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Interview Archives

Between 2004 and 2010, Just Vision interviewed more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. The interviews in this archive represent a fraction of the civic leaders working in the field at a particular moment in time, and aim to provide audiences access to a range of perspectives and approaches.


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Meir Margalit

The focus of Meir Margalit's work is fighting the Israeli government policy and practice of demolishing Palestinian-owned homes. His goal is to increase prospects for peace by working cooperatively with Israelis and Palestinians for social justice and an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Meir immigrated to Israel with a right-wing Zionist youth group, and founded a Jewish settlement in Gaza during his army service in the 1970s. He fought and was wounded in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. He remembers his recovery period as a turning point, during which he began to feel that his ideology valued land over people's lives. He subsequently became active in Israeli left-wing politics. Meir served as council member in the Jerusalem Municipality for twenty years before devoting himself to non-profit, peace-oriented organizations.

  • What is your name and where are you from?

    My name is Meir Margalit. I'm 52 years old. I work at the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions.1 I was born in Argentina and came to Israel in 1972. A long time has gone by since. I was a member of the Beitar youth group in Argentina and the truth is that I made aliyah through Beitar. When I arrived here I asked where the most remote place in Israel was; I was told that it was Nahal Dikla2 in the Sinai, past Yamit.3 I got off the plane and went straight there. Three months later I was drafted and joined Beitar's Nahal4 group. I was very into Beitar in those days. When I joined the Nahal group we founded a settlement. The settlement I founded with my own two hands was Netzarim.5 It's funny, but I did. We were allotted a fenced-in sand dune, given a few tents, and we founded Netzarim. We were there for an entire year. Then we moved on to the farming phase of our service program and that was at Argaman, in the Jordan Valley.6 I fought in the Yom Kippur War and was wounded. I was hospitalized for a long period and had a lot of time on my hands to think. Gradually I understood that everything has its price and that the ideology of the complete Eretz Yisrael isn't really worth the price: taking lives, the deaths or the injuries. That is the toll, and every ideology has its price. I began a slow process of turning towards the peace camp. I can still remember myself in 1973, voting for Sharon for Prime Minister. He was then the leader of the Shlomzion7 party; I was still in the hospital and my voter registration paper was at the base in Sinai. I ran away from the hospital in order to find it so I could vote for him; that was true devotion. However, even during that period I started thinking about things in a broader sense. A few years later I went to Peace Now, knocked on the door, introduced myself and joined their activities. After a time I realized that if I wanted to really influence matters, I had to get into politics, so I joined Meretz. I lived there until 1975, maybe even until 1976. Then one day it was transformed into a workers' moshav8 and there was no more communal dining hall or laundry and so the single men couldn't really manage there. I left and became an instructor in a boarding school that belonged to Youth Aliyah.9 I was still in Beitar at the time. I was a youth instructor for a few years until I moved to Jerusalem.

    • 1. According to its website, ICAHD is a non-violent direct-action group that seeks to resist Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories, land expropriation, settlement expansion, by-pass road construction, and policies of closure and separation. Among their other activities and projects, ICAHD rebuilds demolished homes and provides "alternative" tours of the Occupied Territories. For more information see www.icahd.org
    • 2. A former Jewish settlement in the northeastern Sinai, established following the Israeli capture of the peninsula from Egypt in the war of 1967. Nahal Dikla was later dismantled in accordance with the Camp David Accords signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979.
    • 3. A former Jewish settlement bloc in the Sinai, established following the Israeli capture of the peninsula from Egypt in the 1967 War. Yamit was dismantled 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.
    • 4. The Hebrew acronym for "Noar Halutzi Lohem," "Fighting Pioneer Youth." It is "a military cadre in Israel that combines military service in a combat unit with civilian service in a kibbutz or moshav." see a href="http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/society_&_culture/nahal.html">Jewish Virtual Library
    • 5. A former Jewish settlement (and prominent symbol of the settler movement) located in the Gaza Strip south of Gaza City. Netzarim was evacuated August 22, 2005 in accordance with Israel's "Gaza Disengagement." Netzarim was established in 1972.
    • 6. A small Jewish settlement in the Jordan Valley, population less than 200.
    • 7. A parliamentary group headed by Ariel Sharon that ran in the 9th Knesset elections (elected in 1977) and gained two seats. After the elections, Shlomzion joined the Likud party.
    • 8. A cooperative settlement of Jewish Israelis in which individual farms share labor, resources, and profit. A moshav differs from a kibbutz in the degree to which property is communal.
    • 9. Founded by Henrietta Szold (1860-1945) in 1934. The organization facilitated the immigration of young Jews from Germany and Europe to agricultural settlements in Israel, assisting the youth in various aspects of their lives after their arrival.

  • In what ways does the work you do now further the goal of resolving the conflict?

    I focus on the issue of house demolitions. I'm one of the founders of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. When we established the committee in 1997, we believed that jumping from issue to issue-- from checkpoints to land expropriations, from settlements to house or well demolitions-- impedes the struggle's effectiveness. It's better to focus on a single issue and deal with it in an in-depth manner. We've been dealing mainly with house demolitions ever since, but not exclusively. For us, dealing with house demolitions is the means by which we are fighting the occupation. At the end of the day our central goal is to fight the occupation and our method is using the issue of house demolitions, in order to be more effective.

  • Why did you choose to focus on house demolitions?

    We believed, and still do, that all of the occupation's grievances are bound up in this one issue. I think that, aside from murder, there is no greater injustice than to demolish a family's home, especially in the case of innocent people. I'm not referring to terrorists' houses being demolished; but even in those cases we object to it. We don't believe in sanctioning collective punishment, in punishing an entire family because of one son's actions. However, the majority of house demolitions are carried out against people who build without a permit, because the state refuses to grant them [Palestinians] construction permits. House demolitions demolish entire families. Think of the trauma children undergo; and trauma is not limited to the children. It's something that can never be erased. This is the reason we chose to deal with this issue, because it is more terrible than other issues.

  • How does your work contribute to advancing peace?

    That's a complex question because I believe we are all contributing to advancing peace, no matter what [work] we do. I believe in the concept of a "critical mass". Every person actively participating will at some point become part of a critical mass, which will then take hold. I can't claim that by saving any one house I've greatly contributed to advancing peace. I do believe that our work, if joined by scores of people and other organizations, can achieve a critical mass and that will lead to favorable political change.

  • What is the difference between this work and political work? Is there a difference?

    When I was involved in municipality politics, I was criticized by some for being too much of an activist and too little of a politician because I invested a lot of time in fieldwork. I helped people in humanitarian matters and participated in fewer things that might be considered defining activities of politicians. I do the same things now as I did at that time. I was very active in the field of [fighting] house demolitions and I don't think it's very different from what I'm doing today. However, for example, data was more easily accessible to me when I was a Council Member, like from the Ministry of Interior or the Israel Police.

