (World Health Organization) Volume 3, No.50, 1 July 2004 http://domino.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/dfe57f8a98bd916985256eec004a8da4?OpenDocument
    • 4Located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
    • 5A Netherlands-based, independent non-governmental organization (NGO) that represents a network of 150 European organizations. Its mission is to prevent and resolve violent conflicts. www.conflict-prevention.net
    • 6Founded in 1965 to support studies on the "history, politics, and social development of the non-Western world, with particular emphasis on the Middle East." Though a quasi-independent center, it is closely affiliated with Hebrew University and is located on its Mount Scopus campus in East Jerusalem. http://truman.huji.ac.il/

  • Who are the Palestinians who take part in the joint Israeli-Palestinian projects?

    Palestinian academics contributed to Bridging the Divide, a book published jointly with Israeli academics. I will go through the chapters of the book. I wrote the first chapter, the historical review of the cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian civil societies, with Edy Kaufman.1 The second chapter, about the Palestinian civil society, was written with Dr. Manuel Hassasian. The third chapter, about Israeli civil society, was written with Dr. Tamar Hermann2 from Tel Aviv University. The fourth chapter, about joint ventures, was written with Gershon Baskin3 and Dr. Mohammad Dajani.4 The fifth chapter, about negotiation, was written with Menahem Klein5 and Dr. Riad Al Malki.6 The sixth chapter, about the strategies of non-violence, was written with with Dr. Mohammad Abu Nimer,7 an Israeli Arab who lives in the US. The seventh chapter, about the roles of Israelis and Palestinians in the peace process, was written with Dr. Khaled Abu-Asbah8 and Shuli Dichter.9 The eighth chapter was written with with Edy Kaufman and Juliet Verhoeven. We held a meeting about the Code of Ethics in Barcelona. The Palestinians who attended included Mr. Sami Al Kilani10 from Nablus University,11 Dr. Noah Salameh,12 director of Wifaq Center in Bethlehem, Riad Malki, myself, Dr. Mohammad Dajani, Atel Kaimari, a well-known journalist, and Ilan Halevi13 who is a Palestinian Jew, not an Israeli, who lives in Paris and Ramallah and who has been a member of Fatah since 1971. The Israelis included Edy Kaufman, Menahem Klein and Yossi Yonah,14 from Beer Sheva university15 and others. There where a number of Spanish people as well. In this conference we discussed issues related to the academic debate. I can talk about the Israeli-Palestinian interaction during that conference. Menahem Klein wrote about Edward Said.16 I wrote a paper about the debate around normalization, how it affects relations with Israel, and the Arab position concerning the issue. I found that there was a strong Israeli position against normalization. Normalization isn't rejected only by our side, but also by the Israeli side. This issue is problematic. For example, when the settlers claim that the Palestinians are strangers in this land, and that they should either live as strangers or leave, this is a position against normalization. When Israel claims that their basic identity is European, not Middle Eastern, they consider themselves to be in a position of "us against Arab culture," even against knowing about Arab culture, and this is a position against normalization. There were differences of opinion among the Israelis themselves. Menahem Klein's position about normalization was that the Israelis should be part of the European culture. Yossi Yonah's position was that Israel will cease to exist if it does not know the language and culture and become a part of the area. Edy Kaufman claimed that every nationality may have many identities. Israel may have a European identity and a Middle Eastern identity. He also said that the Palestinians may have a European identity or a Middle Eastern identity without contradiction. Among the Israelis there were three main positions about the identity of Israel. Among the Palestinians there was debate about Edward Said. One side claimed that it is enough to create a thinker that makes important contributions to human culture. The other side claimed that Said should have left a mark on Palestine like the architect Gaudi17 left his mark on Barcelona. This is an example of the pluralism within the two sides. The debate during the conference was good. The conference papers are going to be printed as a book financed by the city council of Barcelona. Based on the results of the conference, we will continue our work on the Code of Ethics.

    • 1Director of the Truman Center. He has focused on human rights and conflict resolution on several continents, especially Latin America and the Middle East. http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/staffmember.asp?id=11
    • 2Director of the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, in Tel Aviv University, Israel. http://www.nif.org/content.cfm?cat_ID=1415&currbody=1
    • 3A professional practitioner in negotiations, conflict resolution and peacemaking organization. He is the co-director of IPCRI (Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information). See Just Vision interview with Gershon Baskin.
    • 4Founder and Director of the American Studies Institute, Al-Quds University, Jerusalem.
    • 5A political scientist and author who teaches at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv and works with the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. He is the author of Doves Over Jerusalem.
    • 6Founder of the Copenhagen Group and director of the Panorama Center.
    • 7Assistant Professor in the School of International Service at American University. Abu-Nimer received Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a Ph.D. from George Mason University in Washington, DC. He is on Just Vision's review board. http://www.justvision.org/who_we_are.php#22
    • 8A lecturer at the school of education at Beit Berl Teachers Training College in Kfar Saba and a leader in the education field in Israel and Palestine.
    • 9Co-Director of Sikkuy: Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel. http://www.sikkuy.org.il/english/media.html
    • 10Director of the Community Service Center at An-Najah National University in Nablus, Palestine, and director of the UNESCO chair on human rights and Democracy. http://www.zajel.org/article_view.asp?newsID=54&cat=22.
    • 11Also called An-Najah University, the largest University in the West Bank. http://www.najah.edu/
    • 12Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation (also known by its Arabic acronym "Wifaq") in Bethlehem.
    • 13A writer and analyst of Middle East affairs who is self-identified as a Palestinian Jew. He has long been a representative of Fatah in the Socialist international, and was the Palestinian deputy foreign minister at the time of Arafat's death.
    • 14Teaches philosophy of education and political philosophy in the department of education, Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva.
    • 15Refers to Ben-Gurion University in Beer Sheva, which has approximately 15,000 students.
    • 16(1935-2003) A Palestinian who was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Cairo, he is widely considered one of the most influential literary critics in the 20th century. He was a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. He was also very outspoken about Israel-Palestine and published several books and countless articles on the subject. Ruthven, Malise "Edward Said" The Guardian (UK) 9/26/03 http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,1049931,00.html
    • 17(1852-1926) An important modernist architect from Spain. Many of his most famous works are in Barcelona.

