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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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Dr. Khuloud Dajani

Dr. Khuloud Dajani is a professor and one of the founders of Al-Quds University. She is active in the fields of public diplomacy, social work and peace activism. Since the beginning of the current intifada, Khuloud has been working with the Palestinian based People's Campaign for Peace and Democracy, which works along side the Israeli based Hamifkad Haleumi. Both are grassroots initiatives gathering signatures of Palestinians and Israelis in support of a set of principles to advance peace. Since the beginning of her career, Dr. Dajani has taken part in many conferences and events both locally and in the international arena, advocating the role of women in society and empowering Palestinians to take part in shaping their future.

  • Can you please first introduce yourself and tell us how you got to where you are today?

    My name is Khuloud. My mother is from Safad1 and my father is from Nablus where I spent most of my childhood. I learned a lot there. In my early days, I lived under occupation, which raised many questions for me. I finished school early at the age of sixteen. I studied medicine in Russia until 1982. Afterwards, I practiced medicine for ten years, where I dealt with the public. I realized that human beings generally and doctors specifically, who have to deal with many people, are able to be influential even apart from their clinics and hospitals. I continued my education in the areas of public health, health policy, and administration. I then moved from clinical work to administrative work and finally to academic work. I worked as a professor at Al-Quds University;2 we established colleges such as the health college. Founding Al-Quds University in Jerusalem was a major challenge for the university team, which was headed by Dr. Sari Nusseibeh.3 Within ten years, we have succeeded in building the university of the future state in it’s future capital.4 Lately, and through working in public health, I became totally convinced that peace and a viable means of living are basic to survival. Diseases, such as cholera and malaria are not what threaten human beings. The inability to solve the problems of occupation, oppression, and continuing violence are what threaten our people today. Therefore, I became active in the fields of public diplomacy, public social work and peace making, since peace is essential to the basic life of human beings everywhere and here in particular. It is important for the Palestinians and the Israelis who are living out a tragedy nowadays, be they the occupiers or the people under occupation. Neither reflects the true nature of human beings-- being dominant using weapons or being dominated by weapons. Thus, I had to play a role and be active in peace making; I had to work through the Palestinian institutions and work with the Palestinian people and colleagues. Also, I had to work in cooperation with our enemies, with whom we want to be friends. How can we be friends with our enemies without getting to know them, cooperating with them, understanding and influencing them in order to have a fair peace between the two peoples in the future, for the sake of future generations?In brief, I am a doctor, an administrator, and a professor; I am active in the realm of peace. I studied medicine, and I have a Masters degree in health administration and specialize in public health. Now I am obtaining my PhD in health policy in Bir El-Sabe’ University.5 Recently, I have won several prizes that I am proud of because they affirm the [existence of the] Palestinian state and the [status of the] Palestinian woman. Last year, in 2004, I won the Mohammed Bin Rashed Al-Maktoum award6 as the exceptional Arab woman in administration. This year the American Bibliography Institute nominated me one of the Great Women of the 21st Century and the Women of the Year 2005. I am proud of the prizes I have won and I feel appreciated for the things I have achieved. A person who works with people, society and with marginalized and weakened people out of principle may have great influence and thus garner deep appreciation. It does not have to be financial, at least it is a spiritual appreciation, which makes the person proud of his or her origin, name, and country and motivates him or her to work harder. I am married to Dr. Munther Dajani, a professor in political science. We have three children. Dina, my youngest daughter at fourteen years old, is in the ninth grade. Dina took initiative to get involved; together with a group of young Israelis, she formed a group and named it “Children for Peace”.

    • 1(Sfad in Hebrew) is a city located in northern Israel. Est. population 27,000.
    • 2See the Al-Quds University website http://www.alquds.edu/.
    • 3(1949-) Sari Nusseibeh is a professor and President of Al Quds University and former Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) representative in Jerusalem. Nusseibeh is considered a leading Palestinian intellectual and vocal advocate for a non-violent resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He co-authored the People's Voice Initiative with former Israeli security head Ami Ayalon. See http://www.hashd.org
    • 4Dajani is referring to Jerusalem, declared by the State of Israel in 1980 as its undivided capital, and the city's role as the potential capital of a future Palestinian state. The future role of Jerusalem in a two-state solution has yet to be determined.
    • 5Bir el-Sabe' or (Beer Sheva) University is a different name for Ben-Gurion University.
    • 6Dajani was awarded the Mohammad Bin Rashed al-Maktoum Award for Arab Management-Distinguished Arab Manager (Female). For more information see the website of Mohammed Bin Rashed al-Maktoum (the crown prince of Dubai) at http://www.sheikhmohammed.co.ae/

  • Isn't that the same as Kids4Peace?

    No, Kids4Peace1 is different from Children for Peace. They formed a group by themselves and met on Thursdays. Sometimes, their parents would meet too; or they would speak on the phone. Unfortunately, the group did not continue for long but they did have support from people. They met with individuals, for example, Yossi Beilin and Dr. Sari. They met with people and informed them that they needed a better future; they wanted them to work for peace because they did not wish to fight each other. Rather, they wished to live together.

    • 1Kids4Peace, a special program run by St. George's College Jerusalem, is a peace education program that brings together Israeli and Palestinian children for a summer camp experience in the United States. See http://www.sgcjerusalem.org/Kids4Peace.asp

  • How were they able to find those figures and contact them?

    I forgot the Israeli children’s names, but there were four children from schools in Jerusalem who met with a person and told him that they wanted to meet with Palestinian children. They contacted us, and at the time, we had children working with us in the peace campaign, where they used to attend meetings. So we arranged a meeting for the children, and they started to meet on Thursdays and go on trips together. They would engage in discussion with each other; sometimes they would talk about politics and at other times they would play games. Usually they would speak in English. There is someone who made a film about them called “Children for Peace”, but I have not seen it yet.

  • What fields do you work in and what are the peace related activities you are involved with?