  • How has your work changed over the past three years?

    Our work changes according to geopolitical changes in the region. There was a time when we had a more sympathetic ear in the government, for example, when Barak was Prime Minister. Usually when the Labor Party takes part in the coalition and controls the ministries relevant to our matters we could just pick up the phone to the ministers and say, 'look here, you've gone too far!' We had a sympathetic ear and their door was open to us, so we could influence from there. Naturally most of our activity focused on lobbying in the Knesset. Things have changed. We no longer have people who listen in important government posts, so we work less on lobbying and more on using the legal framework. There is still space for us there, so we try to influence using the legal apparatus. The same goes for international players. When Clinton was in office it was easier for us to ring up the American Consulate or Embassy and tell them that a housing complex was scheduled to be demolished in Hebron, Jerusalem or some remote town in Samaria. They would pick up the phone and speak to Peres, Ben-Ami,1 or Beilin, and things were sorted out. We still update the Americans and they are very keen on knowing what's happening, but they no longer pick up the phone and solve problems. Everything is changing; our work changes according to both the internal and international reality.

    • 1. (b. 1943) A member of the 14th and 15th Knessets as a member of the Labor party and the One Israel, Labor-Meimad parliamentary group. Under the Labor party government of Ehud Barak from 1999-2001, Ben-Ami served as the Minister of Internal Security and later as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

  • How has your work changed over the last three years vis-à-vis the Israeli public?

    There is a debate. There are people who think it's a waste of time and that the [Israeli] public has undergone a process of fundamentalization, to term it that, and have become more extreme, more religious and maybe even more fascist. People aren't willing to listen to left-wing political or humanitarian claims. Things that weren't permitted three or four years ago are permitted now. The boundaries have been shattered.

  • Can you give an example of the shift in values you're referring to?

    I think the most prominent example is Dan Halutz's inauguration as Chief of Staff. I remember that when I was in youth group there was a classic question we debated. A soldier stands outside a cave in which a terrorist is hiding; he debates whether to throw a grenade because there are also a woman and child there, both innocent. He enters instead, and is wounded. The matter of the purity of arms used to be an important issue, as well as army morale, and it was very clear that when facing a terrorist accompanied by an innocent woman you wouldn't throw a grenade and kill her. Today we have a Chief of Staff who is capable of admitting that he launched a one-ton bomb from his plane which killed fourteen people and sensed only a slight tremor in the plane.1 That's an extreme example, but it demonstrates the Israeli public's shift in values over the past few years. This can be observed daily; the checkpoints are the most prominent example. Once, a soldier would never have imagined detaining an ambulance or a pregnant woman; today every low ranking soldier makes ambulances, pregnant women, elderly people, children suffer. Things that were once considered forbidden are now the norm. People say that it's a waste of time trying to address the Israeli public. There are others, myself included, who admit this is true. Obviously we haven't got a sympathetic audience here and it's much more difficult to get our message across because we're dealing with a matter of ethics, and it's very political. But still, we can't give up; we can't give up on the Israeli public. It's true that in terms of effective actions, perhaps we should be addressing foreign consuls, international human rights organizations, and pressure groups, instead of looking to the Israeli public. Still, we can't give up on the Israeli audience. I believe that something will happen at some point, an eye-opening experience that will make the public willing to compromise.

    • 1. In July 2002 the Israeli air force dropped a one ton bomb on a house in Gaza, targeting Hamas leader Shalah Shehadeh, whom Israel held responsible for many attacks on Israelis. The bomb also killed 15 civilians, many of whom were children, and wounded more than 150 people. Shortly after, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz was quoted by a Ha'aretz reporter as saying, "If you still want to know what I feel when I release a bomb, I'll tell you. I feel a slight hit in the airplane as result of releasing the bomb. It passes after a second." See http://www.washtimes.com/upi-breaking/20050222-024516-9893r.htm

  • How can the Israeli audience be addressed?

    That's the million-dollar question. Whoever comes up with the answer to how to convince the Israeli public will open the floodgates. With my experience in politics, I can say that when I talked to right-wing Israelis about the possibility of returning Jerusalem or dividing Jerusalem, the initial response was obviously very negative and emotional. But when I took the economic approach, when we talked about money, then people starting seeing things differently. People don't know that East Jerusalem costs a billion shekels yearly. The NIA [National Insurance Agency1] pays NIS 800 million in allowances and the municipality invests NIS 250 million, a total NIS 1 billion for East Jerusalem. Is that a real figure? What is it based on? Yes. I'll show you the documents if you like. I inquired at the NIA regarding the sum it grants in allowances to residents of East Jerusalem. They pay nearly NIS 800 million a year. I asked the Municipality of Jerusalem how much it invests in East Jerusalem every year. Of course there was no reply, but from an accurate analysis I performed for a Palestinian foundation called al-Quds and for B'Tselem,2 I know it's some NIS 250 million. That may sound like a lot, but it's 10% of the budget, meaning there is a budget of NIS 2.5 billion, and 10% goes to East Jerusalem. The residents of East Jerusalem make up 33% of the city's population. So 33% of the people receive 10% of the budget. This is an instance of racial discrimination. Even if it's hard calling it that, that's what it is.

    • 1. The Israeli National Insurance Agency is equivalent to Social Security in the United States. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, which was captured and annexed by Israel following the 1967 war, pay taxes to the Jerusalem Municipality, are eligible for benefits from the NIA.
    • 2. The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. The largest Israeli human rights organization, founded in 1989. See: www.btselem.org At the time of this research, the foundation called Al Quds that Margalit refers to had no online presence in English.

  • How does the economic approach appeal to Israeli audiences?

    I recall telling people that there are so many problems that could be resolved in poverty-stricken neighborhoods with such a large sum. I'd come to poverty-stricken neighborhoods and point out that they lack schools, a post office, an infirmary, better roads, and that with a billion shekels they could have schools, kindergartens, infirmaries. I could tell that people changed their outlook and that they were beginning to think differently. They began to understand that the occupation has a price. There is a certain price and it's usually at their expense. Professor Jerome Segal1 conducted a survey here in Jerusalem regarding dividing the city. When he asked people whether they were willing to divide the city, for the most part, people objected. That's not surprising, but later he asked people whether they were willing to give back Shuafat.2 People said, 'okay.' 'Zur Baher?'3 'Yes, that isn't so important.' 'Sawahre?'4 'Fine.' When he asked them about East Jerusalem's fourteen neighborhoods one by one, there were many more people who were willing to divide the city. In other words, it depends on how you ask the questions. If you stay at the level of mythic dimensions, ask it as a slogan - "dividing Jerusalem" - then obviously the answer will be no. When you break it down into smaller questions, people can think differently. First we need to try and extract the mythic attributes from the conflict, then start at the lowest level; talk about Sawahre and not about East Jerusalem. Explain that with the money Sawahre costs we could build the kindergarten people have been struggling for and haven't received. People don't know East Jerusalem since the second intifada. I'm not referring to other cities in the territories; people can't distinguish between a village in Jerusalem, a Bedouin town in the Negev and a village in Samaria. When you ask people when they last visited Shuafat and they haven't ever been there, or when you show them the actual cost figures-- these places are so remote [to Israelis] that the municipality doesn't know whether to provide its services-- then people start thinking differently.