  • Were Palestinians able to come to the conference from all over the West Bank?

    Sadly, they were able to come only from Jerusalem. I say sadly because we were expecting people from all over the West Bank but they were unable to travel. One of the problems of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation is that people from the West Bank can't participate in meetings. The only way to meet is via video conference or if Israelis come to Palestinian cities or towns. It is hard to meet with Israelis now because the Israelis can't go into West Bank cities and the Palestinians can't move freely. In this situation the Palestinians are more in need of the sympathy of the Israelis concerning the wall and other issues. There are Israeli groups who are working on ways to deal with the wall and the checkpoints and other issues. For example, Ta'ayush performs real acts of sympathy with the Palestinians. There is a project that I haven't told you about which is MECCA--Middle East and Central Caucasus Citizen Assembly-which includes groups from places like Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and others. We held our preparation meeting in Amman and people from Morocco, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Turkey and Iran attended. Israel was present with all those people. There were also people from France and Holland. Prince Hasan of Jordan1 attended as well. The main idea is to transform the Middle Eastern people from subjects to citizens. The Arab regimes treat its people as subjects and not as citizens. We started working on founding a chapter for MECCA in Palestine, and another one in Israel. There are already attempts to found one in Jordan, and in Iraq there have been some serious steps taken to found a chapter there. There is already a committee working in Morocco but there hasn't been enough done in Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Iran. There are other countries that didn't come to the meeting, like Syria and Lebanon, because of the normalization issue with Israel, so we will go to them! There is a delegation from MECCA going to Syria and Lebanon to found chapters there. The Egyptians didn't come so another delegation from MECCA will go to Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities. We hope that by the end of the year we will have founded chapters for MECCA all over the Middle East.

    • 1Younger brother of the late King Hussein of Jordan.

  • When did you start doing work related to the conflict?

    Since 1974 I was a political activist in the Palestinian political parties. I spent five years of my life in prison. As a result of my time in prison and my political work, I started to discover, after 1994, the importance of working with the Israeli people. It is not enough for us as Palestinians to work against the Israeli people from the outside; we need to work with the Israeli people from the inside in order to achieve equality. We need to talk to the Israelis, because the Israeli media doesn't present a true picture of what is happening. We need to talk to the Israeli people and present to them the true picture of our reality and at the same time look at the reality from their side. We should be influenced by the other side as well as influencing them. Through these activities we build peace from the base, and not from above between political leaders only. We need to build peace through relations between the two people. This may be called normalization or criticized as peace work among the Palestinian public, but this is an implementation of the decision of the PLO from 1974. The PLO decided on the importance of the work with the Israeli public in 1974, in the twelfth national council.1 It is very important to work with the Israeli people because the Israeli government is decided by elections, therefore working with the Israeli people will ensure political change in their government, which will lead to peace in the future.

    • 1Twelfth National Council of the PLO. Though the importance of working with the Israeli public may have been discussed during the meeting, it was not explicitly declared as a step in its political program. http://palestine-un.org/plo/doc_one.html

  • You used to work with the Israeli Left. Is it more important for you to work with the Israeli Right and Center now?

    There are different views about this issue. My personal opinion is that it is important to reach the Israeli people on the street. Not the Right or the Left. I ask my Israeli counterparts to organize public meetings that are attended by the largest number of Israelis. They also request to appear in meetings attended by many Palestinians, but this is only possible in Jerusalem and not in the West Bank. We organized meetings for Israelis and Palestinians to appear in front of audiences from the other side. This is very important in order to create dialogue and to make each side more willing to accept and consider the point of view of the other side. This is important in order to prevent the exclusion of the other side's arguments and to take the other side's point of view into consideration when planning for the future.

  • Do you think these activities contribute to peace?