    I work in different areas. I attend any event to which I am invited where there is a chance to talk about peace; I participate in an active and effective way. I work for the children because I believe that one should work for youth; children are the future generation and they are the group for whom we should work in various fields. Working for peace not only pertains to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; we work for peace as part of cultural education or social education. Our society is reacting to the oppression, the suffering, the economic and social crises and the current problems. Psychologically, human beings unconsciously act as defenders. The lack of peaceful upbringing affects children’s daily behavior and their emotional and philosophical upbringing. Twenty or forty years earlier, we were brought up in our societies and homes differently than nowadays. This is because circumstances have changed; circumstances in the street, within families and within society are different. Therefore, raising awareness about peace education is crucial. A culture of peace has to be practiced and lived daily, and to be embraced through behavior and speech. It is what all social ideologies in the entire world call for. So it is good to bring children up according to this philosophy. Therefore, I attended all peace activities for “Children for Peace.” I visit schools and give lectures to Palestinian school children.

  • Did you work with Israeli and Palestinian children or did you focus more on Palestinian children?

    Today, I work with Palestinian children because I am working in this field. But when “Children of Peace” existed, I used to work with both. Actually, I wanted to carry out activities in our campaigns for children. Unfortunately, people do not think about including children. Children are not represented in parliaments. Our people demonstrate arrogance and selfishness, and children are the last sector they think of .We would be better off and our and our society would improve in the future if we worked sincerely for children in all aspects, including education, by investing in them. If we could raise productive, intellectual, educated, and well-behaved youngsters, our society would be more productive socially, economically, culturally, and politically. I was also active in the area of Israeli-Palestinian political cooperation, both through political activities and peace campaigns. I used to live in Amman and when we came back in the period after Oslo, it seemed to be a time of relief, an opportunity for both peoples to create a better future together. Historically, both our people and the Israeli people have shared the same problems. There are even some diseases that are only spread among the two nations such as the familial Mediterranean fever;1 it is a genetic disease which is spread only amongst the Palestinians and the Israelis. I am not sure if it is spread nowadays somewhere else. Children, mothers and women generally experience common suffering. We suffer from environmental problems since we exist in one environment. We suffer from health problems but we also suffer from borders, which were created by politicians after Sykes-Picot.2 However, both peoples had lived in this area peacefully and securely for centuries. They had gone through good and bad times together. Unfortunately, the experiences they shared have turned to confrontation today. Colonization and Zionism have caused this situation, not Judaism, in addition to the political variability in the area and in the entire Middle East in the last century. The establishment of the State of Israel and its occupation of the remaining Palestinian Territories, and the competing claims that continue to exist, have caused a tragedy in the area. The more mutual issues, work, and foundations exist between both peoples, the fewer disputes there are and the more possibilities there are for avoiding such disputes. In the end, disputes are about political issues, but we are all human beings. As human beings, this is what both Jews and Arabs share, and this is what creates a shared foundation for an understanding between both of us. We should be aware of what we shared historically; we should be aware of how both societies were affected socially whether as a result of the existence of extremists on both sides or the existence of disagreements based on faulty logic. After the occupation, our people became dependent on the Israelis economically, whereas we as Palestinians used to be economically independent.

    • 1According to the United States National Human Genome Research Institute, Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF) is "an inherited disease, characterized by recurrent attacks of fever, inflammation of the abdominal lining (peritonitis), inflammation of the lining surrounding the lungs (pleurisy), painful, swollen joints (arthralgia and occasionally arthritis), and a characteristic ankle rash. FMF is a rare disease worldwide, however, "it is very common in people of Sephardic (non-Ashkenazi) Jewish, Armenian, Arab and Turkish heritage," afflicted about 1 in 200 people with these backgrounds. For more information see http://www.genome.gov/12510679.
    • 2A secret treaty concluded by France and Britain in May of 1916. The agreement essentially divided the Arab Middle East between the two powers, with France claiming the lands of Syria and Lebanon while Britain secured a large portion of what is today Iraq as well as indirect influence in the area between the Gaza Strip and Kirkuk. See. William L. Cleveland. A History of the Modern Middle East. 2nd ed. (Boulder: Westview Press, 2000) 159-160.

  • When were Palestinians economically independent?

    A century ago. During the past single century, many things deteriorated and a gap between both nations was created. It is good to have treaties and peace aspirations, but it is not enough to have them just on paper and not in reality, to not work for the elevation of the Palestinians’ position, not to compensate Palestinians for the suffering, through legal compensation. Jews today are compensated,1 for example, if one lost a farm in Germany or Geneva or any other place, he or she confiscates lands in the Palestinian Territories. The gap, which was created between both peoples, is what we ought to address through the promotion of peace. I have worked with several doctors in Israeli universities on health issues, such as drug problems. We wrote manuals in Arabic to treat drug addiction, which we Palestinians and the people in the Occupied Territories of 1948-- the Palestinians living currently in Israel -- may use. We worked on these manuals as an Israeli-Palestinian team concerned with a common problem. For example, the drug problem is a global problem. We as two nations suffer from universal problems. It is very important that we try to solve such problems together. Together with a group, I am currently working on addressing the problem of homeless children. That phenomenon is a global problem, especially in Eastern Europe and Russia; millions of children suffer as a result of inadequate parental care. This problem exists here as well. There are many street children whose families face problems; there are children who lost their parents. Many parents are either imprisoned or martyred; many mothers are lost and their children are left by themselves. For example, a child from Hebron would be sleeping in the Bell Garden2 in Jerusalem and wander in the day because he has no parents. There are many environmental, social, economic, medical, and health problems that we should work on because these problems do not know borders. If polio existed in a certain country or area, the whole Middle East would be affected. Therefore, we cannot refuse to take action and say, “There are borders, that’s it.” In this way, we learn a lot about each other. Sometimes we feel that we can work together and sometimes we feel that we can’t work together. Relationships enable us to foresee how we can work together better in the future, and how we can be more understanding as two peoples. This definitely takes time.

    • 1Dajani is referring to compensation for Jewish victims and survivors of the Holocaust during WWII. For more information, see the Claims Conference (The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany), an organization set up in 1951 in partnership with Israel in order to negotiate for and distribute payments from Germany, Austria, other governments and certain industries. As of July 2005, the Claims Conference states it has been responsible for distributing compensation to more than 500,000 Holocaust survivors in 67 countries. http://www.claimscon.org/.
    • 2Liberty Bell Garden is an open-air activity park and community center located in West Jerusalem.

