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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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The Late Professor Dan Bar-On

The late Professor Dan Bar-On's involvement in dialogue and conflict resolution began with his psychological work with the children of Holocaust survivors and children of Nazi perpetrators. In the 1990s, he met and began working with a group of Palestinian and Israeli scholars who formed PRIME, the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East. PRIME's group of teachers and historians has created unique high school textbooks that present the Israeli and Palestinian historical narratives side by side. Dr. Bar-On passed away in September, 2008, leaving a legacy of groundbreaking scholarship and a vision of Israeli-Palestinian partnership. His humanity and wisdom will continue to inspire all those who seek a peaceful future based on equality and mutual understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. Please download and English transcript of Just Vision's March, 2008 interview with Prof. Bar-On or watch a video of the interview in Hebrew.

  • Why don't you tell me about your background and everything that's relevant to what you're doing now?

    I was born in Haifa,and I grew up in a German speaking family. My parents emigrated from Germany in '33.1 At the age of 16 I went to an agricultural high school and joined a kibbutz. I was a kibbutz member for 25 years and I was in charge of the fruit trees and worked in education. I was the secretary of the kibbutz.2 And after the Six-Day War, I started to study psychology. Actually I see that as an outcome of the crisis period of the '67 War and of the Yom Kippur War. At that time I became interested in working in psychology, as a therapist, with families of Holocaust survivors. I did my research in that field. I was in the army for one year as a psychologist in '75 after the '73 War. I became more and more interested in the intergenerational after-effects of trauma, what was transmitted to second and third generations among the Holocaust survivors. In '85 I launched a pioneering research project in Germany where I interviewed the children of Nazi perpetrators, which I did for over 3 years. I interviewed about 90 people in Germany. As a result of my interviews, a group was formed of my interviewees; there were about 10 or 12 of them who met as a self-help group for over four years, from '88 to '92. In '92 (I don't think I had the courage before that), I asked them if they would be willing to meet a group of children of Holocaust survivors.3 When they said yes, I suggested it to some of my students in Beer Sheva and some colleagues from Boston and New York. That group, which is called TRT, To Reflect and Trust, started to meet in June 1992 and has met every year since then. In '98, I brought practitioners from current conflicts into the group, people from Northern Ireland, South Africa, and Palestinians and Israelis, to see if what we did in that group was relevant for current conflicts. We knew that they were very different situations, but we wanted to see if it was relevant. We had developed a method for storytelling, which we felt might be relevant.After the Oslo Agreement I started to look for Palestinian colleagues to work with. I felt that after there was mutual recognition we could do some research together. That was when I first met Elia Awwad,4 who is a psychologist from Beit Sahour, who is now living near Boston. Later I met Professor Sami Adwan5from Bethlehem University. We first joined a research project on the youth and history of twenty-seven countries, which was initiated by the Europeans.6 We participated in that research and got to know each other and decided to continue to do research together. We brought together a group of academics from Israel and Palestine and we had meetings at Talitha Kumi7 where PRIME is now located. In 1998 we decided to initiate PRIME and to work specifically on projects, always joint, on an equal basis, where Israelis and Palestinians would do research together to promote the peace process.

    • 1. Adolf Hitler came to power as Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. See Columbia Encyclopedia Sixth Edition: http://www.bartleby.com/65/hi/Hitler-A.html
    • 2. Bar-On was a member of Kibbutz Revivim, located in the Negev, for 25 years where he served as a farmer, educator and Secretary of the Kibbutz. See Bar-On bio at http://www.bgu.ac.il/~danbaron/ the same information can be found at http://shss.nova.edu/events/DCAR-TRT/bios.htm
    • 3. The project culminated in Dan Bar-On, Legacy of Silence: Encounters with Children of the Third Reich (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989). See Bar-On biography at http://www.bgu.ac.il/~danbaron/
    • 4. Elia Awwad received his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Southern Illinois University. He currently works as a psychologist at Boston Health Care, Inc. He also serves as chairperson for the Middle East North Africa (MENA) Network in Mental Health of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. See bio on Elia Awwad at http://shss.nova.edu/events/DCAR-TRT/bios.htm
    • 5. Sami Adwan is Associate Professor of Education at Bethlehem University, Palestine National Authority. He has published widely on the role of education in peace building and is co-author (with Dan Bar-On) of The Role of Non-Government Organizations in Peacebuilding Between Palestinians and Israelis (Beit Jala, Palestine: PRIME, 2000). With Dan Bar-On he is co-director of the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME). See short bio at http://www.nd.edu/~krocinst/research/rirec-participants.html
    • 6. YOUTH and HISTORY is an empirical research project on historical consciousness and political attitudes among teenagers in 27 countries in Europe and some bordering territories. The project was initiated in 1991 with fieldwork being done from 1994-1997. Dan Bar-On and three of his colleagues at Ben Gurion University were the Israeli members of the project. See the Youth and History Website: http://www.erzwiss.uni-hamburg.de/Projekte/Youth_and_History/homepage.html
    • 7. Talitha Kumi is a Christian school in Beit Jala, a Palestinian town next to Bethlehem. It was originally founded in Jerusalem in 1851 by a German Deaconess.

