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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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Tzvika Shahak

On March 4, 1996 Tzvika Shahak's daughter Bat-Chen was killed in a bombing outside a Tel Aviv mall. During the mourning period, the Shahaks discovered that Bat-Chen's diaries were full of writings and poems about peace. The Shahaks have made it their mission to pursue their daughter's hopes for peace, becoming founding members of the Parents Circle-Bereaved Families Forum, a group of over 500 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones to the conflict, and who advocate reconciliation over retribution. Tzvika Shahak is featured in Just Vision's documentary film, Encounter Point. The Shahaks have published Bat Chen's poems and diaries in Hebrew, Arabic, Dutch, German and Japanese, Italian and recently in English; to view a scene about the diaries please press here.

  • What is your name and where are you from?

    My name is Tzvika Shahak; I live in Tel Mond.1 I'm married, a father of three. I have three children: Bat-Chen, the eldest who is not alive, Yaela Shahak, who is currently in the States traveling, and Ofri Shahak.

    • 1A town in central Israel north of the city of Kfar Saba. Its estimated population is 5,000, off which the vast majority are Jewish citizens of Israel.

  • What made you become active in the field of peace-related work?

    There were many reasons. The first is that I believe that we can't just sit back and watch what is taking place in our country and not take a stand. We must take a stand; we have to be active because if everyone stands on the sidelines and says, "let them do the work," nobody will. After Bat-Chen was murdered in the suicide attack at Dizengoff Center1 we decided to found a non-profit organization that would deal with two issues. The first is reconciliation, and the second is writing and writing skills, because Bat-Chen was a wonderful writer.

    • 1Refers to a suicide attack of March 4th, 1996 outside the Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv that killed 13 people.

  • Could you please tell us how your daughter was killed?

    Nearly ten years ago, during Purim,1 four girls left Tel Mond to celebrate Purim and Bat-Chen's birthday in Tel-Aviv. The plan was that they would spend a night or two in Tel Aviv. I was supposed to pick Bat-Chen up the next day because we were going to celebrate Ofri, her younger brother's birthday. The plan was for me to pick her up around noon from Tel-Aviv. When I arrived in Tel-Aviv, Bat-Chen called me on my mobile and asked whether she could spend another night because she hadn't done everything she had planned to. I said, "Look, it's fine by me but we need you early tomorrow morning to help organize Ofri's birthday party." So she said, "No problem, I'll take the first train to Beit Yehoshua," which is very close to Tel Mond.Bat-Chen was a very responsible young woman so I assumed that if she said she was going to arrive early the next morning, then she would. I told her to check with Ayelet [my wife] to make sure that she didn't have different plans, but I didn't mind. Ayelet said it was fine and that she could spend another night in Tel-Aviv. The day before there had been a suicide attack on a bus in Jerusalem and the girls were scared to take the bus, so they took a taxi to Dizengoff Center. The taxi got them there 15 minutes early. At 3:45, as they crossed the street, a suicide bomber crossed their path and detonated himself, killing himself in the process. He was a young guy, an art student, a resident of Gaza. He murdered 13 people; among them, Bat-Chen.

    • 1A Jewish festival commemorating the deliverance of the Persian Jews from the plot of Haman to exterminate them as recorded in the Book of Esther. Celebrated on the 14th and 15th of Adar in the Jewish calendar (late February/early March), with a reading of the Book of Esther and the giving of gifts to friends and the needy. A joyous celebration, Purim is celebrated with masquerading and parties. See http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=613&letter=P

  • How old was your daughter when she was killed?

    It was her 15th birthday; she was exactly 15 on that day, the 13th of Adar.1 She was born on that date and murdered on that same date.

    • 1A town in Israel east of Rosh Ha'Ayin. The population is approximately 18,000 the majority of whom are Palestinian citizens of Israel.

  • How is your daughters' death connected to your present work?

    Following her death we discovered her journals, in which she speaks about and asks for peace. The truth is that she worked for peace before we did. She exchanged letters with an Arab girl, Nida, from Kufr Kassem; they corresponded. They met at Beit Berl1 a year before she was murdered. She wrote a lot about peace, how much she wanted peace, how the country needs it, how necessary it is. If you look at what she wrote about peace, you see that it is her will. Ordinarily, when a parent passes away, the children are left to fulfill what the parents initiated, did or wanted. In this case, we were left with her journals, which are actually her will, and we are working according to her wishes.

    • 1Refers to Beit Berl College, a college in Israel that primarily focuses on teacher training, but often hosts seminars at its campus located near the city of Kfar Saba.

  • You said that you regard Bat-Chen's journals that talk about peace as her will, which you are carrying out. If this is her will, how do you yourself feel about it?

    There are two parts to my answer. I'm performing this mission, this job, both because I'm obligated to my beliefs, to being a citizen or a person who wants Israel to be a better state, a person who wants his children to grow up in a safer environment and because I believe it is Bat-Chen's will. This is evident from the journals we found in which she wrote, "Every person has a dream and my dream is peace." She wanted peace and she wanted us to talk to each other, to engage in dialogue and not in violence; actually, I believe she learned this from home and from what she saw in society, from what she observed in her surroundings. Certainly she made things happen the way she envisioned them and at present it's our duty to make her vision transpire. We are working for reconciliation with the Palestinians so that ultimately we can achieve a state of peace, or a situation in which we can live with the other side without a war, because wars aren't good for either side. They hurt us as much as they hurt them. We must solve this problem; we can't let allow this situation to continue because too many people are dying for this, because there isn't peace. Too many people are being wounded and injured; many families mourn for their loved ones and it's unbearable. This country is devouring its people. We must stop this. I feel that the Palestinians have also had enough; I have a feeling that the Palestinians understand that this situation won't be resolved using force, and that they are ready for dialogue. Maybe now, with the political bang here-- the mingling of Left and Right--1 maybe this is our opportunity. It's a shame to let it pass us by; something can be done in light of the circumstances. We hold many activities with Palestinians; we do joint work-- visit schools, meet with adults as well; we work together, a Palestinian representative and an Israeli representative; each presents their side. What they share in common is that both sides were hurt, neither seeks revenge. Neither side is looking for what is perceived as being "natural" and "normal"-- you were hurt therefore you seek revenge, you want to hurt somebody else. Both sides work differently; they are both prepared to rise above what happened to serve as an example to others-- people who weren't hurt—to demonstrate that even when you have lost what is dearest to you, you can still talk to the other side.

