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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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Melisse Lewine-Boskovich

Through Peace Child Israel, Melisse Lewine-Boskovich uses theater and the arts as a tool to foster dialogue between Jewish and Palestinian teenagers throughout Israel and East Jerusalem. Using a group process of creating dramatic pieces, the teenagers engage in dialogue about the conflict and their experiences living in it. The theater pieces are performed in Arabic and Hebrew for students and the public. In the late 1960s and early 70s, Melisse was a member of the radical Jewish Defense League, founded by Meir Kahane. Through a process of change that she says included becoming a mother and beginning to dialogue with Palestinians, she came to believe in and work for coexistence.

  • Please tell me a little bit about your background.

    It's a long story. I was born in Philadelphia, and I graduated from Cheltenham High School in 1971. Before graduating from Cheltenham, I had been influenced by and active with the Kahane movement. I used the same slogans as everyone else, "the only good Arab is a dead Arab," etc. There was something in my psychological make-up as I grew up, things that happened... my personal development gave rise to a strong need for that kind of involvement. I needed to be able to nurture something in a way that I felt I hadn't been nurtured myself. Some of that had to do with my weight and the responses it had evoked in my family. I wanted to be nurtured, and I hadn't been, and that wasn't a very happy thing. And so my involvement was very natural. I needed to feel I was giving love to something, so I gave it to the Jewish people. If you ask me whether I would feel uncomfortable about publishing or sharing that information, my answer will usually be the same: I'm simply calling it like it is. I believe that MOST of the people working in this business are a) walking around with comparable experiences and b) are a little bit crazy (in a good way). Now in those days, there was a big issue with Russian Jews.1 The Jewish Defense League2 was very active in constantly keeping that on the front page of the New York Times. They weren't responsible for making it happen, but they certainly were a catalyst for getting the big movers and shakers to get off their butts and do something about it. I was an activist then, but not in the same way that I am now. I came to Israel straight out of high school to make aliyah, and Kahane had not come yet. I was with some guy at the time, and he ended up going back to the States after a year. So, I went back too. But Kahane was the reason I originally came here. I didn't have a Zionist upbringing, I didn't go to any of those Jewish youth camps or any of that, and my family wasn't very religious. After that, there was a period when I went to begin studying, and I wasn't active in any way at all. When I was here in Israel in '71 or '72, the nation felt that it was important to court the African countries. Golda Meir was Prime Minister then, and the government invited four African presidents to come to Israel on the same day. There was a debate in the Knesset about whether they should invite Yakubu Gowon.3 He was the general who had been responsible for genocide of the Biafrans in the Biafran War,4 which was in 1968-69. Because of this, some Jews in Israel said it would not be good to invite him. There was a debate about it, and they decided to let him in, so we went and demonstrated at the airport. The airport at that time had no security whatsoever; all we did was throw leaflets at the ceremony. I was near the front where the cars were driving out and I was screaming "he killed millions of children" and they arrested me. I was in Ramle prison for three days when I was 18 years old. A Knesset member took our case and said if we got busted he would work on it. He was a very famous lawyer. Then I went back to the US and I was very involved in music, but I wasn't active in the kind of work I do now. Still, I could say that the process of becoming active had already begun. What complicated this process was that this was the period of Woodstock5 and civil rights.6 My parents, my rabbi, and my synagogue went to Selma, Alabama7 during the race riots, so I had that influence. I was involved in all the moratoriums, and I remember the day we ended the dress code in my high school. I was against the Vietnam War. So there was sort of a conflict in my mind. It wasn't straightforward. A process was sort of on hold. I always said that the thing that made the real transition was when I gave birth. Once I realized that instinctual, hormonal connection of a mother towards a child, I couldn't justify ever wanting to see anybody's child go through any kind of pain. I happened to be working with a psychologist then, who's name was Marcia Kreisel,8 and who was on a kind of new age path, although she didn't push that. She was also working with Palestinians and Israelis. That was in the States? No, here. This is when I came back. My daughter Alex was born in 1991. We came in January of '93. This was around 1994. That process had begun happening, so I continued exploring it with Marcia. There was this organization, Play for Peace.9 My friend, who was the first boy I ever fell in love with, had fallen off a mountain, become a paraplegic, and decided to co-found Play for Peace. That all happened at approximately the same time. I was here in Israel, and Craig wanted me to help establish the organization here in Israel. I hadn't seen him in years. Like I said, he was the first boy I ever fell in love with. I think I must have known him in a previous life. I helped him, and established the Middle East office of Play for Peace. That was all part of the process. I was questioning myself because I wasn't totally sure where I stood on the issue. I still had questions about the whole conflict. I wondered if I was doing it just to please Craig.