  • Was that your first experience working in the Palestinian- Israeli conflict?

    I had worked with Bedouins and Arabs in Israel beforehand, but the first research I did working with Palestinians was in 1994. I felt that before there was a political mutual recognition, somehow it did not feel proper to do joint research projects. There would be too many issues involved, of being paternalistic towards them or of avoiding the political solution. So after the political solution was set, I went to a conference on tolerance in Cairo and I met Elia Awwad and we decided to do some things. That's interesting, because some Israelis and Palestinians were meeting before there was mutual recognition. Yeah, I knew about these meetings but for me it felt strange. Also I was very busy with my previous studies [regarding Germans-Jews relations] and maybe was not really available to deal with the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

  • When you got involved in the Israeli-Palestinian issue, did you find that there were parallels with your studies of children of Nazi perpetrators and children of survivors?

    I don't think I was naïve, I knew that it was very different. This is an actual conflict about territory, about real issues, about stopping the occupation... issues that did not exist anymore between Jews and Israelis and Germans. On the other hand the Holocaust was a much more extreme event of violence. So there were many differences. In the Holocaust, who was the victim and who was the victimizer was clearly defined, and in the case of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict-- and in Northern Ireland, and in South Africa-- there are victims and victimizers on both sides, so the situation in that sense is much more complicated.

  • How do you feel about the comparison that is often made between what is happening here and the Holocaust?

    I think it depends what you mean by the comparison. Also, I'm talking about the triangle... Germans, Jews and Palestinians. I talk about displacement of aggression; some of the aggression that the Jews did not exercise against the Germans, they are expressing against Palestinians. But these are complicated mechanisms that you really have to understand in order to be able to talk about them, and I don't like the equation of what is happening between Israelis and Palestinians to what happened in the Holocaust. I think these are simplified versions; they are vulgar, and I don't like them. But my experience with working in that conflict did help me understand things I see in our situation. For example, I did a seminar in the '80s where my students interviewed a Holocaust survivor and a child of a Holocaust survivor, and they brought the interviews into the classroom and we discussed them. Now I am working with a group of Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs, and they are interviewing someone from their parents' generation and someone from their grandparents' generation, then they bring the interviews into the classroom, and we discuss the interviews. So, I learned how to translate things from that issue into the current one.

  • Can you give me an overview of the activities that PRIME is involved in?

    When we started PRIME, we had the idea that we would host a lot of research projects in different disciplines. When the intifada broke out in 2000, there was a real threat that we wouldn't be able to continue. Sami and I decided to continue, and to focus specifically on two projects that are still our major projects now. One of our projects is to develop a new school textbook with a group of Palestinian teachers and Israeli teachers and two historians. We suggested that they take some dates from the history of the conflict... there were three dates: 1917, the Balfour Declaration, 1948, and the first intifada. Each teacher should write his own narrative about these dates. Then they read each other's narratives, they commented on them, and they asked questions. Finally, they were written up as two separate narratives. The task of the teacher is to teach both narratives to the pupils in their own language, and thereby to make the pupils aware, and to respect and acknowledge the fact that there are different narratives, that it's not one legitimate and one not, and not that one are facts and one are propaganda, like the public says. These are two different perspectives, two different understandings of what happened in the history of the conflict.1

    • 1. The first booklet covers the following dates: 1917/The Balfour Declaration, the 1948 War, and 1987-93/The First Palestinian intifada. The second booklet discusses the 1920s, the 1930s (particularly the Arab revolt), and the 1967 War. The third plans to investigate the 1950s, 1970-1980, and 1993-2000. See http://vispo.com/PRIME/news2004.htm and http://vispo.com/PRIME/internat.htm

  • To what extent did you find that the different historical narratives fit neatly into two narratives, rather than maybe more?