    • 1. Dr. Jerome Segal is a senior researcher at The Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland. See http://www.cissm.umd.edu/segal.htm.
    • 2. A Palestinian neighborhood in the northern environs of Jerusalem, Shuafat contains the only refugee camp in the West Bank that lies within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. According to the proposed route of the Separation Barrier, parts of Shuafat area (particularly the refugee camp) is to become separated from Jerusalem and contained within the West Bank side of the Separation Barrier (http://www.btselem.org/Download/Jerusalem_Separation_Barrier_Eng.PDF.) The registered refugee population of the Shuafat Refugee camp is approximately 10,000. For a profile of the Shuafat Refugee Camp see the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) at http://www.un.org/unrwa/refugees/westbank/shufat.html.
    • 3. A Palestinian town located in the West Bank and partly inside the southern boundary of Jerusalem.
    • 4. A Palestinian town located in the West Bank and partly within the southeastern boundaries of Jerusalem. A section of the separation barrier is currently under construction (September 2005) that will separate Sawahre from the Jerusalem area and contain it within the West Bank side of the separation barrier. See http://www.btselem.org/Download/Jerusalem_Separation_Barrier_Eng.PDF.

  • So how do you apply this to your approach to the Israeli public?

    When we approach Israelis we try to modify our explanations to what they can relate to. We don't talk politics; rather, we stress the humanitarian aspects, which Israelis still can relate to. Take the booklet we're about to publish, for example. We had sufficient funding to publish it either in English or Hebrew. There was a debate whether to address international audiences or Israelis. We decided to publish it for the Israeli audience. As you can see, and I want to be careful saying this, we allowed ourselves to employ demagogy in order to stress the pain, the loss, the tragedy, the humanitarian aspects of the matter because I think those things still affect Israelis. A photo of a family with eleven kids by the ruins of their house is not coincidental. It didn't just appear there by chance. We used these photos because we know this still affects Israelis and maybe if this does affect people, maybe we'll be able to take it from there. Why did you choose the term demagogy? I come from academia. There are things I would never include in a paper for a scientific journal. Using the other's pain is not acceptable in academia, but being a political organization, its usage is acceptable. That's why I called it demagogy; perhaps it isn't the right word.

  • Is that the language that reaches Israelis now-highlighting the other's pain?

    I know the average Jerusalemite. I admit that people in Tel-Aviv or Haifa speak differently. Yes, it's aimed at the average [Jewish Israeli] Jerusalemite. What do you think Jerusalemites need to understand? We're trying to make Israelis pick up the booklet [on house demolitions] and admit that it's gone too far. That would be the initial response we are seeking, as opposed to somebody who would say, "I guess she deserved it," or somebody who would think that it's a shame the house wasn't brought down on top of the family. When Israelis hear about house demolitions, they assume that it belonged to a terrorist. We're trying to say that not only are these people not terrorists, but these can be people who support peace, who could have Israeli friends, people involved in activities for coexistence, totally innocent people. When people see the woman crying with the baby by the house [in the photo] we want them to feel it has gone too far. From that point on we can introduce the rest of the [political] claims.

  • Does the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions differentiate between houses that are demolished because of the lack of permits and those demolished because a suicide bomber's family lived there?

    Formally the answer is no. We believe that demolishing the house of a terrorist's family, a family who is innocent, is a collective punishment that is forbidden. A family shouldn't take the blame for a son who went the wrong way. If you mean emotionally - how I approach the house demolition of a man who has eight children and cleans for the municipality and how I approach the demolition of the house of a terrorist's family, I admit I have a certain problem, emotionally speaking. I was asked to appeal the demolition of the house belonging to the suicide bomber who blew up Frank Sinatra cafeteria in the middle of the Mount Scopus campus, in the university's cafeteria.1 I couldn't make the same effort, put up the same fight for it as I would for an innocent person's house. I know people who were killed in that bombing. It touched me personally. The Committee Against House Demolitions doesn't differentiate between instances though.

    • 1. The Frank Sinatra Cafeteria on Hebrew University's Mt. Scopus Campus was bombed on July 31, 2002. Seven people died and over eighty were wounded in the bombing attack, for which HAMAS claimed responsibility. See "Beyond Anything You Could Imagine," BBC News Online, 31 July 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2164121.stm.

  • Please tell me about the projects you are working on together with Palestinian counterparts.

    Mainly we work together on two or three projects in the vicinity. This week we are very busy dealing with the State's intention of demolishing structures near Silwan.1 The plan is to demolish some 90 houses, which house nearly 1000 people. The pretext is an archeological dig. We know this isn't true, and that it's really all a political plan to build new Jewish settlements and to create territorial continuity stretching from the Old City through Ir David,2 Al-Bustan,3 Ras al-Amud,4 E1, reaching Ma'ale Adumim. This means creating a corridor that encircles Jerusalem, preventing any possibility of ever reaching a peace agreement in the future.

    • 1. A Palestinian village in East Jerusalem, located south of the Old City of Jerusalem's Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary) in and around the Kidron Valley. Margalit is referring to the Israeli government's intention to demolish approximately 90 homes in Al-Bustan neighborhood of Silwan in June 2005. See "Jerusalem 'to Raze 88 Arab Homes,'" BBC News Online, 1 Jun 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4597401.stm.
    • 2. Or the City of David is an area south of the Old City of Jerusalem's Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary), in the Palestinian neighborhood Silwan. Archeologists believe this was the site of King David's court during the First Temple Period. Jewish settlers are currently living in a few dozen homes in the area, and with a foundation called Elad, are attempting to procure or take over more. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,1172960,00.html
    • 3. A neighborhood of the Palestinian village Silwan in which the Israeli government was threatening to demolish 90 homes in June 2005. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,1499116,00.html
    • 4. A Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem southeast of the Old City and near Silwan. Jewish settlers have constructed several buildings in this neighborhood. See: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/632/re6.htm

  • How do you know that what is presented as an archeological dig in East Jerusalem is a plan to establish territorial continuity for Israel around Jerusalem?