    • 1The mistreatment of Jews in the Soviet Union and the refusal of the Soviet Government to permit their emigration, particularly during the 1970's and 1980's, became a major concern of Jewish communities worldwide, especially in the United States and Israel.
    • 2See footnote number 1 and http://www.jdl.org.
    • 3A Nigerian army commander, Yakubu Gowon (b. 1934) was the head of Nigeria's Federal Military Government from 1966-1975. He came to power during a military coup in 1966 and orchestrated the successful suppression of the Biafran secession during the Civil War. See the United States Library of Congress http://countrystudies.us/nigeria/70.htm.
    • 4The Biafran War in Nigeria lasted from 1967-1970 and resulted from ethnic and regional rivalries, which led the Eastern region of Nigeria to secede and declare the independent state of Biafra. The Eastern region, heavily populated by the Igbo (Ibo) people, sought secession from Nigeria due to killings of Igbo's in the Northern region and claims of genocide against the Igbo. For a brief overview of the Biafran War see http://www.american.edu/ted/ice/biafra.htm.
    • 5Refers to the Woodstock concert and festival in upstate New York in 1969.
    • 6Refers to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States during the 1950's-1970's.
    • 7Selma, Alabama became one of the epicenters of the civil rights movement in 1965 during a planned march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama promoting equal civil rights for African Americans, particularly equal voting rights. The marchers were eventually dispersed after police authorities suppressed them through violent means and beatings that gained widespread attention and outrage. See www.pbs.org
    • 8See Marcia Kreisel's organization, Touch in Peace.
    • 9The mission of Play for Peace is to "bring together children, youth and organizations from communities in conflict, using cooperative play to create laughter, compassion and peace." Play for Peace is based out of Chicago, Illinois, USA. See Play for Peace.

  • What were your questions about the conflict at that time?

    I questioned how much one would have to forfeit in order to be involved in resolving the conflict. I also questioned how to go about letting go of the anger, letting go of the fears, and letting go of the mistrust. But also, I had the sense that I was going to have to admit that everything I had always believed in was wrong, which is not a simple thing for anyone to do, on any kind of issue. So it took some time.

  • What motivated you to go through that process?

    I can't say anything other than that it was the birth of my child. Something organic happened. Everything always happened for a reason. I had some questions in my mind anyway because I was leaning toward that whole late 60s, early 70s mindset and I was very sympathetic to the leftist side. So I had two parallel paths running at the same time, I guess, and I had to work it out. But I do think that because I was there [in a different mindset], and I'm not saying this to look for praise or favor from anyone, I think I have a credibility among the target populations that we're working with, that others who are working in our field don't have. I also have a certain kind of empathy for that side, which many of those in this field don't have. I have done some critical thinking about peace-building and coexistence practices.

  • What do you think you see that others don't see?