  • Which are the universities involved in this kind of study?

    The University of Haifa,1 Ben-Gurion University and Al-Quds University as well. Also, Tel-Aviv University and Bar Ilan University.2 We, as teachers at the Al Quds University, have relations with all the Israeli universities. I personally had relations through some projects, such as health projects and peace projects at Haifa and Ben Gurion and at Tel Aviv for law students. We work hard on programs with Israeli and Palestinian students. In the beginning, we arrange a facilitation program for those students through universities in this country, and then afterwards, they go together to a European country and study in different fields such as human rights. In addition to these activities, I was very active in two campaigns for peace. The first was the National Peace Campaign, which took place on December 28, 2001 and included about 1000 Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.3 I was one of the organizers of this event, and Sari Nusseibeh was the head of our team. All Palestinian organizations and groups participated in the campaign. The Israelis also held a demonstration; among them were Yossi Sarid, Yossi Beilin, Yuli Tamir and Women in Black. All Israeli and Palestinian activists of the peace movement gathered at the Hebron Gate4 and signed a paper that we called “Time for Peace.” It aims to promote peace because violence was escalating between the Palestinians and the Israelis. It was the beginning of a hopeless intifada unplanned by both peoples. The mutual violence rose out of the fear that peace agreements would not succeed, especially after the failure of Camp David, Taba negotiations and the return of Israel’s practices of oppression, killing, confiscation of land, checkpoints, etc. Palestinians responded to the oppression in order to defend themselves. One way of defending themselves was by carrying out martyrdom operations. At a certain point, we needed the parties who carry out such operations to think twice about the operations that target Israeli citizens. Despite the fact that we are living in a period of conflict, we should let our plight be known through the media on the international level and find an Arabic, Palestinian, and even Islamic spokespeople who could reflect the truth about us; the truth that we are not for the killing and targeting of civilians. Our issue is of great importance and is a legitimate one. Sometimes if you are unable to defend your issue appropriately and to make your voice heard internationally, you may be hurting your cause. With the National Peace Campaign we aimed to change policy, to speak up, and to choose nonviolence, because Palestinians and Israelis are not equal militarily. Our voices are equally as important as Israelis'; our cause is just. This campaign was carried out together by both Israelis and Palestinians. Our meetings were national and voluntary, and took place in the field. Regarding the field, there are checkpoints. We worked with Ta’ayush,Machsom Watch, and people working for peace.During this period, other issues became clear. We saw that the Israeli leftists were for peace, but they alone could not affect the peace process. Two courageous individuals, Dr. Sari Nusseibeh and Ami Ayalon addressed for the first time sensitive issues which no one else wished to speak about. They used a referendum to plan a solution for both peoples based on fundamental principles. First they addressed the 1967 borders, and then the existence of settlers, Jerusalem as one city with two capitals (East and West Jerusalem), the compensation of refugees, the return of refugees to Israel or Palestine. That is, Israelis around the world would return just to Israel, and the Palestinians around the world would return just to Palestine. If there were any opportunity for consent to a family reunification, this would concern both countries. UN Resolution 194 approves the return of the refugees to their Palestinian homeland, even though Israel would never agree on the return of five million refugees to Israel. Of course, there was a requirement for Palestine to be unarmed. This would provide an opportunity for calm and economic growth instead wasting money on weapons. Thirdly, they addressed the need for an international commitment that pledges security and stability to the Palestinians in their homeland. We addressed ways to improve the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, and the Israelis relations with the other regions. Today, we are following a different policy; we are talking about two independent countries for two peoples after independence, which will allow both peoples to enjoy the land that we call Palestine and they call Israel. In the end, I will be in Nablus and Jerusalem but I will never stop loving or visiting Safad and Haifa. At the same time, Israelis who wish to visit Prophet Yusef’s tomb or Abraham’s Mosque5 have the right to do so. So if we were able to share the beloved country and at the same time to divide it in order not to remain in conflict, we would have a chance for a better future and for ourselves and our children as well. So we have started a campaign called the “Palestinian Campaign for Peace and Democracy”. The campaign is based on six principles6 and envisions an independent Palestinian state, which is democratic, just, economically independent, etc.

    • 1See the University of Haifa website http://www.haifa.ac.il/.
    • 2Bar-Ilan University is located in Ramat Gan, a city in Israel located just outside of Tel Aviv. See the Bar-Ilan University website http://www.biu.ac.il/index_eng.shtml.
    • 3Refers to the People's Campaign for Peace and Democracy (Hashd) is a Palestinian peace movement that advocates "an end to violence and a resumption of negotiations for the creation of a democratic Palestinian State," seeking to "empower the Palestinian People through grassroots involvement in ending the conflict" and the development of Palestinian civil society. See http://www.hashd.org/english/index.htm.
    • 4One of the entrances into the walled Old City of Jerusalem. Known in English as Jaffa Gate, and in Hebrew at Shar Yafo (Jaffa Gate).
    • 5Abraham's (Ibrahim's) Mosque is located in the West Bank city of Hebron at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site venerated by both Muslims and Jews. The mosque was the scene of a great tragedy in 1994 when Jewish immigrant Baruch Goldstein opened fire on Muslims during Friday prayer, killing 29.
    • 6For the six principles of the People's Voice Initiative see, http://www.mifkad.org.il/en/principles.asp.

  • What role did you play in the campaign?