    We chose consciously to take the more or less consensus narrative of the Israeli-Jewish side, and more or less the consensus narrative of the Palestinian side. Clearly, there are more narratives on each side but they come from smaller groups. It was also not our idea that we should create a bridging narrative, which maybe the very extreme Left in Israel and some very small groups in Palestine can build. Our idea was to build two narratives that will exist in the public for a long time, long after there are two states. We believe in the two-state solution. Our idea was actually to prepare the pupils to accept that that there are two perspectives to what happened here. So for example, for the Palestinians, it will always be that the Balfour Declaration was the first time that their rights were not recognized. And for the Israeli-Jews, it will always be the first time that the international community recognized their right to a national home in this land. These things will not change, even if there is a political solution.

  • Do you think that true peace requires somehow bridging the historical narratives?

    No, definitely not. We think that true peace means that you recognize how the other is different from you, not how the other is the same as you are. To create a bridging narrative means to create a same-ness. We don't want to create an illusion of same-ness; we don't think that will happen, not in the near future, at least. So first of all you have to recognize that the other thinks differently from yourself. That's exactly the purpose of this. The teachers developed the first booklet, the second will be out in a couple of months, and now they are developing the third booklet. Finally, there will be a book that includes nine different dates from 1900 to 2000 with a teacher's guide. Teacher training here is a major component. We would like to train more teachers; teacher training will always be a function that we would like to be involved in, as well as research and evaluation.

  • How did you pick the nine dates that are presented in different narratives for the textbook? Was there any kind of consensus on what dates to start with?

    Yes, that was very interesting. The range of dates was not very different between the two groups. And also when they write down the narratives, many times they agreed which were the issues that should be mentioned around that date. I found that the differences are really in the content of what they say about the dates.

  • Can you talk a little bit about the need for such a textbook?

    By the way, the textbook came out in Hebrew and Arabic and was translated into English. Now it has also been translated into Italian and French. In France, it gets very wide publicity.1 We met with teachers and pupils who study the conflict and they found it especially useful for classes where there are Muslim kids and Jewish kids and they can't agree about any material. This is one of the only sets of materials that the two groups are willing to accept and to learn.

    • 1. The book has indeed been written about favorably in the French press. See http://www.aidh.org/lirecoutevoir/livr-autre.htm

  • Where do you want the textbook to be used, and what's the goal?

    When we are through with preparing the whole set, and we hope that by that time the political climate will have changed, we would like to approach our [education] ministries together and suggest to them that this should be one of the ways to help move beyond discussions about incitement.1 Here we have an approach for how to have both narratives in one set, and how to actually accept them both as legitimate. We would like for this to happen. It's a project that starts bottom up, but could easily be planted into a top down dimension as well. The peace process is always based on these two directions, and you have to synchronize them, which is not always the case.

    • 1. The Israeli government routinely accuses the Palestinian educational system of resorting to incitement against Israel in its textbooks, a claim that is disputed by Palestinian groups. See for instance the following article on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Website: "Incitement and Propaganda in the PA: A 2002-2003 update on Palestinian Textbooks," which was taken from a report by Dr. Reuven Ehrlich, of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S.) http://geneva.mfa.gov.il/mfm/web/main/document.asp?DocumentID=34907&MissionID=3 A Palestinian response to the accusation, "The Myth of Incitement in Palestinian Textbooks," can be found at http://www.miftah.org/Display.cfm?DocId=3060&CategoryId=21. See an editorial called "Change the Palestinian Condition, Not Just School Textbooks" by Ziad Asali in the Daily Star: http://www.diak.org/analysen/Change%20the%20Palestinian%20Condition.htm

  • What have you observed about the range of textbooks available and used by Israeli and Palestinian schools, and the need for a textbook such as the one you've created?

    Sami is more of an expert in that than I am because he studied both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks and wrote about them quite extensively.1 What you find in Israeli and Palestinian textbooks, in general, is typical to conflict situations where the goal of the textbooks is to support and legitimize your side of the conflict, and to de-legitimize the other side. That's what you find on both the Israeli side and the Palestinian side, and it's very typical in other places that were in such intractable conflicts. That was the situation in Northern Ireland, and between Germany and France, and between Poland and Germany. So we are not the first ones to struggle with these issues. For example, France and Germany established a committee after '45 that worked on all the textbooks of both countries and took out all humiliating expressions--even from Math books!