    There is controversy concerning this issue. There are two analyses. Edward Said wrote in 1994, when he withdrew from meeting with Israelis, that these meetings are without purpose, and that most of the attendees do so for financial reasons, not because of feelings of national responsibility.1 He said that the Israelis benefit more from the meetings because they come better prepared. The Israelis have an organized agenda, in contrast to the Palestinians who aren't organized. He also claimed that the Israelis are more coordinated than the Palestinians and therefore the relations are unbalanced and the Palestinians participate coming from an inferior position. This is one evaluation. According to another evaluation there are clear results from these activities, and if you combine the results, the effect on the two societies is substantial. Recent proof of this is that as a result of the Geneva Initiative by Ami Ayalon, Sharon was forced to announce plans for withdrawal from Gaza. The withdrawal from Gaza isn't a complete peace plan, but different peace initiatives force even the Israeli Right to be more open to different perspectives and create its own initiatives. Therefore peace initiatives have a direct result in the form of convincing people about peace, and an indirect result in the form of forcing the political powers to start developing ideas for a solution to the situation. The direct and indirect results combined can have great effects. If we stop the meetings, what is the substitution for influencing the Israeli public? A better alternative to stopping the meetings is evaluating the current work program and trying to find the flaws in order to build better programs for the future according to the lessons learned.

    • 1Said, Edward Peace and Its Discontents: Essays on Palestine in the Middle East Peace Process Vintage Books, 2000, particularly, Chapter 3 "The Limits to Cooperation (Late December 1993)" and the Conclusion, "The Middle East "Peace Process": Misleading Images and Brutal Actualities (October 1995)."

  • Why did you choose this course of action?

    I've worked in other fields. I've worked in spreading non-violence and democracy among the Palestinian society. I work as a trainer and a writer. I work in many fields. This is one of the things I do. What I say to everyone, including the Israelis, is that the Israelis have a problem, which is that they work with the Palestinians more than with the Israeli society. If you want to make a real effort for peace, you should work intensely with the Israeli society and not only with the Palestinians. It is important to work with the Palestinians and show that you have peaceful intentions, but it is also important that you spread the peaceful intentions among your own society. I say the same to the Palestinians. We as Palestinians should deal with all the dimensions of our citizenship as Palestinians. A dimension of my citizenship is being a responsible citizen of my country. Another dimension of my citizenship is my relationship with our neighboring countries, not only Israel. As a responsible citizen I should be multi-dimensional. The responsibility cannot be divided; I should perform all my responsibilities, internally and externally.

  • What are the challenges you face?

    The challenges facing me in Palestinian society are the un-democratic political elites. The people are democratic, but the leadership isn't. My problem regarding democratic society isn't with the people, but with the leaders-- not only the PA, but all the leaders. One of the challenges for a national democracy in Palestinian society is democratization of the leading political powers in terms of their work and decision-making. If they are democratized, they will encourage social involvement and not presume that they should work instead of the people. If they are democratized they will start working in popular ways that are mainly non-violent. The challenges and problems facing democracy and popular involvement strategies are the political elites that are not used to sharing control and think that they should determine the agenda and make decisions for the people, not with the people. There is a difference between deciding for the people and deciding with the people. We developed a Palestinian peace program in 1974.1 This was an initial program. We developed a complete peace program in 1988.2 The main concept of this program is two countries for two people and mutual recognition of and between the two countries. Oslo was founded on this principle. The main challenge is the clarity of the Israeli peace program. When we have a clear Palestinian peace program, we don't have a clear Israeli peace program. We talk about a Palestinian State that will be founded in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem;3 we are very clear. When it comes to the Israelis, the Left and Right want a Palestinian state. When you get down to the details about what Palestinian state they are talking about, you realize there are differences. Sharon offers Gaza and 42% of the West Bank.4 This is not a state. The Israeli Left has its differences also. The Labor party wants corrections to our proposal and Meretz wants fewer changes. There are many problems, among the Left and the Right, concerning Jerusalem. There are problems for everyone with the issue of the refugees, despite the existence of the Taba agreement; the Israeli side has problems accepting this agreement. The right-wing has abandoned the agreement altogether. Sharon has rejected the five options given to the refugees in Taba.5 The Israeli people aren't united in their position towards peace. The Palestinian people made a clear decision about peace in 1988. Because of this it is important to work with the Israeli people in order to help create an Israeli peace program.

    • 1The 12th session of the Palestinian National Congress declares that a permanent and just peace rests on Palestinian "national rights and, first and foremost, their rights to return and to self-determination on the whole of the soil of their homeland." It also accepted the notion of a phased solution, which meant starting with a small state in the Occupied Territories. Critics point out that the end-goal was still the end of Israel as a political state. http://www.mideastweb.org/plo1974.htm
    • 2Salem is referring to the 1988 shift in Palestine Liberation Organization rhetoric and strategy. Caving to US pressure to renounce terrorism and accept UN resolution 242, Arafat announced at a speech in December 1988 that the PLO 1. Accepted Resolution 242; 2. Promised recognition of Israel; 3. Renounced terrorism. See http://www.palestinefacts.org/pf_1967to1991_plo_israel_exist_1988.php
    • 3East Jerusalem came under Israeli occupation following the war of 1967. Since then, Israel has permitted Jewish settlement in the territory. Palestinians consider East Jerusalem to be the future capital of an independent Palestine.
    • 4Wilcox Jr., Philip C "Grasp the Arab Olive Branch, Energize US Diplomacy" Christian Science Monitor 4/1/02 http://www.fmep.org/analysis/wilcox_grasp_arab_olive_branch.html
    • 5For an explanation of how the Taba agreement treats the Palestinian refugee issue see Miguel Moratinos's summary of Taba at http://www.mideastweb.org/moratinos.htm

  • Did you ever doubt the way you work?