    I helped Dr. Sari Nusseibeh with the Palestinian side since I was his assistant at the university. As time passed, we noticed that there was a large sector of Israeli society missing from peace activities-people who may approve of a just peace for the Palestinians, not necessarily through peaceful coexistence but rather through separation and independence of each people in their own state. I even remember Ayalon saying that even though the Israelis believe they have triumphed, the Palestinians believe that their success is the mere fact that Israelis are afraid of violence. The Israelis don’t realize that Palestinians consider their fearfulness a success. Israelis have realized and become convinced that Israeli peace can be achieved through acknowledging Palestinian identity, which is a prerequisite for fulfilling the Palestinian national aspiration. The moment Israelis became convinced of this idea, they started advocating for the independence of both Israelis and Palestinians, based on shared principles. Jerusalem should remain one city; East Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, shall be governed by the Palestinian leadership, and West Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, shall be governed by the Israeli leadership. Another sensitive issue was the refugee problem, a question that was addressed by Dr. Sari Nusseibeh in different scenarios. Why should the Palestinian refugees be allowed to return only to the Palestinian homeland but not to the place or house they left? It is true that talks were taking place regarding the five million Palestinian refugees and the fact that Israel would never agree to their return to the occupied territories of 1948.1 Israel did not allow a Palestinian state comprised only of Palestinians, nor an Israeli state with another five million Palestinians in addition to the current six million Israelis, of which 1.25 million among them are Arabs. Therefore, he was suggesting realistic solutions to the Palestinians and the Israelis. If one studies resolution number 194, it states the right to return or compensation. The Palestinian refugees deserve to return from the refugee camps in Lebanon2 and other countries to their homeland, and to have their own identity, to live in dignity, to be compensated on an individual level and on a national level in order to build a country which would allow the Palestinians to live in dignity. In fact, there were two leaders: Ayalon on the Israeli side and Dr. Sari Nusseibeh on the Palestinian side. They had similar values based on turning certain unrealistic dreams into a reality in which both could live. First, they came to an agreement and then they signed a paper. I was one of those who worked on the translation and publication of this paper from the beginning through November 2003, the day it was published in the newspapers.3 After it was published, more than 1200 Palestinians signed it in approval of these principles. Then both Israelis and Palestinians began organizing, not as a party or movement, but to spread the ideas among all Palestinians and Israelis who seek peace; for example, Fatah and other parties. People from the revolutionary council and central committee of Fatah, people in universities, and lecturers and so on, all were approached. In other words, both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, were active. The campaign was officially started on June 5, 2003, when we started to collect as many signatures as possible from the entire population. In the same month, the Israelis also started the campaign Mifkad Hale’umi,4 and were also going after signatures. At regular intervals, we publish in both our websites and newspapers the number of votes and signatures we have received. The number of votes was three at first, then rose to reach 1,000. It continued to rise through today to reach 210,000 signatures among Israelis, and more than 160,000 signatures among Palestinians.5 These statistics were from the year 2004. During Abu Mazen’s election campaign, we halted activities in order to support the campaign. In fact, the reality was that Abu Mazen’s attitudes and beliefs reflected many of our campaign’s goals, including not targeting civilians, nonviolent responses towards our problem, a period of truce for a just and peaceful political settlement, and finally, suggesting issues agreed upon by Palestinians that we can all work on solving. After Abu Mazen's victory, we resumed our activities to promote our campaign, and we continued to collect more signatures. Collecting signatures indicates the number of participants and the extent to which the idea is spreading. There are posts in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. There are coordinators and a structural body in each district. An executive council is elected in each district. There are executive council coordinators and central commissions for women, youth, projects, media, external relations, public relations, awareness and political activities, in addition to some of the organizing members. Together, 51 members-- including the executive council of the National Campaign for Peace and Democracy, and the General Director Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, in addition to the current organizing body and executive council--democratically elect the new council, according to the laws and orders which the institution follows. I am a member and a decision maker in the executive council. We have an office in Jerusalem. We carry out different activities all over. What is interesting is that I am proud of the members; I am proud of Bethlehem and the activities there. I am proud of all the people working on the campaign in different districts: Qalqilya, Jenin, Nablus. I am proud of every place where people are working appropriately and in the right place to publicize their ideas.

    • 1The right of return for Palestinian refuges is one of the major final-status issues yet to be resolved in the two-state solution framework. Ms. Dajani is referring to the notion that the State of Israel would be unlikely to allow a majority of Palestinian refugees to return to lands captured by Israel in the War of 1948, for fear that such an act would shift the demographic balance inside Israel from a Jewish majority to a minority. Many observers believe that in a final settlement agreement some form of compensation or restitution would replace the physical return of most refugees to territories inside of Israel.
    • 2The total registered Palestinian refugee population of Lebanon was about 400,000 as of March 2005, with a little more than half of that number living in refugee camps. For more information see the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) http://www.un.org/unrwa/refugees/lebanon.html.
    • 3The People's Campaign for Peace and Democracy's "Vote for Peace Document" (i.e., the Nusseibeh-Ayalon Agreement) was first published in the Palestinian papers of Al-Quds, Al-Ayyam, and Al-Hayya Al-Jadida on June 5th, 2003. See http://www.hashd.org/english/eliazabith/statevision.htm.
    • 4Hebrew meaning "the national census," is a group that advocates and promotes the signing of the "People's Voice Initiative," a civilian-led joint Palestinian-Israeli statement sponsored by Sari Nusseibeh and Ami Ayalon. See http://www.mifkad.org.il/en/.
    • 5According to the Mifkad Hale'umi website, the "People's Voice Initiative" has been signed by 254, 165 Israelis and 161,000 Palestinians as of July 2005.

  • How engaged were Palestinians and Israelis in the campaign?

    In general, the Israelis’ involvement was greater. As a matter of fact, all groups who participated in the campaigns were hopeful about peace, especially the women and the older community and retired community. In regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, unfortunately there are interests and power interests in and between both sides which sometimes affect the peace equation. This phenomenon is very clear. We actually felt hopeful when Dr. Sari and General Ayalon signed a joint statement.1 Ayalon put pressure on the Israelis and the Israeli right wing. Finding people like Ayalon who call for peace is a good thing. I believe that Ayalon still calls for such principles even though he belongs today to the Labor Party. We hope that if Ayalon has political influence someday, those principles will still be brought forward and implemented. Another joint project that I am involved in is called “Birthing Together.” An Israeli-Palestinian group from different areas works on this project, specifically from Gaza and the South where Kibbutz Kissufim2 is located to the south of Beer Sheva. The people there have offered a piece of their land. In brief, the idea is to arrange a project which we call the “Transborder Project,” meaning that the Israeli-Palestinian borders between Gaza and Israel could not be used. But there are many other projects which are mainly economic, such as the Karni3 and Rafah terminals which resulted from coordination between both countries. In this project, a hospital or a maternity house should be built for the people in the area. This is a cooperative project. They came up with the idea and agreed on the location. The Israelis worked on providing a piece of land and registering the association. The hospital may be expanded in the future, because the nearest hospital to the Israelis is in Beer Sheva and the nearest hospital to the Palestinians is in Gaza. The presence of such a hospital with medical care provided by the World Health Organization4 , which sponsors different hospitals in conflict areas to aid the people, may be a highly successful project that provides services to people in need. Furthermore, it may help create a common language between the two peoples to support the society in an attempt to solve the problems related to health and hospitals.