    • 1. See for instance, Adwan, S. & Firer, R, The narrative of Palestinian Refugees During the War of 1948 in Israeli and Palestinian History and Civic Education Textbooks (Paris: UNESCO, 1997) and Adwan, S and Firer, R, The Narrative of the 1967 war in the Israeli and Palestinian History and Civics Textbooks and Curricula Statement (Braunschwieg, Germany: Eckhart Institute, 1999). See http://vispo.com/PRIME/internat.htm

  • Do you have schools that are ready to use the books?

    The teachers who develop these books use them in their own classrooms. It's an experimental format. They will continue to do it, although the Ministry of Education on the Israeli side told them not to use the books. Our teachers have ways of doing it informally. We are not at the stage where we are ready to suggest the books be used in a formal way.

  • What do you think it will take to get the Israeli Ministry of Education to be ready to use the books?

    I think a change in the political situation is necessary. I think education will be one of the first issues that will come up on the agenda when dialogue begins again on the political level. Both sides are aware today that it's important to do something to change education. In Oslo it was neglected. We see it as a problem that in Oslo and even in the Geneva Initiative there was no chapter on education. We feel that education should be a major issue in any upcoming peace agreement.

  • What is PRIME's other main project now?

    The second project is about the refugee issue, and we found a new way of relating to it. We chose two locations, Haifa and another location in the south of Israel, the area of Beit Jubrin and Revadim Masmiya and the Lachish region.1 Sami's team interviewed the Palestinian refugees and their family members who fled or were driven out of that area and today live in refugee camps in the Bethlehem area. My team interviewed the Jewish people and their family members who settled in these regions before '48 or after '48. We want to create a database of these stories and maybe even a museum that will represent these two sets of stories. We did one experiment where we picked two families from the Palestinian side-three generations in each family-and two Israeli families-three generations-and we brought them together last December for a weekend at PRIME. They shared their stories and we filmed that and we hope to have a film about it very soon. It was very intense, very difficult, but also very inspiring; in the sense that you could see that there is a real magnetic pull between the two people as relating to a location. It was only the first meeting but we want to continue to bring them together.

    • 1. The towns that Bar-On refers to are located to the south of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem within the 1948 borders of Israel. Before 1948 this was an area of Arab settlement but today it is the site of Jewish-Israeli villages, kibbutzim and moshavim. Beit Jubrin/Bet-Guvrin is located about 40 km south west of Jerusalem in the Judean Hills. It is the site of the Jewish Israeli town Beit Guvrin, as well as a National Park that was established in 1949. See: http://www.jafi.org.il/education/noar/sites/bguvrin.htm It was also the site of Beit Jubrin, a Palestinian village displaced by Jewish settlement in 1948. Lachish, the former fortress city of the Kingdom of Judah, is located 10km to the southwest and is a major historical site. Revadim is located approximately 30 km south of Tel Aviv between Ashdod and Bet Shemesh, and was the site of the Palestinian village Al-Mukhayzin. See: http://www.alnakba.org/villages/ramla/mukhayzin.htm and http://www.palestineremembered.com/IsraeliSettlementsal-Ramla.html

  • What's the end goal in bringing those families together?

    To recognize that such a location has a past and a present, that such a process is inter-generational and that you can't live in the present without knowing what happened there in the past... and you can't live only in the past, you also have to recognize what happened in such a place since then. We feel that bringing these two dimensions together is what is missing in relation to the refugee issue. Any political solution about the refugees will have to take into account these two aspects and relate to them. We decided to start to do that ourselves on a small scale and thereby give an idea about what direction a solution will have to take on the political level too perhaps.

  • What are some of the fears the people involved had going into the conversations and the meetings?

    The fear that listening to the other will de-legitimize their own position... their own experiences, their own feelings... that was a major fear of both groups, I think. The success was that they could listen to each other and not de-legitimize either their own or the other point of view. It's very difficult to contain in yourself both stories. You can't expect that to all happen in one meeting. It was interesting to see, there was a grandfather, son and grandson, a grandmother, daughter and granddaughter and the same from the other side. You could see the different possibilities of the different generations. The grandparents are very much committed to what happened in the past, but for the grandchildren there are also other ways of looking at it. You have to do such a project inter-generationally. You can't do it only on the level of one generation. Israeli society and Palestinian society are both family oriented societies and these things are being transmitted across generations. We are looking at both transmission and working through at the same time, so you can't think of one without the other. Also, at the same time I did interviews in Haifa with Jews and Arabs who remember Haifa from before '48. I made a film about it,1 which already exists. In Haifa, for example, I believe there are options that have not yet been tested, which I would like to pursue when the political climate will change. For example, there are family members who have relatives in Lebanon and would be willing to be responsible for bringing them back and taking care of them and helping them adjust. There are also empty houses there, which one could rebuild and make available for that. I think such a project should be done quietly without the media, without public attention for several years in order to test what can be done in terms of return of refugees and also to explain what can't be done. When you have relatives, and you have houses, and you have such willingness-then you can do it. If you don't have all these conditions, you can't do it.