    We marked the outposts - the Jewish settlements - on the map. That's all. When you look at the map you understand it's no coincidence. You can see that there is an effort being made to position Jewish settlements on a belt encircling the Old City. This isn't happening by chance. If we begin at the Old City, adjacent is Ir David, actually it's a part of Silwan but we'll call it Ir David at present; most of the lands there are already owned by settlers. Their website proudly proclaims that 50% of Ir David is already in the hands of the Elad Foundation. The intent is to raze an entire area directly below Ir David in order to create a national park and begin an archeological dig. We are experienced from the instance of Kdumim1 in how these sites start out as archeological digs and wind up as settlements. Above the City of David there's Moskowitz's2 compound and the Mount of Olives,3 called the "Olive Ascent", where there are 120 almost fully populated housing units. In a straight line from there is the [Jewish] settlement in Abu Dis called "Kidmat Zion". Moskowitz is behind that, too; the project has been frozen but it's merely a matter of time before it goes ahead. Meanwhile, settlers live in a few Arab houses that have been purchased in a very shady manner, that's a whole other issue. Continuing from Kidmat Zion and Abu Dis, it connects with E1 and Ma'ale Adumim. It's simply one line, a single path. The same attempts are being made north of the Old City [of Jerusalem]. In the Jeikh Jarrach neighborhood there is a [Jewish] settlement called Shimon HaTzadik, which is between Beit Orot Yeshiva4and the Border Police's Central Command, The Israel Police's Central Command, the Ministry of Housing, connecting to the [Hebrew] University on Mount Scopus, which even unintentionally is a part of that idea. From Mount Scopus you have the new tunnel leading to Ma'ale Adumim. There are two lines that cross northeast and southeast Jerusalem. First of all, the belt severs the continuity of East Jerusalem. Second, it encircles the Old City from all sides so that if, or rather when, a Palestinian state is established, its capital - Jerusalem - will be cut off from the hinterland, from the neighboring cities. Imagine how a state capital is meant to function if travel from Ramallah to Jerusalem entails crossing a series of Jewish outposts? It's all there in order to prevent any chance of a just solution to the conflict. It's a dangerous situation because of the proximity to the Temple Mount-- and not only because of the political implications. Aerially, Al-Bustan is a mere 100 meters from Al-Aqsa. That's such a sensitive issue nowadays that it could potentially transcend Israel's borders. Remember how when former Mayor of Jerusalem Olmert opened the Kotel [Western Wall] Tunnel, 14 Israelis and 30 Palestinians were killed in three or four days of fighting?5 That's what could happen here, but on a much larger scale. We've been working on this project jointly not only with Palestinian organizations but with other Israeli organizations and with international sources. This is a classic case: we approached European consuls, but the Americans were the ones who took the main action. We have proven beyond a doubt that the project would mortally wound the Road Map. We really didn't have to make an effort; they immediately understood what was taking place. I know the State Department is working towards terminating or freezing the project.

    • 1. A Jewish settlement located outside of the West Bank city of Nablus.
    • 2. A Miami based millionaire who made his fortune in the hospital and casino businesses, Moskowitz finances Jewish settlement expansion into many Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
    • 3. Located beside the Old City of Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives contains several churches, a mosque, and a Jewish cemetery and is considered an important place in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. For Christians and Muslims, it is considered the place where Jesus ascended to heaven. For Jews, tradition holds that after Messiah arrives, those buried on the Mount of Olives will be awakened first.
    • 4. A yeshiva is a place of Jewish religious study. Beit Orot Yeshiva is located on the Mt. of Olives.
    • 5. The tunnel alongside the Kotel (the Western Wall of the ancient Jewish Temple) and Al-Aqsa Mosque was opened in late September 1996, under the government of Binyamin Netanyahu and while Ehud Olmert was Mayor of Jerusalem. The tunnel opening sparked protests amongst Palestinians and led to four days of clashes and approximately 70 deaths. See "Palestinian-Israeli Violence Subsides," CNN World News Online, 28 Sept 1996. http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9609/28/israel.palestinians/.

  • Which civil groups are you working with on the project? Israeli civilians?

    Israelis and Palestinians. Three Israeli organizations are leading this project: Rabbis for Human Rights - Rabbi Arik Ascherman,1 Bat Shalom and us. We're leading this struggle. Ta'ayush is also a partner, as well as the Alternative Information Center.2 Bimkom3 also promised to join us, but currently they have their hands full with other matters, as well as Ir Amim.4 We work as a coalition, coordinating all our steps. On the Palestinian side, the most prominent organization is Fatah, which seems to be the organization most influential in the village. Official representatives from the Palestinian Authority, such as the Minister of Jerusalem Affairs—an impressive woman named Hind Khoury5—have been involved. We've all been working together closely, along with local organizations led by the neighborhood committee; we don't do a thing without consulting with them.

    • 1. According to their website, Rabbis for Human Rights is an organization that serves as the "rabbinic voice of conscience in Israel, giving voice to the Jewish tradition of human rights" and promoting "justice and freedom, while campaigning against discrimination and inhumane conduct." Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights. See http://rhr.israel.net/.
    • 2. AIC is a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization that works on political advocacy and information-sharing on the Israeli and Palestinian societies as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an effort to promote "values of social and political justice, equality, solidarity, community involvement and respect for the full inalienable national rights of all Palestinian people." Its recent projects include describing the "economic reality of the occupation" and monitoring and reporting on instances of settler violence and settlement expansion. See AIC's website at http://www.alternativenews.org/.
    • 3. An organization of planners and architects that seeks to "achieve the right to equality and social justice in matters of planning, development, and the allocation of land resources...transparency in the planning process, dissemination of information to the public, and public participation in the planning process." Some of its activities include disseminating information on planning rights and projects and assisting socially and economically disadvantaged communities to achieve equality in planning. See http://www.bimkom.org/aboutEng.asp.
    • 4. [Hebrew for "City of Nations" or "City of peoples"] A non-profit organization founded "in order to actively engage in those issues impacting on Israeli-Palestinian relations in Jerusalem and on the political future of the city. One of its major aims is "to render Jerusalem a more viable city even under the dire current circumstances, while generating and promoting a more politically sustainable Jerusalem in the future." See http://www.ir-amim.org.il/ and Just Vision's interview with Daniel Seidemann.
    • 5. For an interview with Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Hind Khoury on the subject, see: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article4078.shtml

  • What are you doing on the Israeli side?