    • 1Shahak is referring to the centrist political party in Israel named Kadima (meaning "forward" in English), formed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in November 2005, which was joined by many leaders of both the left-of-center Labor and the right-of-center Likud.

  • What is the context for these activities?

    The Bereaved Families Forum. We were among its founders; we are currently involved in many activities. I also employ Palestinians. It's difficult nowadays because access is limited, but I employed Palestinians for a long period. I employ Arab Israelis and I aim to be an example. When we meet with Palestinians we talk, we visit schools together, we are voicing our willingness to listen to each other, to empathize, to understand the other's hardships and to search for a solution together, each side trying to influence their government to talk to the other side.

  • How is employing Palestinians or Arab Israelis relevant to your peace work, and what do you mean by access is limited for Palestinians?

    First of all, I had an employee that worked for me at the factory for a long period, for almost 20 years, a Palestinian from Hawara1 near Nablus. In the current situation I cannot employ him decently because there are checkpoints and in order for him to come to work he must leave early in the morning; by the time he arrives there is hardly any time left to work because he needs to leave almost immediately, and that's the better scenario in which he is permitted to pass the checkpoint. Often he wouldn't be allowed past the checkpoint so he couldn't even come to work. It's a shame because that's one of the ways we get to know each other—we get to know them and they get to know us—and it helps us work together.

    • 1A Palestinian village located just south of Nablus in the West Bank. Hawara is also the location of a major checkpoint connecting the city of Nablus and its environs to the southern West Bank.

  • How does that relate to employing Israeli Arabs at work?

    It's related to the fact that a person has to be a person, a professional at his job, needs to be a human being; their being Arab, Russian, Palestinian, that is less important. Within my small factory I'm trying to cultivate—I employ Israeli Arabs, I used to employ Palestinian Arabs, Jews. I employ [former] prisoners and I think that if I can do this then anybody can, that if the only standard is the person in question's professional abilities, as well as their humanity, it constructs a more righteous social fabric. If this person isn't professional nor does he behave as a human being, then that's something else, but if they fill these requirements then they should be suitable for work.

  • How did you become active in the Bereaved Families Forum?

    Actually, they came to me-- Yitzhak Frankenthal, who thought up the idea, founded the organization and was its first chairperson. He came across an interview with me on television or read about my opinions in the papers so he approached me and invited me to be part of the committee that would establish a forum for Israelis who believe in reconciliation with the Palestinians and were willing to work for it. We were a very small group, and truthfully, at first I didn't believe that it was a practical idea.

  • Why didn't you believe in the idea of the Forum at first?

    I think it sounded to me like an illusion, that we would find many Israelis that lost their children or were hurt in terror operations while in the army and who, despite their loss, believe that the right approach to solving the conflict, to prevent further loss, is to establish contacts with the other side. People who would want to cooperate with the other side and to link arms together for peace—I didn't think it was realistic, I didn't think there would be so many people who would want to. So many people who were hurt by terrorist operations, wounded in the army, who lost their children and believe that revenge is not the solution and who believe the solution is to talk to each other, people who believe that reconciliation is the right way.

  • Did you find it hard to believe there were enough such people on the Israeli side in particular?

    I didn't believe that there would be so many Israelis willing to join, and I'm happy to have been proven wrong. I also couldn't believe there were so many Palestinians who would be our partners, and I was wrong here too. I'm very glad because we have a Palestinian partner who believes just as we do and operates like we do, and I think the hardships they face are greater than ours because of all the restrictions on them. There is the harsh economic situation they face, and sometimes they are threatened physically because of their connection with us. But they are strong people, exceptionally powerful people, and I feel that we have a true partner. Partners.

  • Can you give an example of Palestinian members being threatened in their society?

    I don't know about specific cases, but I know it from information I receive on a regular basis from Palestinians, but not necessarily from Forum members. When Palestinians who lack power and status operate in a manner other than the formal policy-- unless the individuals are central in their community and hurting them is perceived as problematic-- there are cases in which they risk their lives. There are different degrees: the lowest degree is they could stand to lose their jobs, depending on where they work. The next is that their children might be excommunicated at school or at kindergarten; the highest degree is they are made to "disappear." I don't know of such a case personally; I've heard stories from different people in different contexts so I believe they are accurate. On the other hand, our friends who are Forum members are identified as [the families of a] shahid-- martyr-- and are less likely to be touched. They are less at risk because, like in Israeli society, in Palestinian society these people have an unquestioned status.

  • When you say the Palestinians' hardships are greater because of the restrictions, what do you mean?

    Isn't it clear? The Palestinians live in impossible conditions. The Palestinians endure unbearable conditions... they are subjected to situations that aren't safe physically, nor can they travel freely between villages. They are sanctioned by closures on their villages. They have no livelihood and as a father, I think that the hardest thing for a father is not to know how he will feed his children the next day. I don't think we [Israelis] were smart enough to deal with the fact that a person who lacks a livelihood is much more easily influenced by negative sources who tell him, "Do such-and-such and you'll receive a few pennies."

  • How does the reality on the Palestinian side affect Palestinians coming to meetings or activities of the Forum?

    It is an impediment because they are often unable to attend because of checkpoints. I'm referring to the difficulties of living in their conditions. There are major difficulties; it's very hard, they work very hard. The majority lives below the poverty line, the majority earns a living in Israel—the gates have closed to them for security reasons, for reasons of safety and because of bombings, and we have not found an alternative for their livelihood. When a person is hungry, lacks employment, or is in a difficult position then it's relatively simple to change their thinking and tempt them with all sorts of ideas.