    • 1Refers to Ayalon's and Nusseibeh's "People's Voice Initiative," see http://www.hashd.org/english/index.htm.
    • 2is located near the Gaza border. A kibbutz is a community established by and for Jews based on communal property, in which members have no private property but share the work and the profits of some collective enterprise, typically agricultural but sometimes also industrial. Initially founded in Ottoman Palestine on socialist ideals and currently located by and large in Israel, many kibbutzim (plural for kibbutz) have become privatized in the last few decades.
    • 3The Karni terminal is the main border crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
    • 4The World Health Organization (WHO) is the United Nations specialized agency for health. See http://www.who.int/en/.

  • You said that the Israeli side had provided the land and registered the institute. Is it also going to include Palestinian land in Gaza?

    If the Palestinians wanted to provide a piece of land, the state is the one who has to offer the land and not the people. Everything is centralized here. For the Israelis, the kibbutz residents supplied the land and one of the residents follows up on the project. Whereas we would have to go to the head of the government, get their approval, make sure the land is empty, and finally get the approval that this land can be used especially for the project. So it would require follow-up with officials and the ministers of health and labor to organize an NGO.

  • It seems like you are in the early stages of the project, how often do you meet together, Israelis and Palestinians, to make plans?

    Yes, but hopefully in the future, all this will take place. The project’s title is “Birthing Together” because the idea of this project is to give birth to a common dream: Palestinian and Israeli children being born at the same place, and along with their parents receiving care from childhood onward. The idea focuses on maternity and child-care in general, but the targeted group of children who will be cared for in the hospitals may be unique. But the idea is not yet completely developed and we do not know exactly how the project is going to be carried out.

  • How did the Palestinian-Israeli conflict affect your life?

    It has had a huge influence. I think that the Palestinians in general and me in particular, no matter how hard we try to ignore the conflict, we suffer in our daily life on all levels. We suffer on the international, regional, national and individual levels. We all suffer; we suffer at the borders, we suffer in claiming our identity, which is our right. There is fear, suffering, loss, torment, martyrdom, death, disabilities, a certain weakness, and the stripping not of one’s weapons but of the basic elements that provide security and stability. All these elements have created great challenges for the Palestinians. They have dealt with this challenge since childhood, and it has created exceptional people. This challenge has given their lives a different meaning than all the other people in the world. The suffering has a meaning; the soldier, the checkpoint, the roadblocks, and the separation wall all have meaning. Each day creates an issue that gives a different meaning to our life. No one in the entire world leads this kind of life. I do not know how to describe it.

  • What made you work in the fields of health and maternity care? What experiences did you go through which inspired you to dedicate yourself to cooperate and work for peace?

    Since the start of the occupation in 1967, I suppose, all who endured this period felt Arab impotence. Each one of us believes that he or she personally can achieve a lot. But as a nation, a people, and a leadership we are not able to attain anything. These feelings make us, the Arabs, more willing to work. I told you that I work with both the Israelis and the Palestinians because it is not enough to just work on us without working on the Israelis. Likewise, working on the Israelis without addressing us as Palestinians is worthless. I was a child [in 1967] but I still I had many questions. In one way, occupation has subjected us to weapons and oppression. At the same time, we have watched our enemies and other developed countries and seen how they work. Definitely, we are not going to win over Israel if we remain underdeveloped. If we remained underdeveloped militarily, economically, technologically, and socially, if we are far behind the world, we would be lying to ourselves. We would never see hope. I am now speaking realistically and not emotionally. When I went to Russia, I was accompanied by Palestinian colleagues from the Galilee, but they had Israeli passports.1 At a certain stage, other Arab students refused to deal with them. This raised a major question for me; those are the people who persisted and never left their houses in 1948. Those are the only people who preserved the Arabs’ existence in the occupied Palestinian territories in 1948, and this is the way we treat them? In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the idea of Israel’s existence in the region was not yet accepted. Many things in life become reality at a certain time and human beings cannot choose. In daily life, we sometimes ignore events, for instance on the familial level, to show refusal. For a long time, we ignored the existence of Israel. But this doesn’t mean that it is not there or that it does not exist. It occupied us. I can’t deny the existence of the occupiers and vice versa. Israel as well cannot occupy us and deny our existence as human beings since Israel can only see the land devoid of human beings. Israel refuses to see the Palestinians as human beings. There are several issues other than the daily suffering, issues pertaining to the Palestinians who have Israeli passports with the intention of maintaining their entity. The last situation I experienced was during my visit to Safad in 2001 when I was searching for my mother’s house but couldn’t find it. I couldn’t find the house in Haifa. It is hard to inform someone that you can’t return to your house when they are still holding on to its key. It is as if you shatter the only hope in your life on the rock of reality. But if you were to ask anyone holding a key to go and open the door that was once his, he would not be able to find the house and even if he finds it, he would not be able to live in the different and strange environment. He may find the house but to find his own environment would be much better. I once believed in a resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict where the refugees and the detainees were the two basic elements. These people must be in their own land and be able to work for our people, our state, our future and our identity. This would be a different situation. Actually, I follow the Israeli news a lot and I clearly see how proud they are since the occupation. In 1968, they carried out a military demonstration in the French Hill2 which was empty then. I was watching and thinking how hard they were working and how we still have much work to do. Of course they intend to occupy our country; they have exploited our weakness. Our cause is just but they are treating us unequally. It is much harder to work for peace than to engage in war. Working for peace requires many thoughts and ideas; it demands that you cooperate with the opposite side instead of neglecting it. It requires a lot of skills.