    No I don't have doubts. There is a power in Israel that believes that Israel is part of Europe, not of the Arab world. If this power continues to control Israel, believing that they are a more civilized culture, Israel will continue to oppress Palestinians. The Palestinian violence will help them strengthen and justify their violent treatment of the Palestinians. When we use violence, they will react with even more violence. Their violent reaction will strengthen the sides that claim that Israel is a part of Europe and that the people in this area should be treated only by force. These concepts that are established in Israel have two sources. The first source is the opinion that Israel is part of civilized Europe and that the Arabs are inferior and should be treated only with force. When we act violently we strengthen these two views. We are not in a situation like the British colonial rule of Egypt.1 We are dealing with the Israelis that suffer from the memories of the Holocaust. These memories exist whether we like it or not. Because of their history and memories, our acts of violence cause the Israelis to think of us as terrorists that want to do to Jews what the Germans did to them. Because the European public is sensitive to the issue of the Holocaust, Israel's claims about Palestinian terrorism are heard a lot in Europe and America. America and Europe are the dominant political players, not the Islamic countries, the neutral countries or even the UN. Therefore our violence causes us to lose our ability to influence the Israeli public, to lose American and European support and therefore to lose politically. The result of our violence and bad planning was that George Bush2 gave Israel a free hand to do what it wanted with the Palestinians during the last number of years. We have another strategy. The first component is joint meetings and the second component is Palestinian non-violence. These two components are interconnected and need to work together. The first component isn't enough without the second because meetings with the continuation of violence will be meetings between the strong and weak sides and therefore unsuccessful. Palestinian non-violence has three advantages. The first is popular involvement. Shooting is a pinpoint act and not everyone can shoot; a demonstration is a wide activity that is done by many people. Non-violence will help us retain the popular involvement that was lost. The second advantage is to show the Israelis that the Palestinians are not thirsty for their blood. Non-violence is a means for building peace, in the sense that non-violence is based on the recognition that the other side is human and we don't want to kill them. Therefore non-violence is a message of peace. We convey that we are practicing non-violence because we don't want to kill the other side. The third advantage is that non-violence sends a message to the dominant powers in the world that our struggle is a popular one. It calls for the end of occupation. It is not a terrorist struggle that aims to destroy the Jews and that is a threat to the stability of the region, as we are accused. Even the Arab countries are afraid of us and view us as a threat to the stability of the region. Our message is peace and a combination of joint meetings, the attempt to reach the Israeli street and the development of non-violent activities as a substitute for the concept of violence. Personal experience and suffering, which is a part of the collective suffering of course, when added to the collective suffering causes the person to start thinking about the general dimension and responsible ways of solving the conflict. These solutions will reflect his responsibility and voice concerning the situation and depending on the way he thinks he can contribute to changing the course of events. For these reasons I call my work a means of transforming the conflict, from a situation of conflict to a situation of no conflict. I think, based on my experience of 30 years in this field, that we have two options. One is to continue the violence from both sides, which will result in the building of walls: the physical wall Sharon is building and the more important walls that are the mental walls. The mental walls will cause the Palestinians to reject any connections with the Israelis. The violence has already resulted in the creation of a mental wall among the Israelis, which makes them want to stop seeing the Palestinians and stop dealing with them altogether. The other way is building peace from the bottom up in order to transform the conflict in a way that will lead to future cooperation.

    • 1Britain had a quasi-colonial relationship with Egypt between 1882 and 1922, and continued to have influence in the political realm until after World War II.
    • 2(b.1946) President of the United States from 2001-present.

  • What is the main way in which the conflict has affected you?

    The effect was considerable; I feel it on the personal level because I was imprisoned. The issue of the conflict for me isn't theoretical, but an experience I lived through. I spent seven months in interrogation chambers during different periods; the longest was for three successive months in 1980-1981. I have suffered on the personal level and therefore the conflict has a direct effect on me. Personal suffering in our situation, or in a situation like it was in South Africa,1 causes a person, over time, to think about general dimensions and less about personal matters. The extreme leftists call this situation an act of renunciation of the struggle. I call it personal experience. The transformation of the conflict isn't a joint program. You can't describe it in such a way. The transformation of the conflict is an attempt to plant the seeds for future cooperation that can't be neglected or replaced. This cooperation is essential for us as Palestinians because if we want Israel to be a part of the region, and not to be a part of Europe that treats us as inferior, this is our only way to achieve peace with Israel. It is our responsibility as Palestinians to make Israel a part of the region, because we are the ones that have daily contacts with Israel. This does not mean the destruction of the State of Israel. Israel will remain, but will treat the other countries in the region as equals. We need cooperation with Israel, because transforming the conflict is a tool for transforming Israeli society and Palestinian society, but especially for changing Israeli society's view of the Palestinians as inferior.