  • What do you mean by "tempt people with ideas"?

    Tempt them to do things we wouldn't want to happen-- transport bombs, operate against settlers, against Israelis, take to the streets and throw stones and worse. People are easily tempted. This is a major problem for us because we don't control what happens inside the PA and the PA isn't strong enough to create jobs for the Palestinians. A suicide attack leads to the gates closing [to Israel] and then the people there are starved because they can't make a living and remain closed in. There are hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who used to make a living in Israel and their access is now denied. Terrorist organizations can very easily incite people and then could lead to these people doing things we really don't want.

  • How do you account for the fact that you still have Palestinian partners in the Forum?

    We have partners and they are very strong people who take risks. They risk their own lives and their families' lives by being active in the Forum. These are people who believe in our way, people who have lost family members: parents, sons, sisters, children, yet despite this they still believe in the peaceful way. They believe, as do we, that the path of violence will only lead to loss, grief, pain and bereavement on both sides—that it doesn't constitute a solution. They are willing to take all the necessary risks, to make an effort, willing to bear being ostracized, losing jobs, risking their lives to operate together with us shoulder to shoulder, working together in order to bring long-lasting peace to this land.

  • How did you start out being active?

    I began with being a partner and a member in founding what was then called the Parents Circle at the Bereaved Families Forum. We began mainly by searching for members and for activities that would prove to people that things can be done, that it is worth contemplating our way. We put up a display-- we traveled to the States with the coffin display. Personally, the coffin display was very difficult for me. We began in Rabin Square,1 when there were a few hundred casualties on both sides, Palestinians and Israelis, killed because there isn't peace, in operations-- terrorism and our operations. We simply displayed the cardboard coffins in the Square and draped Palestinian and Israeli flags on them. The number of flags represented the ratio of the number of Palestinian casualties and Israeli casualties. At the time, like today, it was 2/3 Palestinians and 1/3 Israelis.2 It was very difficult for me personally because the display was meant to demonstrate to passerbys the price we pay when there isn't peace, tolerance, reconciliation or dialogue. Like I said, it was hard for me to be a part of it, but it was very important. Later on we took the display to the States and put it up outside the United Nations building. We called upon world leaders to intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to take a stand and make the leaders of both peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, talk to each other, speak to each other and come to an agreement, a settlement, that would mean that both sides could live without compromising their lives.

    • 1A large square in the center of Tel Aviv. Formerly known as Kings of Israel Square, the square was renamed Rabin Square after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated there by a Jewish extremist during a peace rally on November 5th, 1996. Rabin Square is the site of numerous rallies, demonstrations, and exhibitions.
    • 2According to the BBC online, during the second intifada from Sept. 2000 to Sept. 2005, approximately 3,300 Palestinians and 970 Israelis have been killed by the other side for an estimated total of 4,270. For a breakdown of these statistics see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4294502.stm.

  • You said you exhibited at Rabin Square. What kind of responses did you receive from Israelis passing by?

    There was a variety of responses. There were people who didn't like it and expressed their feelings out loud, people who were angry. Some supported us. To each his own. Since we are bereaved families, even the people who didn't agree with us expressed themselves quietly, but there were people whose response was difficult to deal with. To conclude, most people who went by and voiced their opinion supported us.

  • How do you think people expect you to behave as a bereaved parent who is dealing with loss?

    Most people assume I would want revenge, that I would try to hurt any Palestinian; certainly not that I would meet with Palestinians or search for peace and reconciliation. Most people raise an eyebrow and say, "looks like he lost some of his reason because of what happened." After I explain what my motives are and why we organize such activities, people accept it. Maybe they don't always agree, but they do accept it as being legitimate-- a special way to "avenge" the death of my daughter. Why was the murderer sent to murder Bat-Chen along with those other people at Dizengoff Center? The situation is chaotic, vengeful; people are angry, and so there is no peace. Whoever sent the suicide bomber meant to wreck havoc and create a situation in which people in Israel object to peace and react violently. Violence is matched with violence and the situation escalates until war breaks out. I do the opposite of what's expected of me and don't seek revenge, don't run straight to the barracks and declare war, but rather I decided to seek a different way, a path different from war, from violence and the road of aggressive response. We tried that; I'm searching for another way. This may not be the standard response but it does make a whole lot of sense. Say I take the violent approach. Say I were to kill a Palestinian girl. Would that bring Bat-Chen back? No. It would only make someone on the other side angry at me, and maybe they would send the next suicide bomber. That gets bigger, it's a snowball that keeps growing, adding more and more families, more people, and finally creates a situation where nobody can live here in the Middle East. Our goal is to minimize the snowball effect, minimize the pull of it, and stopping the pattern of violence equals retaliation-- violence, more violence and so on. Our goal is to stop this circle.

  • Can you tell me about the range of work the Forum does?

    First of all, I think the educational work is the most important part. The most important issue, the crucial work being done is reaching out to schools and exposing students to a situation with which they are unfamiliar—where Palestinian and Israeli parents who lost children talk to each other, search for peace together, seek reconciliation, take a path together that is not one of violence. They [the students] aren't familiar with this. The kids' reactions are wonderful. It's amazing to see their responses; it's amazing to see how they open up to the possibility of there being a different way. It is true that there are a number of students who react differently, but for the most part, most of the kids where my friends and I visited react—they write feedback reports at the end of the meetings saying that we opened up a new venue for them, proved to them that it is worth trying reconciliation, that they learned that it is more difficult to reconcile than to react violently to violence. They learn it's worth giving it a try. That's how most of the kids react, even kids who are very extreme and oppose peace, or oppose our activities. Most of their reactions are that they may not agree with the method, but that we opened up a new approach for them, which they want to contemplate and test. That's a lot.