    • 1Refers to Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel.
    • 2French Hill is neighborhood located in northeast Jerusalem.

  • What challenges do you encounter in you work?

    In this period, a major challenge is women’s issues. I noticed that it is hard for many people to listen to the women of our society. A woman and a man may talk about the same topic, but when the man speaks, all people listen and understand, whereas when the woman speaks, it is not the same thing. It would be good for women to be heard, yet it is even better to be understood. This means that half of our society is marginalized. Even if you are a woman and aim to empower women, you still have a long road ahead of you. Women themselves accept their insignificant role in society in certain situations. For example, women accept being dependent and not independent; they accept not participating, and they are satisfied. Traditional women in our society, rather than the working women, embrace their role of being mothers more than being professionally productive, even though as human beings they should appreciate their role of being productive in addition to their role as mothers. This does not only make them equal to men, but rather puts them before men. Women are the origin of life; they are gifted with “X chromosome”, with motherhood, and their ability to give birth, and this makes them have special value. It helps them be more effective within the family, society, and the nation. Regardless of their work, whether there is hard currency, soft currency, or there is no financial outcome at all, women should work in any field that helps them to form their own characters and be more confident in the importance of their own existence. Productive work--or economic independence--is essential to women who are prevented from enjoying being in their own society. Many women are subjugated by men, such as their brother, husband, father, etc.; they are not economically independent because they prefer to preserve the tradition within the family or to satisfy men’s desire for ownership. Neither Islam, history, economics nor logic deny women their rights, but rather, they deny themselves. Economic independence is crucial to women’s self-confidence and personal independence. Women first have to work and play a role in society, and then we will focus on the next step, which may include decision-making, political participation, and policy-making for the country. However, it is hard to ask women now to start working immediately in the parliament and start making decisions. It certainly requires adequate preparation. Everything in the world must start somewhere, even if it is late in coming. Because women do not always act in their own self interest, they unfortunately hurt their own cause. The structure of our society consists of families in which women are always dependent upon men; thus, women’s relationships to each other are still not as developed as they need to be. Palestinian women can be much more supportive of each other when they understand each other, but we still have not reached this point. Occupation, checkpoints, etc. are also major problems. Many things could be achieved, but there are no resources in this country. There is no national economy. We need to have our own law and order, because the lack of order and reason is a big problem. People are very hasty. I want people to rely more on reason than on their emotions. I want us to think in a logical way to enable us to solve our own problems. There are many gaps in our society between different groups, between the refugees and the citizens. There are gaps between different classes, between the imprisoned and free people, and between ancestors and their descendents.

  • What did your family and the people around you think about your work?

    In general, in my family we all believe that peace is the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that we have to work for it. Therefore, we all work for peace. We have to do something, and we can’t use other means to solve our problem. Regarding my youngest daughter’s response, I once told her that we were attending a meeting for peace, and she answered: “Mom, don’t kid yourself. You are not working for peace; you are working for surrender.” She was eight years old then. She challenged me. The peace we are working for ought to be a genuine peace for the courageous. People should be convinced that peace is in line with what they want. People think that peace is surrender. My daughter’s reaction was normal for her because she was living in the midst of the intifada and violence. She was thinking, “What are you talking about?” People’s reaction was that we have to work for peace but we have to do it in the right way, to have the right outcome, and not be the ones to destroy our own cause and surrender to history. The people working for peace need to be able to give the Palestinians back their legitimate rights. If you work for peace and do not achieve anything, you will never be remembered in history, or you will be remembered negatively. People are for peace, but for a just peace based on international legitimacy, including the 1967 borders, compensation and return of the refugees to the Palestinian state, return of Israeli settlers to Israel, etc.

  • What are the main misconceptions that people have about your work in general?

    People require a long time to understand why I am working. From their perspective, they are not used to seeing women working in certain fields with courage and with determination. We have a certain image of the women in our society. Sometimes, they feel that women working in different fields are rebellious. Even though what is most important for women is knowing their different roles as a mother, citizen, employee, wife, daughter, etc. People see what they wish to see instead of reality. That is why most of the time people do not understand what I am doing.

  • What is the main misconception of the conflict?

    The main misconception is that Israelis think this is their promised land, given to them by God, and that they should have this land without a people. Even educated professors and doctors still believe that it is their promised land.1 Could you elaborate on that? I met with Israeli scholars and very high ranking individuals in higher education etc. Some of them come with an illogical argument of the land promised to them by God and ignore the issue of the people who are living in the land with all the historical, social, cultural dimensions of life and mainly their basic human right of existing and living in their own homes and lands, as well as having the right to justice and equality! Based on this I feel that there are arguments between our two peoples that may lead nowhere, especially if used as a basis for future decisions.

    • 1Refers to the notion that the Land of Israel was promised in the Bible as the religious and geographic homeland of the Jewish people, a notion held by some Israelis, Jews and others.

  • You engage a lot today in activities where you cooperate with the Israelis. What is a red line for you that may not be crossed?

    You wouldn’t believe me if I told you that I do not wish to speak about politics. My red line is the shedding one drop of blood from a human being. I hope that tomorrow the violence will end and then we can sit and try to resolve the problems. Because we are fighting over nonsense; we are fighting over sand and stones. This is the red line, especially when children are involved. Sooner or later, problems will be resolved and all the people who have been killed would be a waste to us and to the Israelis. It would be a loss to the caring mother, the father who sacrificed for the family, the wife, the people, the whole nation, and the entire world.

  • What do you consider as a success in you work?

    “A thousand miles start with a single step.” The truth is that I do not know where to start, but the origin of all success is the freedom of human beings. Any person who can feel freedom from occupation, from fear... that is the most important success. Therefore, collective freedom starts with individual freedom. You can’t imagine a free land where the citizens are still not free. Genuine success is a free human being whoever he or she is, whether children, women, or men... The different kinds of freedom are: freedom from hunger, freedom of expression, freedom from fear and occupation, the freedom of everything.

  • What are the most important lessons you have learned through your activities?