    I see the fact that those who need to go through a change are people who are in metzuka,1 who are in some sort of pain, and that they are in a process where they can't let go. I cut them a break. In my mind I try to understand where they are coming from and what's holding them back. What's keeping them from letting go is this whole issue of fear and the child abuse syndrome. I believe that the Jews are behaving as those who suffered from child abuse: if you were hit, you hit back, and you hit before you get hit again. And it's going to take a huge, monumental effort to be able to let that go. That's also going to require the discriminated, downtrodden minority to kick in and help and prove that it can happen. Emile Shoufani2 and his group are sort of on that track. They're trying to figure out what they're going to do to help these Jews let go of this thing in the back of their head. Marwan Dwiri, the psychologist from Nazareth, wrote a piece that said it would do the Jews well to understand that there is something in the Palestinian or Arab make-up called honor, and there is no rationale for it, and it would be to your own benefit to act accordingly. For the Palestinians it would be good to recognize that there's this little thing in the back of every Jew's head that has to do with fear. If you keep doing the things that reinforce that fear, it's not going to do you any good. I truly think that's part of it. Otherwise, I'd have to say there's an inherent badness in Jews. There's no other explanation. But I think they are still working things out. I don't want to emphasize things about previous lives or anything like that, but they're working out a historical and ancient process. We have done things over the years that may be less than positive. Emile Shoufani3 and his group are sort of on that track. They're trying to figure out what they're going to do to help these Jews let go of this thing in the back of their head. Marwan Dwiri, the psychologist from Nazareth, wrote a piece that said it would do the Jews well to understand that there is something in the Palestinian or Arab make-up called honor, and there is no rationale for it, and it would be to your own benefit to act accordingly. For the Palestinians it would be good to recognize that there's this little thing in the back of every Jew's head that has to do with fear. If you keep doing the things that reinforce that fear, it's not going to do you any good. I truly think that's part of it. Otherwise, I'd have to say there's an inherent badness in Jews. There's no other explanation. But I think they are still working things out. I don't want to emphasize things about previous lives or anything like that, but they're working out a historical and ancient process. We have done things over the years that may be less than positive.

    • 1Hebrew word meaning emotional pain.
    • 2(b. 1947) A Palestinian Catholic Pastor, high school principal, and outspoken advocate for dialogue among Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Israel and Palestine. In 2003, he organized an interfaith trip for Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel to the concentration camp Auschwitz in Poland. He won the UNESCO (United Nations Cultural Scientific and Cultural Organization) Prize for Peace Education in 2003. See
    • 3(b. 1947) A Palestinian Catholic Pastor, high school principal, and outspoken advocate for dialogue among Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Israel and Palestine. In 2003, he organized an interfaith trip for Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel to the concentration camp Auschwitz in Poland. He won the UNESCO (United Nations Cultural Scientific and Cultural Organization) Prize for Peace Education in 2003. See

  • You mentioned being afraid of relinquishing something. What was that specifically? What did it involve for you personally?

    Oh boy. That's a trick question. It's not meant to be. It was just relinquishing what was my narrative. My narrative was one way of interpreting. If you take it further, to give it more detail, there is the question of whether the work we're doing is really aimed at an end game that looks like there will be no Jewish state. I wonder whether I'm involved in a process that's going to lead to my demise. That bothers me sometimes. There was never such a concept as a state for all of its citizens [in Israel] until about five years ago; it was never a phrase. It wasn't a notion and it wasn't even a concept. So things could go in that direction. And those in this field of peace building are among those who are "notorious" for promoting that kind of thinking. So I'm part of that. And I sometimes wonder. I'm not ready to give up the Jewish state. If that makes me a bad peacemaker, so be it, but I'm not ready to do it yet. Now, I always have to say immediately that in a perfect world I don't believe there should be any states. In a perfect world there would be no borders; there wouldn't be territory. The human race has not evolved that way yet. There is still a need for groups, affiliation with groups, allegiances, and it seems, territory. And until we get rid of the need for religion, there's nothing to talk about. Until we evolve-human beings, all of us-beyond the need for religion, which is still a very inherent need for people, I don't think there's any possibility. So, I believe the world would be a better place if there were no states, but until that day comes I still feel-it's absurd to say that this is a safe place considering how miserable everything is here-that Jews have their right to a place of their own just like the Palestinians do. It's not necessarily a notion favored among the super-leftists.

  • What are the times or instances that you feel most aware of this issue?