  • What is the effect of your work?

    First of all, bereaved families are still considered something... they are people who need to be listened to. It begins with people coming with the intention of listening and hearing us out. We tell people about what we've experienced, about our kids who were killed, the manner in which we lost these children; we explain that our children were killed by chance. That terrorist didn't specifically intend to kill Bat-Chen, Hadas Dror or Dana Gutterman, Bat-Chen's friends who were with her at Dizengoff Center. He came to Tel Aviv with the intention of killing as many Israelis, Jews, as well as himself. That was his goal. He wasn't after anyone specific. Our approach needs to be: we lost our children; how can we prevent this fate from happening to other children? I think that if our work prevents even a single child from being scratched or hurt then we've done our part. This year we held about 1,300 talks, and if in every class there are about 40 pupils and every child talks to one or two people then we've reached about 100,000 people and if we keep this up for long enough we will have covered a large part of the population. I call this a tsunami wave that will wash people along; people will say, "wait, let's try peace, let's try reconciliation, the alternative way."

  • Besides meeting with kids, what do you expect from them, or what are you trying to show them?

    We don't expect anything of them. All we want is for them to understand our approach. I expect these children when serving in the army a few years or a year later, depending on when we meet them, when standing at a checkpoint, not to cause Palestinians to be hurt, not to insult Palestinians, not to... to treat them as a human beings.

  • How do your Palestinian counterparts in the Forum regard the fact that you are addressing youths who are about to go to the army?

    They fully agree that it is important to talk to these kids in order to equip them, when they are soldiers, with other considerations that may assist them in being more understanding, more humane, more considerate of the Palestinian side. One Palestinian friend said, "I understand your need for checkpoints. I understand your need for security checks, I understand that there are things that take time, I understand all that. But I don't accept that while standing at a checkpoint I am treated disrespectfully. I won't accept being humiliated or being worn down just for the sake of it - or so that I'll stand around for hours and finally give up and say, 'I won't stand there.' I can't accept this. I understand your need for checkpoints, it's essential. I understand your need for searches. But these things can be done with respect, under normal conditions, and not when people are exposed to sun and to rain in the winter." It's difficult.

  • Do you also hear other voices? Do you encounter people who understand the checkpoints and the army as violent mechanisms regardless of how individual soldiers behave?

    Listen, there are many opinions about the army among Palestinians. I'm not claiming that everybody understands the need for the army, but I think that all in all, they respect the army although there are many cases I hear about in which our army behaves in a way that doesn't make me proud. In general, I think that the solution is to minimize antagonism between ourselves and the Palestinian population and enable them to farm their lands, live their lives. Once they live their lives and can farm their lands without us harassing them and everything works out, we won't create the motivation to carry out suicide attacks. When their stomachs are full and there is employment—which isn't the case now—and they can provide for themselves and fulfill their needs without depending on us, the desire and need to hurt us will be reduced, much smaller. I believe he was drugged; his mind was drugged. We need to deal with people who drug minds - clergy members, people who incite violence, those who preach it. A person who took explosives and went to blow himself up is simply weak in character, like a drug addict who can easily be influenced. I pity such a person. You asked about the other work we do at the Forum; I want to tell you about the educational project and the three types of lectures. There are uni-national lectures, in which a Palestinian comes to a Palestinian classroom and talks there. We've achieved a lot during this past year, there are now Palestinian schools that let us come to their classes so that both Palestinians and Israelis can come and talk to the children. That's an incredible achievement because there is fear that we will induce situations that they don't want to occur. During one of the talks, an Arab Israeli child who introduced himself as Palestinian, viewed himself as Palestinian, asked me what I think about the suicide bomber who killed my daughter. I said that I pity him. "What do you mean, you feel sorry for him?" I told him, "I don't think that a normal person, a sane person with a future in mind, a young man-- not some 90 year-old person terminally ill with cancer who knows he's got nothing to lose, but a young man with a future ahead of him-- an art student, a person with something to live for, studies, a chance to get ahead, does this. If such a person rigs a belt with explosives in order to kill himself and to kill others, it isn't natural."

  • Why did you think there was reluctance for Palestinian schools to invite the Forum members to lecture?

    Kids will begin to ask questions, perhaps won't view the armed struggle against the Israelis as a given fact. Maybe they will understand that there are different Israelis, people who want peace, especially people who were hurt. This is not something that people want. When we visited Gaza, we met with a schoolteacher who said there was still incitement against the Israelis taking place. We asked the teacher, "Do you think there will be peace like this? You write things opposing the Zionists, the Israeli Zionists; you incite violence against us, you teach them things that mostly aren't true." Then he answered me, I can't accept what he said though I can understand why he said it, he said, "You have weapons, tanks, planes. We have children, people; civilians." "Are you saying that you are producing live bombs?" He said, "Understand what you like." It hurt me a lot because it meant or showed that there are still people on the other side who believe that the ends are worth the means. I'm saying something else: I claim that there is a line that should not be crossed-- taking a life. Do you have a problem with your neighbor, your friend, a problem with the other people? It's legitimate until the point of taking lives. They don't see it that way. Life is cheap there and it's a shame.

  • Have your relationships with Palestinian bereaved parents in the Forum changed the perception for you that Israeli parents place greater value on their children's lives than Palestinian parents?

    This isn't a perception. I say this based on facts and on information I receive from my Palestinian friends, mentioned during dialogue and in relationships. The values we [Israelis] deem sacred differ from theirs. For Palestinians, life is valued in a different manner than for us. Certain occasions justify "losing" life, I won't say redemption, but people being freed from the problems in this world. I'm not saying that children are encouraged to do this, but certainly Palestinians view this issue differently than we do; we Israelis consider human life to be above everything.

  • What would you say to the claim that Palestinians use their lives because it is simply their last resource and they lack the military means to resist.