    • 1. Bar-On is referring to a project initiated by PRIME that took place between 2001 and 2004. The project is still ongoing with the aim of using the videotapes as a means for building truth and reconciliation in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. See http://vispo.com/PRIME/truthandreconciliation.htm

  • Why do you think the media attention would hurt?

    It would disrupt the process. I think we need to do that. I know such a project in Guatemala1 and it had to be done away from the public eye to help the people really accommodate and find their place and their way. When they felt that they were settled down then they allowed the public to know about it. You have to give it a phase where they really can test it... I mean, is it possible after so many years to do such a thing?

    • 1. It is estimated that one million people became internally displaced or fled Guatemala during the country's thirty-year civil war between the government and leftist guerilla groups. Since the end of the civil war in 1994, various Guatemalan and international groups (including the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees) have been involved in resettling refugees, but many refugees remain unsettled. See http://www.db.idpproject.org/Sites/IdpProjectDb/idpSurvey.nsf/wCountriesb/Guatemala

  • So is it your idea that all of the refugees will end up back in their original homes?

    As I said, no. My idea is that in many places it is not possible anymore because there are people living there. That's what happened in the other example. There are locations were it is possible under some very specific conditions, where someone from their own families is willing to help absorb them, where the people are willing to come and live within Israel, where there is housing that can be made available that belonged to Arabs before. There is a whole inner logic to that process; when it can be done, I think it should be done.

  • Do you think that should be part of an agreement?

    I think the agreement should be that one should look at it on a much more specific local basis and not create one rule for everyplace. I think that should be the agreement, and then to allow local initiatives to emerge, taking into consideration the feeling of the people who live here, both Jews and Arabs, the atmosphere between them, their capacity to absorb... how many... at what pace... and to do it in a way that will succeed and not fail. You have to work on that very slowly. And as I said, away from public attention.

  • What do you think the families involved in the Lachish region project were expecting to get out of it?

    For example, one of the outcomes was that some of the Jewish people said we wouldn't mind if some of you would come back to this region, but you have to take into account that you can't make a living from the land as you used to do. So if you want to have a high standard of living, the land will not give you that, so you will have to find other sources of living. I think these kinds of things have never been discussed openly between Jews and Arabs, and they can only happen among people when both of them cherish the same location and really care for it.

  • What do you think the Palestinians were expecting or hoping to get out of it?

    Clearly they wanted to have recognized their wish to come back to their own places which they still see themselves belonging to and so on... but you have to understand that it's always a process. That is how it starts, but you don't know how it ends. Some people will stick to it and some people will change their minds. The Palestinian refugee issue is the issue that from the psychological point of view has been most neglected among all the other issues. All the other issues have been tested to some extent, but there is a total denial and repression of the Palestinian refugee problem.

  • Why do you think the refugee issue is the most difficult to address?

    It demands that Israelis recognize their partial responsibility for its creation, and the Israelis are afraid that once they provide this recognition, it may delegitimize their own existence in this space.

  • What have you learned about the refugee issue yourself?

    A lot. I learned, first of all, that that they can talk with each other, that they can recognize each other, and that there is a basis for such a dialogue to continue. I have learned, for example-which I didn't know-that the refugees feel marginalized in their own society; they are ashamed of being refugees in their own society compared to those who are not refugees. I have also learned that "location" for Jews and Arabs are different concepts. For the Palestinians it is the place: the tree, the house. For the Jews it's more the land in general, not the specific location so much. I think such refinement of concept is extremely important and can only happen when you test it. How do you personally relate to this idea? Would you say that it holds true for you? Yes, I am less connected to a house--in Germany of my grandfather, in Haifa of my parents, my house in Revivim where I lived for 25 years--but I am connected to the land, the people, the views, very much so.