    • 1The social and political policy of racial segregation and discrimination enforced by white minority governments in South Africa from 1948 to 1994 The system began to collapse in South Africa in 1990 after a sustained global movement pressured the minority government to reform.

  • Because of your experiences, was your choice of work a surprise to you or your family? Did it change your relationship with them?

    My relations with my friends from the previous phase of my life have changed. Today most of my relations are with people that believe in the work of transforming the conflict. Today I work with this group more than with the previous group. Some of my friends from my previous work are still with me. The political group I worked with before 1993 was the PFLP. This group is very radical. After the collapse of the Soviet Union1 and the First Gulf War people started to rethink their position and draw different conclusions. This resulted in 80% of the PFLP members leaving and taking different directions in life.2 I work with those people who chose other directions. In addition, I built relations with groups that I wouldn't have built relations with previously.

    • 1The USSR, or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a federation of Communist republics in the northern half of Asia and part of Eastern Europe. It formally collapsed in 1991. Its collapse signaled decreased ideological and financial support internationally for Marxist-Leninist political movements, including numerous leftist/socialist groups in the Arab world.
    • 2This should be taken as a general statement about the decrease in the group's influence. In the January, 2005 elections, the PFLP won only 1 out of the 118 seats open in the Gaza municipal elections. "Hamas wins election" Xinhua 1/29/05 http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2005-01/29/content_2522717.htm. The PFLP is largely viewed now as "a small Marxist faction, [enjoying] very modest support in the Occupied Territories, largely limited to the West Bank." Lagerquist, Peter "A Very Slippery Landslide for Mahmoud Abbas" Middle East Report On-Line 1/20/05 http://www.merip.org/mero/mero012005.html

  • Are there other people in your community that work in your field?

    It is clarified in the article that I wrote about normalization that every group in Palestine has an Israeli partner. Everybody works with Israel. The DFLP and the PFLP have relations with the non-Zionist Israeli Left. Fida1 has relations with Meretz and the Labor Party. Fatah was willing to have relations with the Labor Party and negotiated with the Likud Party. Except for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, all the Palestinian parties have relations with the Israeli side. Even Hamas and Islamic Jihad have relations with the Palestinians inside Israel who are Israelis, especially the Islamic factions in Israel. The relations are not directly through one organization, but there are ideological common points between them as Islamic movements. We are two societies that are interconnected. Most Palestinian political groups have Israeli partners. On the economic level there are partnerships. Many Palestinians work inside Israel. We are inter-connected societies politically and economically. You may ask why the Palestinian groups have relations with the Israelis who are their enemies in a conflict? Some people in Palestine claim that we should only have relations with the Israeli Left that is against Zionism. There are those who claim that we should have relations with everyone. Why don't all those who deal with the Israelis form a united front for the coordination of the activities between themselves? To look at this in a positive way, I propose that we work together rather than have disputes about this. We should try to coordinate together with the Israelis and try to unite with them on common ideas instead of shooting at each other. Unfortunately this is impossible in Palestinian society. In Palestinian society, because of the conflict between different political factions, if a group undertakes joint programs with Israelis, they present themselves as a political group. As a political group they have the power to defend themselves politically. If you are an NGO you are forced to conceal your work, because the NGOs are weak and don't have a force to depend on when they are attacked. The solution is not to work as an NGO or as a political group only. We should bring representatives from the political groups to work together with independent activists on activities and programs. This will result in the creation of a group including different people and organizations.

    • 1(Al-Ittihad al-Dimuqrati al-Filastini) The Palestinian Democratic Union party. A political party formed by one-time PA Information minister and peace negotiator Yasser Abed-Rabbo as a break-away from the DFLP.

  • How do you explain the concept of normalization to someone who has no idea about the conflict?

    Normalization means the transformation of the current relations with Israel into normal relations. Those who reject this idea claim that we shouldn't have normal relations with Israel in a less than normal situation of occupation, and therefore the normalization with Israel should be postponed to after the Occupation ends. Some of these people say that we should have a long ceasefire with Israel after the Occupation ends, but not normalization. People like me claim that normalization with the Israeli peace groups is very important for building the future normalization between the two countries and people.

  • Do you think that your personal identity has changed?

    Of course, I used to belong to an organization, until 1994, and now I belong to the homeland. My personal identity is wider now. I used to think in a narrow range. I used to think of the benefit to the party, but now I am free and I think of wider issues, which are the benefit to my homeland, not my small group. I regard myself as a free man after 1994. Before 1994 I wasn't free, and my thinking was limited to certain issues and molds, but now I don't have these limitations and my thinking is free.

  • Did you give anything up in order to perform this work?

    No, I didn't give up anything. I am totally convinced of my work.

  • What are the personal benefits of your work?

    To be honest, before I started working on transforming the conflict, my personal income was higher. The issue is not a financial one or an issue of personal gain. I consider this work to be my duty as a citizen. It is an attempt to fulfill my duties inside of my society and in our relationship with our neighbors.