    We're making a large effort to bring Israelis there, mostly policymakers and journalists, foreign officials too, in order to show them the situation because they aren't familiar with the area and therefore don't really grasp the implications of such a project. We bring Israelis because we want them to realize that this is a really dangerous project, and the cost will be great. People must be aware of the danger involved. We've been working with the organizations mostly through the websites. We call on Meretz supporters, groups of women from Bat Shalom, Women in Black, and people who are connected to Ta'ayush. We invite them to come and see. There are also people who come who are not from these organizations.

  • Who are you most interested in reaching out to?

    Everybody, almost everyone interests me. It might sound strange to you, but ultra-Orthodox circles have taken an interest in the matter. We've made an interesting connection with them and have discovered we have many things in common. To be blunt, they aren't interested in the state and neither are we. We share some values; even though we come from different places, we have a lot in common in terms of the approach to nationalism. The most obvious is their approach to the army; they don't want to enlist and today neither do we.1 They don't think the flag is important and neither do I; they don't attribute any importance to the State's national symbols, and we aren't nationalistic. We're in touch with mostly Lithuanian groups. An example of what we're hearing is what Rabbi Miller2 said to me: "I don't care who controls the Western Wall as long as I'm allowed to pray there." This means that he doesn't care which flag waves over the Western Wall; he simply wants to be able to pray there. I share this view. I'm working to suspend the discourse centering on authority and nationalism.

    • 1. Mr. Margalit is referring to the exemption from the Israeli army sought both by members of the ultra-Orthodox community and members of the Left in Israel. The letter of the law says all Israeli citizens and permanent residents aged 18 are liable for military services. Exempted from service are observant Jewish women (30% of all Jewish women have used this provision, though many are not really religiously observant), and yeshiva students (about 10% of Jewish males)- information provided by Sergeiy Sandler of New Profile. For an Israeli to legally avoid military service based on the grounds of conscience or refusal, one must be granted Conscientious Objector (CO) status. Several hundred Israelis (approximately 400 in 2004) liable for conscription in the Israeli army applied for exemptions as Conscientious Objectors (COs). The army granted CO status to a little over half that number.
    • 2. Rabbi Chaim Miller is a former member of the Jerusalem city council.

  • Is there room for interfaith cooperation then?

    No, there isn't! We're 100% secular. The opposite could be true; if we add Reform and Conservative Judaism they [ultra-Orthodox Jews] might not come. They come because I'm completely secular and it's easier for them to work with a completely secular Jew rather than Reform or Conservative Judaism rabbis. I believe we need to rehabilitate our relations with them. We need to revive the historic relationship [that existed] between the Agudat Yisrael and Mapai parties in the days of Ben-Gurion. Otherwise we'll never see the end of this.

  • What is significant about this group of ultra-Orthodox Jews in particular? Does your choice to cooperate with them exclude other groups?

    Whether we like it or not, in Jerusalem they represent the city governance. The Mayor is ultra-Orthodox. They are the center of political decision-making and that's why I think relations with them are important. [In the matter of Silwan,] there are tombs dating from the period of the first temple, the second temple, I don't argue with that. It's true that there are important archeological artifacts but I can say to ultra-Orthodox people, what about pikuah nefesh?1 They understand my point. They most certainly agree with us that our ancestors' remains are really not worth the death of more Jews, so we reach the same level of understanding. That's why I make an effort to talk to them. If I want to convince the Mayor, I look for a rabbi who can back me up in political matters. I can always mention something about the biblical Hagar2 or the legacy of Amalek.3 At the level of politics, there are two sectors in Jerusalem who are involved in massive illegal construction. The first is the Arab sector and the second is the ultra-Orthodox sector. You can see lots of illegal construction in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. If you visit the Me'ah She'arim4 neighborhood it's obvious that given the dense population, there can't be more construction, but then you see a new building, a new storey, you can tell by the stone finish that it's new and that it was built without a permit. The municipality can't grant construction permits in those neighborhoods. Sometimes you see a balcony that is there just out of the blue, you can tell it was build without a permit. It's no wonder! The current deputy mayor who is responsible for planning and construction, Yehuda Pollack, is also ultra-Orthodox. He knows that if he is going to legitimize illegal construction in the ultra-Orthodox sector then he must do the same for the Arab sector. He can't say he's going to demolish an Arab person's house but not that of an ultra-Orthodox person. In effect, that's what's happening, but because he understands the correlation he belongs to the kind of people willing to settle regarding some houses. It's easier to talk to him because he understands that demolitions in East Jerusalem bear implications for the status of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

    • 1. refers to cases in which the sanctity of life allows for disregarding Jewish religious commands.
    • 2. Biblical figure. In the Torah, Hagar is the concubine to Abraham, with whom she gives birth to the son Ishmael. Ishmael is considered to be one of the fathers of the Arab people and is regarded as a prophet in Islam.
    • 3. Biblical figure and grandson of Esau son of Isaac and leader of the Amalekite tribe, who are a represented as an enemy of the Jewish people in the Torah. Today, the name Amalek is considered by Jews to be a symbol of evil and the hatred and persecution of Jews.
    • 4. An ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem.

  • Are you saying that you work with ultra-Orthodox groups in Jerusalem on fighting house demolitions in particular, or that there is room for cooperation in general?

    Cooperation is plausible given the ultra-Orthodox population's disinterest in the State and its symbols, they aren't involved in current cooperation with us. Rabbi Miller was previously active in preventing house demolitions in East Jerusalem, but was motivated by wanting to prevent house demolitions in Haredi neighborhoods, not out of a concern for Palestinians' human rights.

  • Do you have any other initiatives for joint work outside your "natural" audiences?

    I was involved in establishing an organization called "Kol Bashchunot" [literally - a Voice in the Projects]. We are active in the projects, with a core of Likud supporters. It's a poor neighborhood, with eight-storey buildings. This organization doesn't discuss returning the Territories but rather explains the connection between the Occupation and poverty. We tell people to look at the condition of their neighborhood, that it's not the result of a natural disaster or fate, but that it reflects the government's priorities. The government prefers to invest money in settlements and not in the projects; the occupation hurts not only the Palestinians, but every one of us, and them, too. Had that money been invested in the projects instead of the settlements, their children would have had other options. We've been operating there for many years. People are familiar with us, through projects we've been working on with them, such as public housing legislation that MK Ran Cohen1 initiated. Ours is the first organization to address the matter. We led a struggle against Amidar and Prazot [construction companies] regarding matters of building maintenance and rent control. We haven't worked on matters of house demolitions in East Jerusalem with them but we mention East Jerusalem, saying both of you have housing-related problems. We held a seder2 for Passover and composed our own hagaddah.3 Can you tell me about that? We called it the Projects Haggadah and even included texts in a socialist spirit. We argued that we were once slaves - but what about today? Are we really free? Have we truly been liberated or are we enslaved to the system? We may still be enslaved. We talked about the condition of migrant workers, the Ethiopian [immigrants], the Arabs, all in one haggadah. Together with people from the projects, we read the haggadah. They could also relate to the texts and pictures we chose. We hope that when the day comes and we have to make a decision about East Jerusalem people will come to the conclusion based on the connection.