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

    First of all, I think it's a miracle that we succeeded to continue. In 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, we continued to bring teachers together every three months. That was a major effort, which required getting permits; sometimes we would only get the permits on the day of the seminar, sometimes only some of them got permits. It was an immense struggle; the fact that we succeeded is really a credit to us, I feel. We never missed a seminar. The only seminar that was cancelled or delayed for a few weeks was when the Gulf War started, and there was a total curfew and you couldn't do anything.1 I think the teachers' process of getting to know each other and working together advanced over this time, so the teachers today are not the same teachers they were two years ago. I think we became much more determined, Sami and me, and some of the people who work with us, that we will not stop working together in spite of everything that is happening around us. Even through the darkest moments where there was no hope at all we were stubbornly continuing to do this work. We believe there will be the moment after, and at the moment after, we should be ready with our materials. That was our concept. I think politicians should go through the lessons that our teachers went through, of listening to the other narrative, asking questions about it, telling the other side what terminology is insulting for them, seeing how the narratives will have to fit together so that each teacher will feel that they can teach in their own classroom.

    • 1. Curfews were imposed by the Israeli military in Hebron, Qalqiliya, and other Palestinian areas at the beginning of the war with Iraq. See http://www.palestinemonitor.org/updates/creeping_curfew.htm

  • What do you mean by how the narratives will "fit together?"

    So that the narratives won't be in such a form that you are sure the pupil who reads both textbooks will automatically push aside the other text. That he will really be willing to listen to it seriously. It needs certain conditions: they mustn't use hostile, de-legitimizing expressions. There were discussions about it. For example, the term Zionist gangs,1 which the Palestinians use, the Israeli teachers said, "If you use this term our students will shut down right away. Can you use another term?" Or on the Israeli side... terrorist vs. freedom fighter. They didn't find solutions to everything. Sometimes the solution was to use a "slash--" freedom fighter/terrorist. But they resolved every one of these issues and discussed them openly. Sometimes there were crises, but they never questioned the idea of having two narratives. I think these are the things you can learn only by going through the process.

    • 1. The term "Zionist gangs" is used in a derogatory way in the Palestinian narrative to refer to the Jewish paramilitary organizations that operated during the latter part of the British mandate period (1918-1948)to fight for the creation of the State of Israel in Palestine, such as the Irgun, the Stern Gang/LEHI, and the Haganah. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

  • What are the biggest challenges to doing your work?

    How to transfer what we achieve on the micro scale to the macro scale. We know that it's is a major problem. Not everything that you accomplish when you bring two families from each side together, can translate directly to the macro level. But I learned something from my German-Jewish experience. For example, when German-Jewish group met for the first time they actually became very close to each other. It was the first time in history that the children of perpetrators met with the children of survivors. They came home and talked about it and people started to be very angry with them: "How did you dare to meet with them?" So they came to the second meeting very disillusioned: "Shall we now become a closed sect, or do we have to give up our experiences in order to belong to our communities?" The nice thing was that the group decided not to decide either way. That means they decided to continue the group experience and to continue the connection with it, hoping that at some point in the future the two would fit better together. And it happened. In the German-Jewish case it happened. Because of changes in Europe, because of changes within the Jewish society... Jews and Germans are more open today to enter a dialogue, and the group's experience fits into that well. So I don't know if we really helped move that forward, I don't delude myself that our small group did that, but I think the example of the group somehow accelerated it. There is a documentary about the group, which was shown in many places, so that was something that facilitated dialogue.1 I think that is the kind of thing I am also looking for in the Palestinian-Israeli case. Clearly, as long as the violent conflict goes on, that expectation is not realistic. But I believe that if now in 2005 some things move forward, I could see how this project could become of public interest in a relatively short time.

    • 1. The 50-minute BBC documentary, Children of the Third Reich, captured the meetings of Bar-On's group of children of Holocaust survivors and children of Nazis. The documentary has been broadcast in the U.K., the U.S., Holland, Australia, Canada, France, Israel, and Turkey.

  • Do you ever have any reservations about putting people into these intense situations?

    We always tell the teachers, for example - all the people who work with us- that they don't have to. I mean if they feel it is too much for them, they can quit. But our experience showed that many of the teachers said that was the only activity that gave them hope during this time. So I felt that they became committed like us in this process. For example, we have one teacher, an Israeli teacher, who is afraid to go to Talitha Kumi, and we now have our meetings there. He can't come because his wife doesn't allow him and he doesn't want to. We have to understand that not everyone can. There have been some Palestinian teachers who didn't continue for various reasons. So not everybody can. You have to accept it. It's risky, it's complicated, and it's problematic. It creates a schism inside, "What am I now, am I an Israeli or am I..." Clearly, it is complicated for each one of the people. And we have to accept that not everyone can do that. During these years I myself had very low moments about my work with Sami and with PRIME. We had a lot of moments when we got very desperate or angry at each other. But we called ourselves a kind of an "Island of Sanity--" the whole world around us got crazy and we had to maintain this "Island of Sanity." We felt that way... that we had more in common with each other than either of us had with some of the people in our own society.