  • What do you consider to be a small victory?

    I consider the planning and successful execution of an activity a small victory. The execution doesn't necessarily have to be exactly according to my plans; the important thing is the success of the activity and the delivery of the right message. What is required today isn't a lot of small victories, but the combination of the small victories into one big victory.

  • Is there anything or anybody that stops you from doing your work?

    I work according to my belief that I learn from life. I learned through my self-education, not in academic ways. I wrote my books according to my self-education. I learned something from every one of the 25,000 people I trained. I learned much from my work with the media from 1982 to 1994. I worked with 11 newspapers and magazines. I learned much from the material I read. I read a lot, train a lot and interact a lot with people. I learn from all the people I interact with.

  • Did you meet people during your work that you wouldn't have met otherwise, or has your work put you in situations that you wouldn't have been in otherwise?

    Of course, my work in this field opened up wide and new relationships for me, not only with Palestinians but also with internationals. I have relations with people in Germany, Britain, Holland, the US, and other places. This work opened up the possibility for me to meet interesting people on different levels including governmental and non-governmental personnel in different countries.

  • What are the main lessons you learned from your work?

    In short, the most important lesson is that in order to transform the conflict we need to work with the two societies separately like we work with each other. Another lesson is that because the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements are mainly secular, they didn't have the chance to use religion in their call for peace. This is very important. All the peace activities were separate from the religious society. There were interfaith dialogues but these dialogues were between religious leaders not between the religious societies. This may be the reason for the problem of Hamas in the Palestinian society and Shas and the Mafdal [National Religious Party] in the Israeli society. We did not work effectively with the religious elements of society. Our approach was secular and therefore the religious members of society are not involved in our activities. In order to work with them we need to use the tools of the religion itself and use the language of religion and the messages of the Bible and the Qu'ran. We need to extract messages that support the ideas we are talking about. We did not do this and the Islamic society headed towards extremism. This is an important lesson that needs to be learned. The third lesson, I would suggest, is how to involve the international community. The international groups support either the Palestinians or the Israelis. We need to be able to recruit the supporting international powers to working with the two sides according to a strategy that we prepare for them as Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations.

  • What is the most important thing you want to do for your country and people?

    I want there to be a democratic Palestinian state. I want there to be elections in Palestine, but not only that. Elections are a form of democracy, but elections alone are not democracy. I want there to be no concentration of power in the hands of certain political groups. I want the provinces to have certain authorities. I want there to be an elected council and a parliament for every city or province, in addition to the general parliament of the country. This will prevent the concentration of power, and allow greater political participation by the people. Some call this decentralization of power and others call it vertical division of power. I prefer the second name. There is horizontal division of authority, which is the constitutional and legal division of power, and there is the vertical division of power, which means that the central authority gives certain power to the local authorities. I want there to be decentralization of power and a greater role for civil society. I don't want the central government to have total control over the economy, I want there to be privatization of the economy, in the form of freedom for all the small programs and investments like our program at Panorama, not only for the big companies and programs. I want the Palestinian constitution to allow freedoms for religious and secular people alike. I want legal issues like marriage and heritage to be decided in secular courts for secular people, and in religious ones for religious people, like in Tunisia.1 I want the religious issues to be managed by the religions themselves, in the forms of mosques and churches, and not by a religious authority. I do not want the state to adopt a certain religion, rather leave this issue as a personal choice for every citizen. I don't want our country to be a false and fake democracy like the other Arab nations. I want us to be a model for the democratic development of the Middle East, not a model for a country that mimicked the false democracy of the Middle East. I want us to adopt the international treaties for human rights and implement them on the ground, and set them as a clear part of our constitution. I want us to have good relations with all the neighboring countries. I don't want us to have a large military budget; I want to spend our money on development, not on militarization. I don't want us to have strong security mechanisms. I want our security mechanisms to fight the collaborators and the violent political extremists, but not impose authority on the citizens. The security mechanisms shouldn't spy on the citizens and the citizen should be innocent until proven guilty, not the opposite. We should cooperate with everyone and set an example for a civilized society, because we don't have vast natural resources or large sums of money to invest in the army. Therefore our matrix of power shouldn't be security, the army, or natural resources; it should be democracy, involvement, human rights and the respect for everyone. I worked with Edy Kaufmann on holding meetings for organizations to discuss ways of embedding concepts of human rights into the peace process. What we found was that the current peace process doesn't include human rights. Human rights aren't mentioned correctly even in the agreements. They are mentioned partially and in general terms. The Israelis concentrated on peace during the debate, and on including the concepts of human rights in the future peace process. The Palestinians concentrated on including the issues of human rights and justice in the peace agreement. We reached the conclusion that we need to combine human rights and justice in order to achieve peace. There are no human rights without peace. The Israelis are more interested in a peace that stops terrorism and operations inside Israel. The Palestinians are more interested in peace and justice for them as a people. They want the peace to justly solve their problems. These are the aspirations of the two people. I personally believe in two theoretical forms of peace. If you read books about peace you will notice two forms of peace. The first form is a situation in which there is no war and the other form is structural peace. In a situation of structural peace there is economic peace and personal security in addition to political peace between the governments and people. I believe in the structural form of peace. I believe that peace isn't only an end to the situation of war and the entering of a cold war situation. Peace should be a comprehensive operation that provides economic, social and political peace for all those involved in it.