    There is something to that. I think that this problem is real and it's true that the only means left for them is suicide in order to improve the conditions of their relatives' lives. It's painful, but this is apparently what drives these people. It's a shame. This is the situation with which they live.

  • You talked about the Palestinians' perception of life. A lot of resources in Israeli society are spent preparing kids for the army. Do you think it is a problem present only on the Palestinian side?

    In Israeli society, people serve in the army in order to defend their homes, their families, and the army trains people in the best possible way in preparation for missions. My second point is that we believe that our children's lives are precious and we aren't willing to give them up in an offhand way—so easily—or as quickly as the Palestinians are willing to, and this is at the basis of Israeli education. I think that it's thanks to this [education]. If you're asking me what I think is right, I think what is right is for us to maintain a strong army so we can use it if need be or in the cases we will need to. We need this power to be subject to inspection so that we don't lose it in operations which are at times greater than our ability. But to say that we educate our children for the army or to say that because of this we value life less... I don't think that's something that you can claim.

  • Is this something that you deal with as a prejudice among the schoolchildren at your talks - that Palestinians value life less than Israelis?

    Of course. Each side has their own narrative. Israelis and Palestinians have their own narratives and their own prejudices about the other side. A big part of our meeting is dedicated to breaking and destroying the biases about the other side. After you destroy biases and construct a situation in which people are prepared to listen, you certainly arrive at a stage in which you enable students to hear that there is a different Palestinian or a different Israeli that works in a way that it is out of the ordinary.

  • Why do you think people stigmatize and have prejudices?

    Because our statesmen, our politicians educated us to believe that the only good Arab is a dead Arab, and the Palestinians were educated to understand or think we Israelis don't want peace. Each side educated itself so that when-- or if-- the moment of conflict arrives, people won't ask themselves questions. If both sides were to say, "the Palestinians and us, we are equals," or "the Israelis and us, we are equals, both sides want peace," then if we had to go to combat, people would ask themselves many questions. When you educate the people that "they" only want to see bad things happen to you and don't want to make peace, people will more readily agree to fight for their country.

  • Could you talk about your own army service?

    Actually I finished my service about a year ago as a Lieutenant Colonel-- I finished my reserve service. I volunteered for reserve service up until a year ago. At the age of 45 you are exempted from reserve service and for over 10 years I volunteered. I thought it was important and the right thing to do. The message and the knowledge must be passed on so that these young people use their minds and not only act according to emotions in the work they do in the military. I think that serving your country is the right thing to do so you contribute and not only receive. That is the reason I volunteered for such a long period. You could say that for 35 years I served the military through compulsory, professional and reserve service. That's a hell of a long period. I'm not finished telling you about what we do. I said that there are uni-national talks where Palestinians talk in Palestinian schools and we talk at Israeli schools, there are bi-national talks in which Palestinians and Israelis come and we talk to classes. I talked to an Arab class with Arab children in Acre. It was a very difficult experience, but it ended well.

  • What was difficult about your meeting with students in Acre?

    They viewed me as though I were Ariel Sharon. They viewed me as though I were a soldier at a checkpoint, as a person who denies them their livelihood or as the cause of their hardships. They viewed me as being all the things that the Israeli government symbolizes; they saw me as being that. This took place at a school in Acre, a class of 15 year-olds in Acre. We came without them being prepared for meeting us. It was really difficult. They were very blunt, very hurtful, but the meeting lasted for three hours. Usually our meetings last an hour or an hour and a half, and this one lased for three hours. We didn't want to leave, nor did they want us to. They spoke in Arabic and I don't understand Arabic, so there was an Arab Christian woman, Fatima, who invited us and she translated. I spoke Hebrew and was translated into Arabic. I sensed that she wasn't translating exactly what they were saying and that she wasn't giving it to me straight. I told her, "Listen, tell me the truth!" "No...I don't want you to take offense." I was there with Khaled Abu-Awwad the director of the Palestinian side of the Forum (at the time he wasn't). In the end, the leader who attacked and opposed us and spoke very bluntly, stood up at the other side of the classroom and said in Hebrew-- even though the meeting was held in Arabic-- he stood up and said in Hebrew, his Hebrew wasn't good, but still, in Hebrew—he thanked us both for coming and said that he now thinks differently and that it initiated a change in him. He came up and shook my hand, Khaled's too; the rest of the class followed his example. That was very special. I understood that as difficult as it is for them, as much as they view us as being enemies and deniers of their rights, in the end when we talk and we explain that we have a joint goal, ultimately the message sinks in. The third kind of presentation I do is a talk called "From War to Peace," in which I tell my personal story from the Yom Kippur War. This talk shows how I used to be a soldier-- an officer-- someone who sought to hurt the enemy, while today I am a soldier of peace, how I moved from one side of the board to the other.

  • You talk to kids that are candidates for military service. You said that prejudices enable people not to think when they go to war.

    I didn't say prejudices. I said that when there are biases or prejudices about the other side it's easier to gain a person's cooperation in an operation that isn't necessarily democratic. There are things that are difficult to carry out... look, if everyone was so caring and served at checkpoints it would be very difficult but maybe they would treat the Palestinians with a lot of respect. Perhaps then the situation would be that the other side would feel less hurt and humiliated. Perhaps over time it would create a situation with fewer suicide attacks, I don't know, maybe.

  • Some will say that the people who serve at checkpoints don't change the fact of the checkpoints' existence and that the checkpoints change people.

    I think that people don't change checkpoints, but I do think that certainly by standing at one and treating the other side humanely, with understanding, love, respect, appreciation, not hurting them unnecessarily or humiliating them, you contribute your modest part in reconciliation between the two peoples, even though it's difficult standing at checkpoints. I can imagine that sometimes it's impossible.

  • Who takes part in the Forum? Who are its members?

    Any person who is from a bereaved family and believes in our way. We have people who were hurt in terrorist operations, who lost their children or siblings or family. There are people who lost their children in the army, and we have Palestinians who lost children or siblings too, because there is no peace.