    • 1. (b. 1937) Current member 16th Knesset for the Meretz-Yachad and the Democratic Choice parliamentary group. Cohen served as a member of the 11th through 16th Knessets, primarily as a member of the Civil Rights Movement and/or Meretz.
    • 2. A ceremonial dinner held during the first or first and second evenings of Passover, the Jewish holiday which commemorates the Jewish people's exodus from Egypt.
    • 3. The book containing the Passover seder prayers, rituals, and stories.

  • How do those two issues relate to each other - presenting East Jerusalem as an economic burden yet attempting to integrate it into the general problem of occupation?

    The approach of claiming that [East] Jerusalem is an economic burden is problematic. I mean, what if it weren't a burden? What if we were making money off it? Would I want to keep it [Israeli] then? Of course not! I would have a problem in that case. This doesn't contradict the other claim; it's two sides to the same story. Firstly, it is an economic burden. Imagine how much better things could have been if we weren't spending so many funds on East Jerusalem. Second, in addition, the State of Israel decided to invest in the settlers rather than in underprivileged neighborhoods and that's why they lead the lives they do. So these two claims complement each other.

  • How do you view the future of Jerusalem?

    I'm trying to further the idea of a two-state solution, two capitals for two peoples. I'm talking about separation. Unlike other people, I'm not referring to territorial separation between East and West Jerusalem - a wall down the center - but about a functional divide. It would be one city, undivided, no barriers between East and West. In West Jerusalem there would be an Israeli flag, the Israeli capital, Israeli rule. In East Jerusalem there would be a Palestinian flag, the municipality would be called "Biladiyat al-Quds" and it would host the Palestinian capital. I don't believe Jerusalem can be divided now; things are so closely knit that we can't artificially impose physical separation. This is why I'm referring to functional separation. I realize it's difficult to grasp the idea at first, because it's unprecedented.

  • Can you explain what you mean by "functional separation" in Jerusalem?

    What I mean is that East Jerusalem, where there is an Arab majority, would be the capital of Palestine. It will display the Palestinian flag, there would even be Palestinian police, and municipal services would be provided by "Biladiyat al-Quds". On the Western side it would be the same, but for the Israelis. There would be two mayors, and an overseeing committee to resolve disputes, which could be a bi-national committee or an international one, according to necessity. The municipalities would develop a working dynamic based on cooperation; eventually there would be no need for the committee.

  • When you talk about the future of Jerusalem as a city of two capitals but without a wall dividing the sides, is there a problem of security?

    I don't want to appear naïve and claim that people will love each other; clearly there will be people on both sides who will attempt to harm the process. I don't think it's the magic solution to the problem; it's plausible that people will try to hurt others. Our wisdom and competence will be established if we can understand that even if there is a suicide attack that doesn't mean the solution is ineffective, but rather that there will always be extremists, and steps should be taken to counter their actions and not to dismiss the entire idea. There will always be terrorists. People say, "but there will be suicide bombings," and I can't promise them that there won't be suicide attacks on buses. I can promise them though that if we don't reach a solution, thousands of terrorists will detonate bombs in the streets of Jerusalem. That's clear to me. There is no wall that can prevent that, no targeted killings or checkpoints either; people who are motivated to do such a thing will slip by easily. I can't promise that there won't be suicide bombings or that there will be peace, yet I can assure you that if we don't reach a solution there will be unprecedented bloodshed.

  • What is the role of grassroots organizations in the process of establishing a resolution, in particular in Jerusalem?

    The idea was born in the grassroots organizations; it is built mostly on the goodwill of citizen and politicians and therefore I think our job is to create the atmosphere for such an arrangement. This sort of solution is very easily destroyed, very easily. It is constructed on the notion of both sides being willing to compromise. Who else but us could construct that?

  • How do you further the idea of compromise among people?

    Discussions, articles, conferences, methods that prove it is possible. People, usually on the Israeli side, commonly claim it doesn't work, but they don't say it isn't a good idea. What we need to prove to them is that this can work, and that there are Israelis and Arabs who have things in common, who share the same problems, the same dreams, and that they all just want to have quiet lives. Through this project we are proving that things can be done jointly, and that this can be done on a larger scale, multiple in size.

  • You talked about the project in Silwan, what other projects are you currently working on with people from East and West Jerusalem?

    Most prominent is joint work amongst disabled persons. Palestinians with disabilities and Israelis with disabilities are struggling together, with the same goals in mind. I think this is happening because people with disabilities see that their main problem is their disability itself. Arab and Israeli disabled persons have the same exact problem with National Insurance and the Municipality. For them disability is central to their identity, and not nationality. Arab and Jewish people with disabilities manage to cooperate and advance their agenda together as though there were no difference between them. What kind of projects are they doing? At the level of the ordinary, they are working on approving a ramp at the entrance to the main post office. It's not limited to accessibility though, they cooperate in matters concerned with National Security - benefits, assistance, funding for transportation and parking spaces. These are things that all people with disabilities share, regardless of their background.

  • Are you active in this organization for Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem who have disabilities?

    No, I assist them. The organization was established while I was a council member in the Jerusalem Municipality. I gave them backing and was involved in the organization's establishment. There is no reason that there shouldn't be a similar joint organization for unemployed Arabs and Jews; they all share the same concern of how to bring home food. We haven't succeeded here. We're working to change the discourse. The discourse here is too loaded, too national. We're trying to explain to people that there are so many things people share, apart from nationality, and that we need to focus on them so that we can create a core, and from there we can develop coexistence.

  • Do you pay a personal price for your involvement and your work?