    • 1While Tunisia does not have separate courts for religious affairs, specialized sections of the civil courts rule in personal status cases in accordance with the country's personal status law. For details see http://www.undp-pogar.org/publications/judiciary/nbrown/tunisia.html

  • Do you think there will be peace in your time?

    Sharon's peace plans are to force the Palestinians into a situation of no war, using the wall. It is not cooperative peace, structural peace, which you build as a comprehensive operation involving all the political, social, cultural and economic levels. I regard peace as the moment we transform the conflict. In the moment we transform the conflict we will achieve structural peace.

  • How do you look forward to the next five or ten years?

    The equations of the Middle East are always complicated and the policies are irregular to the extent that there is a difference between Arik1 and Ariel Sharon. One is the peacemaker that evacuated the settlement of Yamit,2 and the other is the man of war, destruction and killing, etc. It is hard to predict what will happen because events are connected to what will happen inside Israel. What will happen in Palestinian society and how will we to act? Are we going to use violence or non violence? I can't give you an answer but I can give you scenarios. The first scenario is that the extreme forces continue to control Israel, and continue in their extreme activities and we continue to use violence from our side and the Arab world and the rest of the world will not be able to change this. This means that there is a lethal future scenario that is very dark and without peace. The other scenario is that the powers that control Israel after Sharon will adopt the way of peace, we will adopt non-violent strategies and the world will help by supporting peace initiatives from both sides. The results of this scenario are different. In this scenario there might be equality and a Palestinian state. Bush still says that the Palestinian state will be founded in 2005 despite the situation. Recently the American administration declared that this date is too early and they want to change it. Nobody knows the new date and nobody can anticipate America's influence on Israel's policy. There are a number of unknown variables that affect the situation, therefore there are different scenarios.

    • 1"Arik" is a Hebrew term of endearment or abbreviation for the name Ariel. In this case, it refers to Ariel Sharon's nickname.
    • 2A former Jewish settlement bloc in the Sinai, established following the Israeli capture of the peninsula from Egypt in the 1967 War. Yamit was evacuated in 1982 in accordance with the Camp David Accords signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979. At the time of its dismantlement, Yamit was home to 6,000 Jewish settlers. Ariel Sharon, as Defense Minister, was responsible for the evacuation of the settlement.

  • Are you hopeful?

    I am hopeful, of course. I think that one of the variables or factors that can influence the results are our peace activities.

  • What is the international audience that has the most effect in the region?

    I heard from our ambassador in Washington that public opinion of the Americans is not important. He said that the American leaders are the important people. He confused me because I used to think that we should work internationally with the American public, but he said that we should work more with the American leaders. From this angle, it seems that the American leaders have the greatest effect on the conflict. European public opinion is next in its importance. This is because European public opinion is reflected in the way that support groups work with both the Palestinian and Israeli peace groups.

  • What is the biggest misunderstanding about the conflict?

    It is hard to describe this in static terms because the situation is dynamic. The misunderstandings change according to the situation. A new misunderstanding I discovered is that Palestinians are violent by nature. I discovered that the Israeli and international public think that we are a violent society. This belief is connected to the view that Islam is the religion of death - that it regards death as holy. These conceptions are wrong. Islam is a religion that regards life as holy. According to Islam life is given as a gift by God and man doesn't have the right to harm that gift.1 When a person kills another person he harms a gift given by God. There is a misconception among the international community that Islam believes in violence and killing. We have a misconception about the Israeli society that all of Israeli society is soldiers and settlers, and therefore targets for killing. Our political leadership has abandoned this conception but the public hasn't.2 There are Israelis that have intentions of peace and co-existence that are stronger than those of some Palestinians. It is sometimes easier to reach an understanding with an Israeli than it is with a religious extremist.

    • 1A much-quoted passage from the Qu'ran reads "if anyone kills a human being, unless it be [in legalized punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on earth, it shall be as though that person had slain the whole of humanity." There is a hadith (an account of the Prophet Muhammad's actions) that pertains. According to Abu Dawood, the Prophet Muhammad came across a body of a woman after a battle, and he reprimanded his followers, saying, "She was not among those who fought us." See "Islam Condemns Terror" speech given by Arshad Gamiet at the Royal Holloway College of the Univ. of London (UK) 1/9/04
    • 2This could be inferred from polls that show popular support for violence against Israel among the public, even when officials in the PA condemn it. In a survey conducted by Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research several months before the intifada (late-September, 2000), it showed that while "75% of Palestinians 'strongly support' reconciliation between the two peoples, support for violence against Israel has reached its highest point since 1994, with 60% in favor." This was when the PA was officially on a diplomatic track, though it appeared to break down at the time of the survey. "Polls Show Israelis, Palestinians Oppose Leaders' Concession Offers" Associated Press 8/3/00 http://www.beliefnet.com/story/35/story_3594_1.html A more recent survey found that "A majority of 58% (of Palestinians) says that it would support and 38% say it would oppose taking measures by the PA to prevent armed attacks against Israelis if an agreement on a mutual cessation of violence is reached. 82% support such an agreement on mutual cessation of violence." A sizable minority is against the PA taking action to halt militarism, which may imply that some part of the public still believes all Israelis are legitimate targets. "Public Opinion Poll December 2004" Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research 12/12/04 http://www.kas.de/proj/home/pub/19/2/year-2005/dokument_id-6112/

  • What is the biggest misunderstanding about the nature of your work?