    Nothing is impossible. Dreams may not come true today or tomorrow, but some real issues have a better chance of coming true. Yet, one always has to be patient and to choose the right work at the right time. Another lesson I have learned is that humanity is the most important thing. Regardless of their age and background, each human being has something to offer as a contribution. However, it is so important to give people support. Even though it takes more time, the outcome from working together is greater than from individualistic work. The third lesson I learned is reflected in my personality. One should never feel desperate. Hope is a positive power that can achieve the impossible, whereas despair is destructive. The moment our people feel desperate, the countdown to their end starts. Fortunately, I have never felt this way. Our people and colleagues only seek security and are always hopeful. Finally, we are going through hard times and complex circumstances. However, despite the difficulties and our great ambitions, achievements are considered crucial. As long as there is achievement, life is still there. Words only, without actions, are a fatal disease to the entire Arab World. Our religions and culture traditionally instruct us by saying “Do.” Therefore, actions are what count and not words. It is faith and not fame. As long as there is faith, determination, education, and work, there is still hope and there is still a future. This equation will be different if any of the above elements are missing.

  • Where do you consider yourself to be in relation to the Palestinian mainstream?

    I do not know how the Palestinians see me. I am a worker, an academic, I’m from this country and I’m honest and patriotic. I can see myself in the street, in the establishment, and in any place that accepts me and allows me to work with it. I may be a soldier in a ditch, an official in an organization, a director of a project, or a doctor in a clinic. As long as there are achievements, work, and acceptance... I can’t imagine myself being in a place where I am not accepted. Thank God I was accepted warmly in all the places where I have worked because I was always caring, generous, helpful, and respectful. I have never harmed or been rude to anyone. I respect the young as well as the old. I care for the poor before the rich. I think about the guard before the director. This is why I was accepted, loved, and respected wherever I worked. Unfortunately, the most challenging difficulty I encountered throughout my life is some people’s jealousy. I would very much like to work together and strengthen each other, but I have noticed that in the Palestinian professional, academic, and labor sectors there exists unnecessary competition. The field of labor is wide. There is room for everyone to work. Even if all were working, there is still much work to be done. The more we work cooperatively and transparently, the more our people will benefit. There is also a problem regarding Palestinians’ working as a team whether on education, planning, or in the establishment. And what do you think that is? Firstly, it is due to a flawed upbringing. Secondly, to the absence of authority; when authority and social codes are absent, the law of the jungle will prevail, even if people are dressed up. When there is jungle law, it will sound strange if someone wants to implement the rule of law. There is an absence of law, order, authority, all terms of reference which serve justice and create opportunities and equality of jobs. One can’t blame the people for this absence. When people start to exploit one another and the national resources with no supervision, you don’t have the right to blame the people. Some would say that if they did not work, other people would. Unfortunately, we are in need of national efforts, regional and local frameworks to support the national interests. National interests should be represented by a national body, be it governmental or non-governmental.

  • Which international community has the greatest influence over the peace process and the conflict in this region?

    Definitely, America has the greatest influence. In the 1970’s, before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there were two powers in the world. At a certain stage, the Communists were supportive of Palestine. After the fall of the Soviet Union, America was left to rule the world. In recent years, even the Israeli-Palestinian problem has appeared as a minor issue in the Middle East, following the war in Iraq1 and all the other events that are taking place in the region. Today, we have to pay more attention to ourselves as Palestinians and Israelis in an attempt to solve our problem. America has the greatest power over this region. However, I am sure that conflict resolution depends on us, Palestinians and Israelis. “The sky doesn’t rain gold or silver,” meaning that we have to work in order to gain. As two nations, we have to plant the future seeds. Together, we should plan our future with understanding. We already planned our future, that is, the Palestinians and the Israelis plan their future each day through their words and behavior toward themselves or toward the other. When the Israeli people choose Sharon2 and allow the Israeli military to ruin the Palestinians, this means that they have chosen war. But when they choose a government that calls for peace based on certain principles, they would be choosing peace; it is the same for the Palestinians. Instead of planning their future separately, given that we both live on the same land, our lives intermingle, and that we are the occupied and they are the occupiers, the best way is to plan our future together. We have to plan the best future for both of us for the long and short run. In this way, we would both be secure.

    • 1Refers to the US-led invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003 and the ensuing war.
    • 2Refers to Ariel Sharon (1928-) Prime Minister of Israel, March 2001-present. Member of the Likud Party. Israeli Minister of Defense during the Lebanon War from 1981 to 1983, when he resigned after a government commission found him indirectly responsible for the September 1982 massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Lebanese Christian Phalangist militias. Other positions held by Ariel Sharon include: Minister of Agriculture from 1977-1981, Minster of Trade and Industry from 1984-1990, and Foreign Minister from 1998-1999. Sharon held the position of Minister of Construction and Housing from 1990-1992, which witnessed the "biggest building drive in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza since Israel occupied the territories in 1967." While Sharon was referred to by many as the "father of the settlement movement," he initiated and oversaw the withdrawl of all Israeli settlers from the Gaza strip in the summer of 2005. See Ariel Sharon Encyclopædia Britannica. 2004 Encyclopædia Britannica Online http://search.eb.com/eb/article?tocId=9067159 Also see the BBC profile of Ariel Sharon http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1154622.stm.

  • Why do you think previous peace attempts were unsuccessful?