  • What's your plan for translating the micro to the macro?

    In this project we have a real plan. We want to finish developing the book, the teacher guide, and then, if the political situation will improve, we even plan to bring in people from Europe. We know people in Europe, education ministries and so on, who will put pressure on the two ministries to use this kind of approach on the macro level. That would mean training large numbers of teachers in this concept, and using it as a formal textbook by the Palestinians and the Israelis. We feel that's possible. We don't know exactly when it will happen and how it will happen but we have a way of translating this project, which was done by seven teachers from each side, into something that every-almost every-teacher can do. Even if 40% of the teachers used it, we feel it would be a major breakthrough. About the refugee project, I think it's too early for us to say. We already know that we think any solution will have to take the different locations into consideration, and we would like to insert that knowledge into the decision making process, maybe through a conference or a seminar or by showing it to people through the film. We definitely think that part of the problem are the big numbers which are depressing for everyone and require a kind of total solution. We believe the opposite has to be done, that you have to break it down into small facets... to look at it locally... to see the situation of the refugees in Lebanon as the worst, so you have to help them first of all. There are locations were it is relatively easy to try to resettle them- there are locations where it is impossible, so it depends on the history of that area or neighborhood before '48. There are locations like Haifa where there were very good relations. There are locations where there were bad relations all along, so you can less expect such a place, compared to Haifa, to accommodate people. I think we have a model of the complexity that has to be dealt with when you want to start to look at these places and see what can be done in that town. We are 100% sure that this will be the major obstacle for any future reconciliation between the two peoples.

  • Looking back on previous processes do you think that was the major stumbling point?

    Yes, but not only that... I think in Oslo there were many other problems as well, but education and refugees are for me the two most important issues that have to be dealt with in any future agreement, and therefore we chose these projects.

  • What other problems were there with Oslo?

    In Oslo there was very bad synchronization between the top down and the bottom up. The top down was an agreement between leaders and they did not think about how they would prepare the public to move along with them, how they would make them understand why they got there. So they kind of disconnected themselves, on both sides. That was a major mistake and I think it brought about the outbreak of violence in 2000. Part of that, and connected to that, many things that were decided have not been implemented. The United States was very sluggish in terms of making the two sides aware that they were not fulfilling their promises and that it would be costly in the future. I don't think the United States fulfilled its role as an honest broker in that sense. I think maybe it was a necessary first step and you couldn't achieve more than just saying we recognize each other. But I believe that if it had been prepared better, some of these draw backs could have been avoided. Today we are much wiser, and I hope that in the future these mistakes will be taken into account. Someone in Northern Ireland once told me, "We almost had an agreement in '75. That was for the fast learners. But we have many slow learners so we needed 25 more years." I'm afraid we may have very slow learners here who may need another 25 years. So, he gave me some perspective.

  • When you think about international players here, whom do you think will be most influential?

    Influential, in terms of helping out? Clearly the Norwegians1 were very facilitative for the Oslo process. I am very critical of the role of the United States-especially in the last four years, but also in the Clinton era.2 I think Dennis Ross3 was not the right person to be the major player here in the area; I think Clinton didn't understand many of the problems in this region. He went into Camp David not well prepared and he was too hasty to finish because he wanted to get his Nobel Prize. I think the United Sates did not play a very helpful role here. I think, for example, that Fischer4 as a German person-although for the Germans it is very delicate and complicated-succeeded in developing a position where he can feel sympathy for both sides and also criticize both sides. There are not many politicians who can hold these two things in their hands, so I think he was very helpful in facilitating in some stages. But I also think that the two sides need to do more to work by themselves. People from the outside can help but it's limited. We saw it in our seminars, when you bring a third party in, as helpful as he wants to be, first of all he has to learn all the refinements of the setting, and then also right away it creates a situation where each side wants to grab him for themselves. It disrupts the process. So sometimes it's better to keep the third party out and to really move forward with the two parties. Third parties do not always know how to play that role.