    The Palestinians are in need of a great deal of awareness raising about the need for this work in order to transform the conflict. There is confusion and a lack of clarity among Palestinians about how to work with Israeli society in order to transform the conflict. There is work to be done about this confusion. One of the lessons I didn't mention is the work on this confusion. We should work more on ourselves and talk together more, as Palestinian leaders and people, about the best strategy for working with Israeli society and for the most efficient means of struggle.

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

    There are two ways of approaching this issue. The first is to look at history in order to determine the roots of the conflict. The Palestinians claim that they have lived in this land for 6000 years, since the Canaanites.1 The Israelis claim in contrast that the Temple Mount existed in Jerusalem. Looking at history doesn't help solve the conflict; on the contrary, it gives the conflict a religious dimension. The second way is to look at the conflict as a modern conflict that began in the 20th century. The Jews came to Palestine, and 900,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1948.2 The Jews occupied the rest of Palestine in 1967. The refugees outside Palestine and in Gaza and Rafah number 5.5 million people.3 This is the current situation. How do we solve the conflict given this situation? My approach is that we should look for solutions more than look for the roots of the conflict. The solution should be relatively just, because an absolutely just solution will mean the return of the Jews and Palestinians to everywhere in Palestine. We need to look for relative justice that will end this conflict in the form of gain for both sides. We as Panorama believe that a gain for all sides is possible. We held an activity about the historical approach to the conflict called shared history. This was a joint project in which Palestinians and Israelis wrote about the roots of the conflict that led to the situation of 1948. The papers from the conference are ready to be published and we are waiting for a publisher. Different Palestinian and Israeli writers participated in the writing of the papers. The papers refer to the period between 1885 and 1948.4 It is very interesting to discuss the modern roots of the conflict instead of the old historical roots. What is more important is the search for a formula to solve the conflict that will allow both sides to win.

    • 1The inhabitants of ancient Palestine, between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean. The Canaanites can be traced there to the 3rd millennium BC and were conquered and occupied during the latter part of the 2nd millennium BC by the Israelites who described it as their #8220;Promised Land#8221; (Exodus 3:8). "Canaanites#8221; A Dictionary of World History. Oxford University Press, 2000. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. CDL UC Berkeley. 20 February 2005
    • 2The exact number of 1948 refugees ranges from 520,000-919,000 with average estimates between 700,000-800,000. See the following sources:*Committee on Palestine - "Observations on Some of the Problems Relating to Palestine" United Nations Conciliation Commission on Palestine A/AC.25/W/7 March 28, 1949*Khalidi, Walid All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 Washington D.C. : Institute of Palestine Studies, 1992 pg. 582*United Nations Economic Survey Mission for the Middle East, First Interim Report, document A/1106 of 17 (New York: United Nations, Nov. 1949), p. 22. as cited in Tovy, Jacob "Negotiating the Palestinian Refugees" The Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2003 vol. X: no. 2, on-line at http://www.meforum.org/article/543#_ftn1 *Peres, Shimon in The New Middle East, as cited in "The Historical Roots of the Palestinian Refugee Question" in Aruri, Naseer (ed.) Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return London: Pluto, 2001, pg53.*Pappe, Ilan The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-51 New York: I.B. Tauris, 1994, pg 213; and, "Observations on Some of the Problems Relating to Palestine" United Nations Conciliation Commission on Palestine A/AC.25/W/7 March 28, 1949 - available at UNISPAL's website)
    • 3The United Nations Relief Works Agency estimates that there are 4,255,120 registered refugees, as of March 31, 2005. See http://www.un.org/unrwa/publications/index.html
    • 4The period from 1885-1948 refers roughly to the beginning of Jewish immigration to Palestine to the establishment of the State of Israel.

  • What personal event or experience caused you to work in this field?

    I am a person who has no time to think of personal matters. Therefore the way I arrange things is logical. There are people that are driven by logic and there are people driven by stimulation. I belong to the first kind. I make my decisions according to logical considerations rather than as reactions to events that I experience. Therefore my work in the field of conflict transformation is a result of a development in my thinking rather than personal experiences. I was always a factor and influencing force in events and not a person who is only affected by the situation. I always did things as a result of thinking and logical considerations and not as a reaction to certain events. There were of course painful personal events but I did not determine my decisions as a reaction to them. When I am presented with certain offers for projects my acceptance or rejections are a result of logical thinking about what is suitable and what isn't.