  • Is there tension between people in the group? For example, about a Palestinian family that lost a son in a suicide bombing or an Israeli family who lost a son in the army. Does this affect relations?

    I don't think so. It isn't simple. Each side views the other as being the reason... but in the end, people understand that the soldiers and the people who were hurt, we are merely pawns in a "game of chess." We carry out the assignments delegated by the politicians, missions that come from the army; we do what is expected of us.

  • If everything is determined at the political level, what do you expect to achieve through your work?

    We want to influence the politicians to consider the alternative path of reconciliation and peace. That's our goal.

  • How does this work affect you personally?

    It isn't easy. It's very exhausting; it takes all your mental powers. Every time you stand in front of a class you reiterate the manner in which you lost your daughter and it all comes back every time. But talking to people, our listeners are usually people who relate to these issues. You sense they are embracing you and they replenish my strength. They tell you that you're doing something very important and it charges the battery that is used up from this activity being very difficult.

  • What are some of the challenges you face?

    Personally? First of all, the first challenge is the time it consumes, instead of work, family, social activities, sports. It takes away a lot of time. Aside from that, not all of our friends completely accept and think we are doing the right thing. There is a price to pay, although even our friends who don't really agree accept that it's our approach and that it's legitimate. Sometimes we have to explain to friends why we're involved in this. Last summer we organized, I think, three meetings at our house and gathered our friends. There was a Palestinian representative and an Israeli representative and we presented our work to our friends and it was very powerful. We argued a lot but it created a space to discuss matters, towards understanding the situation and what goes on during our meetings.

  • How do you locate yourself in relation to the mainstream in Israel?

    Look, I think that the mainstream is slowly inching in our direction; I think that when we began doing this work, six or seven years ago, we were very odd. We were strange in Israeli society; we were perceived as having lost our minds as well as our children. I think that now many more Israelis accept what we are doing. Many more Israelis are saying, "Well, they've had a glance at what's about to take place and they're trying to tell us something or persuade us to try an alternative approach of reconciliation and peace." I view the mainstream's change as the fact that Sharon managed to lead the process of withdrawal from Gaza, something that would not have gone over as easily as it did a few years back. He was very successful in doing that. I think that most Israelis are fed up; they want to see peace so that we can live in peace, live quiet lives, make an honest living. I think that the mainstream is heading towards the Left.

  • Who is it important for you to reach?

    Everybody. Everybody. I believe that what is most important is to invest in the youth because they are our future. Practically speaking, they have more time for activities because they have time-- unless something happens-- to live. I mean, it's worth investing in the youth of today because they are our future. We speak anywhere, we talk anywhere where people are willing to listen to us-- retirement homes or old-age housing projects or pensioners in Kibbutz Shefayim1 or anywhere.

    • 1A kibbutz in Israel located on the Mediterranean coast north of Tel Aviv.

  • Do you have different strategies for addressing different groups?

    Yes. Our strategy is to share our personal stories with people and in doing this demonstrate, by using our personal examples, how we turned, what I call, lemons into "lemonade." We transformed the bad things that happened, our tragedies into an approach and a process through which you generate positive activity from the tragedy you suffered. Each group is a different story. Each group has different dynamics. Each group asks different questions. We deal with each group and give it what it needs.

  • Do you give talks at schools in settlements?

    First of all, the answer is yes. The problem is that we're usually not welcome there; their views are different from ours. They view the solution differently; they think the solution is getting rid of all the Palestinians. We disagree. We believe this country belongs to both peoples; that together we need to find a way to live side by side instead of on top of each other. The bottom line is: we aren't going to wake up one day and find they aren't here, that they found their way to the sea, nor will they wake up to a reality in which we are absent. It is necessary to acknowledge that both side are here to stay and that we have to find our way together. So, yes, I've had the opportunity. I personally talked at an army preparation program for religious young men. I can't recall where, but I did do that. Friends have gone other places; we had one friend who passed away, he was very active in dialogue with religious people, with religious youths. We do that. We go anywhere we are welcome.

  • How do you determine whether to hold a bi-national or a uni-national meeting?

    We usually want the first meeting to be uni-national and the second to be bi-national.

  • Can you point to the differences between bi-national and uni-national meetings?

    I see that the bi-national meeting affects kids much more. Of course, when we visit an Israeli school, the Palestinian speaker is the star because suddenly the kids meet a young Palestinian who sometimes speaks fluent Hebrew. No horns, no tail, and he talks about peace! It's hard for them to grasp this. It is the first time most of the students meet a Palestinian in person who speaks Hebrew and talks about peace. These things never happened before. It's a unique and exciting experience for them. It's all very different, but they accept it. When we visit a Palestinian institution, we Israelis are the stars. It becomes suddenly vital for them to talk to us, to understand, to see.

  • If you could start over at the Forum, what would you do differently?

    I think I wouldn't want to change our work but I would change the way we work a little. I believe in our strategies and objectives. I think we focus on the right things. I would have constructed things slightly differently, but I don't want to get into that now.

  • Are there people who disagree with you over core issues?

    Sure. For instance, I tried to convince people during the withdrawal from Gaza that we needed to embrace the settlers, to empathize and reach out. To say: we understand you, or we can attempt to understand what it is to lose something that it so important and dear to you, and we are offering our help. There were people who thought differently. The majority took a different stance. Fine. We're a democratic organization and we work according to the decisions made by the majority.

  • How do you reconcile any differences among members of the organization?

    There aren't many differences because people believe in the same path. People who disagree aren't here, I'm saying that occasionally there are differences of opinion but there is a legitimate way through a democratic decision making, and that's how things are decided. We don't force anybody.

  • In what ways is your work with the Forum affected by what's going on, politically or in the conflict?