    Certainly. Being a left-wing activist in Jerusalem is not easy. It's simpler in Tel Aviv or Haifa-- anywhere else. People here view me as a traitor. I can guarantee that. I worked for the Municipality for twenty years; at a certain point I stopped being promoted because of my political views. How do I know that? I applied for many positions, which people less qualified than I received. They got the jobs I wanted. I also was told straightforwardly. My superior said, "Meir, why don't you stop applying - they won't allow you to be promoted. You are outside the consensus as far as the Municipality is concerned." I heard it straight and I can show you documents that attest to it. There is also a price to be paid in terms of family-life. There was a period in which there were hundreds or thousands of Palestinians [residents of Jerusalem] who lived here without IDs. The state confiscated their IDs. They were walking around Jerusalem without any identification and if a policeman or border policeman stopped them they would go through hell. Some would get beaten up, some would be arrested, some got fined. The person would say, "I'm a resident of Jerusalem," but the policeman would tell them to prove it. That is how it went. I tried to obtain alternative papers for them to prove their residency using all the means I could, and I really do mean that. I tried through the Municipality, the Ministry of Interior Affairs, the Prime Minister's Office, and the Ministry of Defense. When I couldn't bear it any longer, I myself wrote letters using the Municipality's logo, attesting to that person being a resident of Jerusalem despite not having an ID. I signed my name as council member. I was told that sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. If in 50% of the cases a policeman read the letter and was satisfied, then I was happy. When the Mayor found out he was very angry. He filed a complaint with the police for me overstepping my authority. [He said] my responsibilities didn't include giving IDs to people. A journalist wrote "who knows who Meir Margalit gave these letters to, who knows who got their hands on them." This was during a period of suicide bombings, and their supposition was that more than one suicide bomber slipped in using my letters. My children were in seventh and eight grade. They told me, "Daddy, people are saying you help terrorists." That broke me. Even if they did realize it wasn't true, that's it. It clings to you and continues with you and your children have to deal with other kids saying, "My dad read in the paper that your dad collaborates with terrorists." This is a pretty radical example, but I think it represents the price you pay when you go all the way with your opinions, when you don't cut corners.

  • What makes you carry on if the price is so great?

    When I'm asked that, instinctively I say it's because my father is a Holocaust survivor. The fact that my father lost his family because of racial discrimination drives me to fight such phenomena here with all that I have in me. Some would say, "Why are you comparing? There isn't anything to compare here." True, there is no comparison. But there are too many things taking place here that remind me of the Germany of 1933. Having been infused with all the grief and pain of people who have suffered excessively, and because I can't remain impassive to such inequities, I am fighting for what I see as basic social justice on the humanitarian level, not even on the level of politics. This is why I cannot remain impassive, nor can I give up.

  • What have you gained from doing this work?

    Socially speaking, I encounter the best people who live here, people it's a pleasure to be with, intellectually and in all other aspects. I get to meet the right people. But I don't want to talk in terms of advantages; we really don't approach our work in terms of advantages and disadvantages. Even if you proved there were no advantages to my work, I couldn't do anything any other way, I simply could not.

  • What do you consider a small success in your work?

    For me a small success is when I solve a family's personal problem. I'm really referring to basics: when a woman comes in to thank me after I succeeded in obtaining a permit for her to come visit her 90-year-old father, a woman who lives in Jordan and whose father won't be living much longer and who wanted to come visit him before he dies. That took ten days of struggling with the Foreign Ministry, the GSS. My friends in politics would say this is not a political success because this woman can't vote, that the residents of East Jerusalem [such as her father] don't vote in any case. For me it certainly is a success. What is your response to people who say it isn't a political success? They are right. I know that most of the people who care for me, whom I care for and whom I've assisted won't translate that into a vote during elections. I situate humanitarian work above purely political work.

  • What kinds of leadership can people develop or exhibit in order to make a positive change?

    People should choose the issue they relate to most. There are so many injustices and so much work to be done, there is always something bound to appeal on a personal level. I would say, first of all, come and get to know the field, check the atmosphere and then decide where to get involved.

  • You said the Israeli public in general has become more extreme in recent years. What caused that, do you think?

    First of all, people lost hope. As long as people still have hope, things will get better; they will still be willing to compromise and take a more tolerant stand. The more people lose their hope, the more extreme they become. We've had a few very rough years here, since the beginning of the second intifada, after the second Camp David talks, since Barak's fiasco, and because the situation has deteriorated to the extent that it has. The less hope people have, the more extreme their opinions become, and their responses are more aggressive; thus the situation deteriorates further. It's a vicious circle. At present I can't see how we can stop it, even though there's a certain period of calm since Abu-Mazen took office, it appears to be a temporary break. We're still in the midst of a process of increasing fundamentalism because there still aren't any political prospects; there still isn't hope for peace.

  • What's your assessment of what happened in the Camp David talks?

    Although so much has been written about the issues, there still is a great deal of misinformation regarding it. It's clear to me that Barak and the Israeli government did not come to negotiate a fair deal. Dual messages were being communicated; on the one hand, there was an honest attempt to achieve peace, yet on the other hand, they attempted to hold on to as much as possible. I think that's an Israeli characteristic: Israelis truly want peace but they aren't willing to pay the price. There was also a rift between the political ranks and the field. The politicians had one agenda and the military had its own. There were more checkpoints, more closures, more killings, more hunger, more dead, more illegal outposts popping up, despite all the proclamations of making peace and compromising. The situation looked very bleak. People didn't want to pay the price because there wasn't a leadership, then things deteriorated to the point that they did. Contrary to the right-wing claim that the intifada is proof that the problem was the Oslo Accords, this isn't proof that they failed; Oslo's solution is the only one that still has any political prospects. The idea of the Oslo Accords, the principle of land in exchange for peace, is still relevant. What it does prove is that its implementation was faulty, even though some claim we haven't begun to implement the Oslo Accords. The problem was in its execution.

  • What needs to be done differently in order for a peace process to succeed?

    What needs to be done or what needs to happen? If you're asking what needs to happen, the answer is that an external [international] source must impose a solution. I don't believe we can reach a peace agreement on our own at present. We lack both the will and the capacity to do so. I believe we've arrived at a point in history where we can't dislodge ourselves from this situation without the intervention of an international actor or actors - it could be the Quartet if they wanted. The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is proof of that. We would never go through with it without the massive pressure that the US is applying.

  • Do you view the withdrawal as a promising sign?

    I'm very distressed by some of what's being said regarding the withdrawal. I'm disturbed by a quote in Ha'aretz from Mr. Weisglass,1 speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister. He said that Gaza is going to be evacuated in order to strengthen Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. I consider what's happening now in Al-Bustan as part of an attempt to strengthen a Jewish presence in East Jerusalem to compensate the settlers for the State's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. I'm very worried, but coming from the field of history I grasp things in terms of processes; so with that perspective in mind, I'm giving it a chance because maybe it will lead to other withdrawals. Obviously this isn't clear, but unlike my other left-wing friends, I don't think it's a fatal blow to the peace process. I think we should give this a chance, and maybe some good will come of it. It really depends on the role of the Americans and Europeans.

  • What does the word peace mean for you?

    I can't answer that without it sounding sentimental. It means leading quiet, peaceful lives, considering a future without fear. For Jerusalemites, it means going out for coffee or getting on a bus without any fear. I admit that when I think about peace I'm mostly thinking of my children. What scares me most is that my children will have to go through the same things we did. It's time for them to enlist, and they decided they will - not to combat units or units stationed in the Territories, they don't want to deal with oppression. I'm afraid of a situation where they will have to go through the same cycle we did: the Yom Kippur War and so on, wars that will get worse over time.