    • 1. The Norwegians were instrumental in facilitating the Oslo peace talks, a secret track of peace negotiations that worked as a substitute for the stalled formal Madrid and Washington peace talks between the Israeli and Palestinian officials. Norway disclaimed the role of mediator, acting instead as a venue for and financial supporter of the peace talks. See Yossi Beilin, Touching Peace: From the Oslo Accord to a Final Agreement (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1999).
    • 2. The United States, under the leadership of President Bill Clinton, 1992-2000, was active in the Middle East peace process as a broker and mediator. The impact of the United States was mixed, as certain negotiations, such as those between Jordan and Israel, led to peace agreements, while others fell apart, such as between Syria and Israel, and, crucially, between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at Camp David.
    • 3. Former Special Middle East Coordinator for twelve years under the first Bush and Clinton administrations, Dennis Ross was involved as the chief American negotiator and peace broker in the Middle East peace process.
    • 4. Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs and Vice-Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, 1998-Present.

  • Can you tell me a little bit about your experiences with the conflict and how it affected your life?

    I have worked now for more than 30 years as an academic in conflict situations, first with the Holocaust. Before that, I was a kibbutz member and I thought of a political career. I gave it up because I saw the political situation of the early '70s and that there was not much of a chance to get involved, and I consciously chose the academic direction. I wanted to do something professionally and not under political pressure. I think it was the right choice. I think we need more people in this situation who are able to really think through things on a deeper level and not to be involved only on a political declarative level. I am happy with that choice that I made. Of course, I am very frustrated, like many other people, that many of the things I already thought in the early '70s did not materialize until now. For more than half of my life I have been living in a society that is always going the wrong way, from my point of view. That is very difficult. You have to find a way to live with it without developing self-hatred or hatred toward your own society. You have to understand how difficult it is for people but at the same time try to push them to move out of it. I learned a lot about change processes, and our limitations in terms of how much we can push people forward-when and how-and that we should never give up and say what didn't work yesterday may not perhaps work tomorrow. So you always have to look for new opportunities to try things out. Sometimes only by trial and error can you know if people are ready or not.

  • What's the most important thing for you to achieve?

    In my lifetime I hope to see the possibility of two states, an Israeli state and a Palestinian state living together with each other. That would take all of this energy in positive directions, which up until now has been devoted in destructive directions. If that will happen in my lifetime it will be more than I could expect. All the rest is history. I think it is possible, I really think it is possible, I think we are coming closer to it and the worse the situation gets, actually, the clearer it becomes that that is the only option. The fact that a person like Sharon -who was an enemy for me for most of my adult life-has reached the conclusion that he has to move forward in this direction tells me that every leader will. The only thing we don't know is how many people will get killed. So even the most right-wing leaders, if they become prime minister, will take full responsibility. Maybe it will take 1000 or 2000 or 3000 people killed-that's the tragic thing about it-they will all reach the same conclusion. If you want to be legitimate in the world and live your life, you have to find a solution for this issue.

  • Do you have fears associated with the conflict?

    I had serious fears. I had fears that Israel would start to move Arabs out of here, from Israel or from Palestine. I have fears that we will always come back to violence and never be able to get out of it. Clearly, I have fears for my family, for my children, for others around me. I am very afraid all the time. But therefore I think that we really have to work hard to reach some solution.

  • How does your family feel about your work?

    My wife supported me all along, even when I went to interview the children of the Nazis, which then was not easier than working now with the Palestinians. My children, in different ways, have supported it to different degrees. Sometimes they were the ones who told me, "Don't go to Talitha Kumi, it's dangerous, stop playing with your faith," and so on, but I feel they respect and understand what I'm doing. Also I have some very good doctoral students working with me in this area and I feel that they are very much devoted and dedicated to it.

  • Have you reached a point with your work with the German-Jewish dialogue that you feel somehow gives you a more complete picture?

    I think there I reached a stage of saturation; I felt I understand the problem, I know what can be achieved and I know what can't be achieved and I know the issues and how they look in the third generation and the second generation. I also know how they affect our conflict. For me, that was a major breakthrough in my understanding: that we can't look at the Palestinian and Israeli conflict-exactly as you can't look at the Croatian and Bosnian conflict-without understanding the other parties which were involved there in previous times. It was a very basic learning process that prepared me for working on the current problem, prepared me for the pace of social processes and psychological processes, how much you can help them move but if you push too hard they backlash on you.

  • Do you feel like you are near a similar point of understanding of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict?

    No, not yet. I think here there are many more issues involved. Also I feel here we are only at the beginning of something, because even if the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be solved, there are so many issues in the region that we will have to pay attention to, to help resolve this conflict so we can move on to other countries around us. Here we are only at the beginning of something, not at the end.