    Look, it affects us because there are suicide attacks and checkpoints and alerts of attacks so it's very hard to reach the Palestinian side, it's hard to meet with the Palestinians. Occasionally, there are long periods that we don't meet. When the situation is calm we visit them, they host us and we go there [to the Occupied Territories] for talks. I believe that the more connection, the more meetings, the more each side recognizes the other furthers the matter of building peace, trust and reconciliation. I think that holding as many meetings as often as possible is the best idea.

  • Has there been a meeting that was cancelled or postponed due to closure or anything?

    Sure. That happens quite often. How does that affect the group? It doesn't. We postpone it to later. That's not a problem.

  • Is there anything that deters people from coming to meetings?

    For the Palestinians coming to the meetings is very difficult. This is something I wasn't aware of before we held meetings... First of all, there's the matter of obtaining a permit. Sometimes the army only grants permission at the very last minute. You need to go to a meeting on Thursday, a meeting that runs Thursday through Saturday, and on Wednesday night you still don't know whether you're going or not. Sometimes that's a problem for people who work. Then, even when you obtain the permit, the journey to the meeting sometimes takes more than a day. It's amazing that distances that potentially take two or three hours by car can take an entire day because of checkpoints, because of being stopped to be checked. But this is the reality, we can't do anything about this, we have to face it.

  • I want to go back to the beginning of your involvement in the Bereaved Families Forum. When was that?

    I'm active in two organizations. We started an organization to commemorate Bat-Chen, and there's the Bereaved Families Forum, the Parents Circle. Both activities began pretty much at the same time. Both kinds of activities overlap because through our non-profit organization for the commemoration of Bat-Chen we work towards advancing peace, coexistence and reconciliation, and in the Forum we do the same, so both are pretty similar. How did it start out? It began slowly and cautiously with a few people. People thought we were crazy.

  • When did you personally get involved?

    The day after I buried Bat-Chen, I picked up the phone and called up Shimon Peres, who was prime minister then. It was four months after the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. I told him I was speaking as a father who had lost his daughter in a suicide attack and that I was calling upon him not to let the attack lessen their attempts to seek for peace, not to seek revenge but rather peace and cooperation. Later on, Shimon told me that what I said encouraged him and enabled him to see that there are people who did lose their children, but not their wits. I set a standard for the direction I wanted to take.

  • What is the conflict about?

    This conflict? Wow! I think the conflict between the Palestinians and ourselves is about each side's misunderstanding of the other side. The Palestinians don't realize what's important to us; we don't know what's important to them. But we can arrive at a point where we sit side by side, just like we are now, talking; every side presents their opinions and at the end we find a way-- what we call a win-win situation. We don't understand what's important to them; in many instances we don't see what makes them tick. Sometimes we don't understand their customs. Often they don't understand the things that are important to us. They imagine what an Israeli is like and we imagine what a Palestinian is like, and accordingly we produce violence instead of saying to each other, "let's draw the line, let's cross out what happened in the past, let's look at how to work together for the sake of our children, our grandchildren, for the sake of being able to make a respectful living and live with respect without war." We don't get there.

  • What do you think about former peace processes?

    Listen, peace processes, if you take the Oslo Accords for example, I think we started off on the right foot but there were two errors. One, that there wasn't enough preparation. Leaders on both sides didn't prepare the people enough. The other problem was that the process didn't include reconciliation. They said, okay, we're looking forward and starting to build something together. But if you build a house on rickety foundations, the house won't stay up for long. That's what happened here.

  • Can you explain the term reconciliation?

    Reconciliation is accepting the other and understanding that what he did happened due to certain circumstances that brought him to act as he did, but you aren't angry at him. You're willing to accept that. You're willing to live with the consequences; you denounce what they've done, if for instance it was murder, it makes no difference whether it was an Israeli who committed murder or the other way around. You condemn the deed and accept that this person is saying, "I was wrong. I made a mistake. I'm sorry. I want to do something else." I want things to be different because you make peace with enemies; you don't make peace with your friends. You have peace with your friends. Once you become aware of this, you live it, you are ready for a process of reconciliation, ready to accept the other side, to understand that what has been done is due to the circumstances and to forgive. To search together for the right solution.

  • How can a process of reconciliation be initiated?

    It must start by forgiving the other side, by the victim forgiving the perpetrator. It's similar to what happened in South Africa. I gather you've heard of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.1 In order to pardon the perpetrators the victim had to stand and forgive. Once the victim forgave, the road was open for searching for another way. Otherwise, if there is no reconciliation, you are building on unhealthy foundations, foundations that aren't strong enough for the long-term and you're just sweeping the matter out of sight. Once there is true reconciliation and people come and say, "I've been wronged," or "My daughter was killed but I accept that the person who did it, their motives were...I forgive them." That's the beginning of a real peace agreement.

    • 1According to its website, The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was "set up by the Government of National Unity to help deal with what happened under apartheid. The conflict during this period resulted in violence and human rights abuses from all sides. No section of society escaped these abuses." For more information see the TRC website at http://www.doj.gov.za/trc/trc_frameset.htm.

  • Are you talking about your own forgiveness of the man who killed your daughter?

    That isn't a good example because the man who killed Bat Chen is no longer alive. As I said before, when people asked me what I think about the person who killed Bat Chen, I said it before and I still believe in it, I pity the man. Both the Israeli and the Palestinian societies have to deal with the "drug dealers" who brainwash young people-- who encourage people to take their own lives and kill one or two Israelis in the process. They need to be attended to, these religious leaders, inciters, people who send others to their deaths equipped with stories of how they will be rewarded in the next world. I think this is important. Maybe we are failing in this; we deal with the suicide bombers, with people who send them-- with Hamas-- but we don't deal with the sources of incitement themselves. We need to deal with them using unconventional methods to make them pay for the bad things they are doing.

  • What is the ideal situation you would like to see here in the future?