  • How do you feel about your children enlisting in the army?

    First of all, I'm afraid. I certainly am afraid of their military service. Second, I respect their decision. Third, I wish they would refuse to serve. But I do understand the pressure. At that age, growing up in a place like Jerusalem, peer pressure has the ultimate say and I can't force them to start paying the price now, alienating themselves, fighting with friends, all because they would refuse to serve. Perhaps at some point in their military service they'll understand it can't be avoided. At least they understand that they don't want to take part in the mechanisms of oppression and occupation. I respect their decision anyhow.

  • Where do you see signs of hope?

    My approach is dialectical, so I believe in the saying that the worse things are, the more they can improve. When we reach a certain point, when it gets so bad and unbearable, there will be a big bang, which will open people's eyes up and get us back on the peace track. On the one hand I feel we're pretty close to that point where people won't be able to take it any longer and that's when things are bound to change. Unfortunately, when that happens there won't be anybody in the Labor Party or in Meretz capable of offering anything [leadership]. That doesn't exist. Once that takes place, we activists will be out there to show people that another path exists, and it will undoubtedly be very similar to the Geneva Accord, to Clinton's vision, and to the Road Map with some changes. We want to show people there is another way. Why do you think we're close to the 'bang'? I don't want to sound sentimental or presumptuous, but I sense that people who once were willing to sacrifice everything for the Territories are now starting to grasp that there everything has its price. Some began to understand that the settlements aren't sacred or untouchable, following the decision to withdraw from Gaza. There is a rift opening up following the decision to evacuate, people are beginning to understand that at a certain point, sooner or later, we'll have to return other parts [of the Territories], just as we're returning the Gaza Strip. Even though Sharon tried to take it back, he himself said that the occupation cannot continue indefinitely. It affected people; it made people think about the need for seeking other answers. Even though it's an intolerable thing, the separation barrier's contour is making people think in terms of 1967. What I mean is that there is an entire generation that didn't know what the Green Line is, for whom Hebron and Tel Aviv are the same, as are Qalqilia and Netanya.1

    • 1. City in Israel located on the Mediterranean coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Est. population 170,000, the majority of whom are Jewish citizens of Israel.

  • Who doesn't see the difference between Tel Aviv and Hebron?

    It's been thirty-eight years of occupation. There is an entire generation, people who are twenty-five, thirty, thirty-something, who don't know what the Green Line is. They don't understand that we conquered the Territories. They were born when the Territories were a part of our lives. One of the horrible things that happened over this last decade is that the Green Line was erased; it became so natural that people forgot we are occupiers and that we've got a problem. Now, because of the debate regarding the separation barrier, people grasp the meaning; they understand we need separation. Even though they're talking about physical separation and not about political separation, it's clear that the separation barrier is the basis for future political separation. The wall will come down eventually, but even when it does, it will be etched in people's minds that we need to separate the two peoples. Given my dialectical approach, it's a paradox that it can make people understand that we need total separation: two states for two peoples.

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

    Isn't there an easier question? Because the conflict is so multifaceted and complex, there are many roots. Some will point to religion and nationalism and some will claim the roots are human beings and one big misunderstanding. I'm trying to talk less about the conflict's roots and more about its future. In Al-Bustan, where we're working now, people are preoccupied with who was there first, how many houses were built over the last century, or in other words, "who started it." My answer is that I don't care about how it all began. The past is important only for understanding the general situation, but I'm interested in what's happening now: How can we untangle ourselves from this mess, and what will our future look like? All the questions that deal with 'who started it' are relevant in academia. I admit that as a historian I enjoy hearing Palestinian historians' readings of history, hearing their interpretation, their narratives; I look at events that impacted both sides in order to see their interpretation. But that's an academic interest. In real life this question will mean our downfall and prevent us from moving on; I prefer to discuss how we can change. When I do, it's clear to me that the reality is that there are two feuding peoples who have been at it for quite a while and that if we don't separate we will never get ourselves out of this mess. Currently, I'm writing an article about Al-Bustan. There's a struggle between King David and Fakhri Abu-Diab, the Chair of Silwan's Land Defense Committee over who has first rights and who has the right to exist here: King David's bones or Fakhri Abu-Diab's house. It's the struggle between Jewish history and the Palestinian present. The problem is that during the struggle between the present and the past, our future is being sacrificed. I understand those who say this site is so important for the Jewish people, but there are 1,000 people living there; with all due respect to what is under the ground, I still prefer what exists above ground! I think we need to be careful with the question of roots because it keeps tripping us up.

  • Is it important that there be a Jewish state?

    I would like for there to be an Israeli state, definitely. At one time it was important that it be a Jewish state. But at this point in history, there are non-Jewish citizens and we can't discriminate against them; there can't be second-class citizens. I don't want an ethno-centric state. Going back to the issue of fundamentalism, we used to think that this state could be both Jewish and democratic; we believed in that myth for years. The State dealt that a fatal blow last week, when it decided to approve legislation preventing Israeli-Arabs from marrying partners from the Territories.1 It's a terrible thing. It's terrible when the State says, if you marry a partner from the Territories you must leave because your partner won't be eligible for citizenship, or even for residency. I never really believed we were a democracy, but that's a fatal blow to the prospect of ever being one. It's another example of the process of fundamentalism we're undergoing. I want a democratic state, first and foremost. If we don't become a democracy then the Jewish part of it will fall apart and we'll become an Ayatollah version, like in Iran. That's not the Judaism I believe in; I believe in Buber's2 Judaism, that of the prophets, of "Love thy neighbor as thyself." I'm in favor of moral Judaism and not the settlers' version. If we continue this way it is very clear that we won't be a democracy, but we won't be a Jewish state either. In order to save something of Judaism and be a Jewish state that we can be proud to live in, first of all we need to return to democracy, otherwise it will all fall apart.

    • 1. Mr. Margalit is referring to the temporary law (first passed in 2002) that bans Palestinians who married to Israelis from living in Israel. Set to expire in May of 2005, the law was extended. However, a modification was made "to allow Palestinian men who are 35 years old, or older, and women who are at least 25 years old to 'submit requests' to live with their Israeli spouses." See "Israel Eases Ban on Family Unifications," UPI, 15 May 2005. Also see "UN Blasts Israeli Marriage Law," BBC News Online, 15 Aug 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3152651.stm.
    • 2. Refers to Martin Buber (1878-1965), renowned Jewish philosopher, best known for his book, I and Thou.