    Well, actually they were a failure. Of course they were not a success because we are not yet democratic. The government and the people are separated. Why do you think that we “peace camps” are now working on the grassroots level and why do you think we need the people’s signatures? It is because we are targeting the people and not the government. If the government works solo and if it isn’t honest with the people, there will be a deep gap and, as the saying goes, the people will be “dancing to the tune of the government.” The government and the people should be interrelated in national and political awareness. This indicates democracy, openness, and political awareness. This means involving the people in decision-making, according to their positions. I am sure that a large percentage of the people who knows the word "Oslo" know it just by name. They are not aware of what exactly Oslo was, even the people who signed Oslo. I am serious. I wish that people would carefully study the papers they sign, and be able to discuss and explain them to the people. There are many missing, unclear issues. Secondly, the different treaties--take for instance Camp David-- there was a chance, but the Palestinian resistance movement was not mature at that time. We are always backwards and we never carefully study our opportunities. We constantly refuse some opportunities illogically. We do not deal with opportunities in a tactical way. Nobody gains anything easily; one has to demand. We have our own values that no one can forbid us to suggest at any moment. We are aware that there is an understanding about East Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, 1967 borders, etc. These divisions may be well-known, and we can live according to these principles. We may not gain it today; it may need time. We may gain if we follow a nonviolent way of life, if we have clear principles and if we are clear about our ultimate goal, but nevertheless we behave in this way. However, we are not mature enough in politics, negotiations, and in different roles. Centrality exists here. Our government belongs to one person only. It is true that we speak a lot in ceremonies and write, but our ideas are shattered. As a country, we think that we have parties, and a political democratic partisan system that does effective work. But I am sure that we do not have this. Maybe we have only started to achieve it. You can't blame anyone because our circumstances are hard. As an Arab nation among the Arab countries, we are considered the first in regards to democracy and freedom of speech now that the elections took place. During the Arab elections, people elect one individual and not a group. The percentage of the vote is 97-98%. Therefore, we had a great responsibility. As Palestinians, our circumstances are hard. We are as orphans to the world. Only people who believe in our Palestinian cause would cooperate with us. Since we still do not have interrelated ties with Western countries and many others, it is easy for people to fight against us. Nowadays, we have formed our identity and our country using difficult means, causing blood, death, martyrs, conflict, secret work, and underground work. The period of the intifada was a very difficult time. It was an immature period. Our youth did not have the benefit of education, labor and economics; their sources and land were taken away. Our people live in the Diaspora and look for a home. It is crucial for us to find our home now; the home that would unify us until we mature. Opportunities were limited when you consider the people who signed them. For example, Oslo was signed by Fatah and the Labor party.1 The Likud party was definitely not satisfied. None of the other parties were involved. Another example is, the Jordanian and the Palestinian teams who went together to Washington, but the Washington negotiations were canceled upon the emergence of Oslo.2 In Washington, we could have demanded our legitimate 1967 borders which extend between Jordan and Israel and then demanded to have our own state. Because the Jordanians were absent from the negotiations, the issue of the Palestinian borders was taken off the table. These are simple issues; nevertheless, they require maturity on the Palestinian level and on the Arab level. Confidence is lacking on all levels, such as the Palestinian-Israeli confidence and the Palestinian-Arab confidence. Tomorrow is a mystery. The suggested peace deals were always on the wrong track, either in regards to the timing, the period of political awareness, the participants, people's reaction, people's awareness or people's participation in the decisions. All of these issues played a significant role.

    • 1Refers to the signatory parties involved in the Oslo Process. While the agreement was between the Israeli government and the PLO, the Israeli government was led at the time by the Labor Party while the dominant faction in the PLO was Yasser Arafat's Fatah.
    • 2With the signing of the Oslo Accords, the framework for agreement and negotiations based on the Madrid talks of 1991 (of which the US was a major and mediator sponsor) were replaced. For example, see: "Secret Diplomacy Overtakes Peace Process Begun in Madrid, Agence France Presse, 1 Sept 1993.

  • What are your expectations for the next 5-10 years?

    I want to sound optimistic and hopeful that the truce will continue.1 It is much easier to achieve a political settlement when there are no funerals or violence. As Palestinians, I hope that we make our desires known. I hope that there will be a chance for the chairman of the PNA and the officials to declare a Palestinian state defined by the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, and the Palestinians’ return to Palestine “as a declaration only.” Palestinians everywhere shall carry the Palestinian passport and have the right to visit Palestine, in addition to the other travel document that they already carry. It is impossible to tell a Palestinian to leave a country and live here after he has grown up and spent his whole life there. The Palestinian passport would enable the carrier to visit his country. The current Israeli-Palestinian situation that was created during the past fifty years...I believe it is hard to empty the settlements, bring back the Palestinians overnight “to solve the problem”. This may come true step by step. There is no clear order for the stages. But if we address invariable, fundamental national issues, and if there is stability, peace, investment, and a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital, steps will be agreed upon respectfully. If we are able to influence the Israelis, Americans, and Europeans, and if we are able to be powerful in presenting our just cause, we may gain.

    • 1This interview was conducted in March of 2005. During that time, an expanded cease-fire was in place between the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

  • What does the word peace mean to you?

    I will have to start with the human being’s freedom. When I speak of the word “peace,” which we are familiar with since childhood-you are aware that Islam is the religion of peace; it means surrender. It refers to people surrendering to life, but at the same time, working for life as well, life based on the principles of humanity, education, freedom, freedom of expression, respect for women, respect for the old, sympathy for the young, etc. It is the freedom to bring justice to all human beings and to provide services regarding health, education, and welfare; and at the same time human beings should fulfill their duties. I am speaking of people’s behavior to each other in general. Peace is the most precious value to human beings. So it is a part of humanity wherever people are. This is the origin of the word peace. When we talk of society, families, and countries, when such values are achieved on the international level, it will be much easier to be on peaceful terms with those who consider themselves our enemies. In regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I believe that all Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live without being exposed to killing, arrest, rape, exile, etc. Equality shall be between all people regardless of their location-Palestine, Israel or any other country in the world. Justice shall be served too. If we are talking about an Israeli and a Palestinian state, I hope we shall share the major land which we call Palestine and they call Israel, with some form of independence. It is good for both peoples to enjoy some form of independence. There should be environmental, geographical, social, and societal continuity. Even though the borders exist on the map, that does not mean they are heeded. In case of humanitarian peace, borders would not exist, because both people would be merged together; they share similar interests. Both depend on each other economically. I hope that peace will be present as a humanitarian value. Actually, women can play a significant role in times of peace. God created women and meant them to be at home, for the role they play in their families; their nature of seeking conciliation and consensus between all members; their role as moderators between the father and the children; this is a major role. Through their instincts and habits, women can play a significant role during the peace process. It will be a success if women on the Israeli and the Palestinian sides work together on raising families and on ways of thinking, leaving their imprints on society. This is why we have to work hard on women in society. They should participate in the peace process.