    Ideally? Two states—democracies, people living side by side and the states cooperating for the benefit of the citizens. That the citizens be progressive, educated, that they would be able to support themselves, and seek peace. What will that take? I don't know what it will take. Perhaps it will only come true in my grandchildren's time, could be only in 100 years. I don't know. But it will happen. There simply is no other way that is right and reasonable. This is what will happen. The fact of the matter is that the world is heading towards conflict resolution. We can see that in Ireland. In Germany, the Berlin Wall came down. It's everywhere, in Russia. It's a process that is in progress.

  • What does peace mean to you?

    The word peace? It means living without fear of a suicide bombing, living in mutual respect. Living and being able to travel from country to country without borders, without barriers.

  • What are your hopes for the future?

    That things will be alright. That our leaders will get their act together and find the right way to lead both peoples-- who want peace-- towards peace. I claim that unless the Palestinians have an intifada1 for peace there won't be peace here. It will happen. Currently, they are afraid to take to the streets, but when they do there will be peace. They will force their leaders to make peace.

    • 1Arabic for "shaking off." It is used also to refer to uprisings, especially during times of widespread Palestinian revolts against Israel. While some scholars consider the 1936-39 Palestinian uprising as the first intifada, the first intifada (1987-1993) usually refers to the popular uprising whereby Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza rose up against Israeli military rule through a coordinated movement involving multiple sectors of Palestinian society. Actions included mass rallies, general strikes, unarmed and stone-throwing confrontations, the use of Molotov cocktails and limited arms against the Israeli army, combined with self-administration of daily life and attempts at nonviolent civil disobedience. The Israeli military was unable to quash the rebellion, although they implemented a harsh "Force, Might and Beatings" policy under Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, involving widespread arrests, detention and torture. This intifada came to an end when Israel entered into negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and co-launched the Oslo Peace Process.

  • What needs to be done on the Israeli side if the Palestinians need to have an "intifada for peace"?

    They need to work on public opinion and prepare people for peace being beneficial for both peoples.

  • Earlier you mentioned that during the coffin display you called for international intervention. What is the role of internationals in this conflict?

    To create the atmosphere, the circumstances, the environment and the ability of both peoples to sit side by side and work out a solution. If necessary, they should also force them to.

  • Do you think that anyone can impose a solution on the Israelis and the Palestinians?

    Yes. I think that if the United States wants to then it will be able to elegantly make us comply. I think that if the rest of the world wants to make the Palestinians participate, they will succeed. But it needs to be wise, in an intelligent and sensitive way.

  • What would you like international audiences to know about the conflict?

    The truth. The truth. The fact that the majority wants peace, on both sides, and must be assisted; that's what I want—and for them to donate the funds that are necessary for this. I believe that economic welfare and democracy on the Palestinian side will speed up the process.

  • What do you need from a person from the other side, a Palestinian, to be able to work with them?

    Nothing. That they be willing to listen to me, respect me, and argue with me face to face if necessary.

  • Are you willing to talk to someone who supports a militant group?

    Yes, why not? Why shouldn't I? If they're willing to hear me out and listen and try to think that perhaps there's a different way, of course I'm willing to. I'll go to the most difficult places, the most dangerous and complex, in order to speak to people. One condition: that they be willing to listen to me. I don't want to convince people who share my views. I certainly think I can deal with a person who supports Hamas or the Islamic Jihad. I can understand them, I can understand—in a way—what the motives are behind their actions. Again, I don't accept taking lives. I certainly understand their desire for an armed struggle.

  • How does forgiveness and pardon fit in to the process for you? Do you feel like you need to forgive or beg anyone's pardon?

    Beg anyone's pardon—I don't really know whether I need to, I can't really see that. What's important is for both sides to forgive each other so that we can start, build new foundations. I think that meeting with Palestinians [is important]. I met Yasser Arafat and shook his hand even though I knew he was one of the people who sent a murderer to my daughter. It was he who created the atmosphere. He created the atmosphere. He could have prevented it. But I think that in his last days he searched for a solution to this conflict.

  • How do you feel about your children's army service? What kind of choices do they face?

    My daughter [Yaela] was drafted and served as a combat soldier. She served in the Artillery Corps and her service was in an isolated base in the south of Israel. She was an instructor for male and female combatants, and she was also involved in this. It was very important to her and I was very proud of her for being willing to perform such a difficult army service, as she rarely came home and busted her butt. On the other hand, I was very concerned about her being hurt, just like any father worries about his daughter. Another aspect of it was that I understood that it was her duty to serve and that she needed to do it while taking the necessary precautions for her life, but certainly as a bereaved sister she could have avoided the draft. She could have requested to be exempted and not be drafted yet she chose to do so. She chose to serve in a difficult and remote location and I'm glad she did. I think it was the right thing for her to do.

  • How do you feel about Palestinian youths getting involved in military operations?

    Look, let me say this: if this alleged military organization served an autonomous state that acted for the benefit of its citizens and was concerned about their wellbeing and such, I would accept it with understanding. My feelings are that this is not how things happen on the other side.

  • How does the armed struggle or military backing fit in with the process of negotiation?

    The Palestinians must understand that there is always the alternative of violence and that we need to keep that. If we are weak we could lose much of our ability to negotiate. I think we need to learn to use our power in a controlled way so it is practical and focused. If we do that, we can harness our power for peace. If we don't, we're harnessing it for war. At the end of the day, all our leaders, including the Israelis, want peace. They don't want to send soldiers to be wounded or to lose their lives. They are doing what they are doing because they understand there is no other way, because they understand that if we don't react to a Qassam rocket being fired from Gaza, if we don't operate and find the head of Hamas or a local organization, if we don't prevent a Palestinian from passing at a checkpoint to blow himself up, our lives here won't be safe. There will be chaos and mayhem and people won't be willing to talk about peace. Once people talk about security a bit, they tend to seek out the continuation, which is peace, and that's the larger issue. If there are many suicide bombings, I mean on a daily basis-- I truly hope that won't be the case-- citizens won't feel safe and will be much less motivated. Because strength allows us to provide relative safety and create a relatively peaceful situation, the desire to seek peace becomes stronger. End.