    It's probably when I'm talking to myself. I have a conviction about honesty and justice. When I myself cope with the fact of how the state was established, I think there needs to be some sort of recognition of the tragedy. Not that they should commemorate the Nakba every year. We need to recognize it and be able to acknowledge it and then move forward. Nobody's anywhere near that. When I think about the fact that what I want was established on someone else's pain, then sometimes that tells me that I have to let go of what I want. In a way. There's something not kosher about this. If we really are totally honest about how the state was established, maybe there was no legitimacy for it to happen. Okay, the world voted on it1 and the land was bought2 and worse things have happened in other parts of the world, but I'm not involved in contributing to those other people's pain, and in this case [with the Palestinians] I am. So I need to work that out. It's not so simple to be part of the problem all the time. Mohammad3 and I talk a lot. He's really a philosopher. If you ask him whether there should have been a Jewish state established, he'll say no, it shouldn't have been and it was an unjust kind of thing. But he says that was then and this is now and we have to look ahead. You can't keep treading back and treading on that painful, brutal past that's making everybody nuts. So I also go through this [internal thought process]: they did that then, but I know a lot of Israelis who are nice people and wonderful things have happened here also. I tend to lose sight. This is another issue. This work that we do... I can't buy an Israeli flag to put on the car for Independence Day for my daughter if she asks. I don't feel like I can do that now. I want to feel like I can do it. Sooner or later the flag's going to need some new symbol on it. We can't go on without adding something to the flag to recognize the majority here.4 Some people argue about that. We need to do something about the flag and the anthem; the anthem also needs some work, or at least we need a process that acknowledges that it's not something that represents all sectors in the country. I'm much more involved in issues between citizens. I do cross border work, and I have colleagues and dear friends on the other side of the Green Line, but my major focus and Peace Child's major focus is on the issues of majority and minority relations, and they are in bad shape. Once the Palestinian State is established, the Palestinians inside the country will still be screwed. They're not going to be happy unless we do something to change the situation. We're so far from doing something to change it. These issues are so complex because it's really hard to get to the people who are suffering from child abuse syndrome and who totally mistrust the Arab population as the fifth column. Mohammad Bakri5 is a very famous theatre person. Someone from his family was involved in one of the piguim.6 So how do you explain that it's because of all the suffering that these kids were recruited, that you have to understand their allegiances and Palestinian allegiances? How do you explain this to people in Ofra7 or even to any Likudnik8 at this point? They say that's bull----, they don't want to hear it, and there's something to be said for that. They don't want to hear about anybody who's going to justify blood spilling-random blood spilling-like in terrorist bombings. In some way I am building on the Jewish conscience. Sooner or later they'll be able to let go of this syndrome. Maybe it's a fantasy and a hope, but something in me believes that because of the experience of having been the minority, Jews will say yes, we can't continue behaving like this because we know what it was like. So that conscience will be able to be reached, but right now it's so blocked, it's impossible.

    • 1Refers to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 on the partition of Palestine, adopted on November 29, 1947 with 33 votes in favor, 13 against, and ten abstentions. For a text of Resolution 181 see http://domino.un.org.
    • 2Distinct from land captured or expropriated by Israel during the war of 1948, Zionists in Israel sought to purchase land in Palestine prior to 1948, particularly during the British Mandate period. The main Zionist organization responsible for the purchase of land was the Jewish National Fund, though in many cases land was purchased by individuals. By the end of the Mandate Period, Zionist purchases yielded about 2 million dunams, which amounted to about 10% of the country or 25% of habitable land in Palestine. See Tom Segev. One Palestine Complete. trans. Haim Watzman. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000) 272-276. Also the Jewish National Fund website at http://www.jnf.org/site/PageServer.
    • 3Refers to Mohammad Thaher. At the time of the interview, Thaher worked with Lewine-Boskovich at Peace Child Israel. He is a well-known Palestinian theater director.
    • 4Lewine-Boskovich is referring to the notion that if Israel were to permanently control the West Bank, then the combined Palestinian population of the West Bank and Israel would soon shift the demographic balance from a Jewish majority to a Palestinian, or non-Jewish, majority. According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, the population of Israel at the end of 2003 was 6.7 million with 5.1 million (or 76%) Jewish. See the 2004 Statistical Abstract of Israel at http://www1.cbs.gov.il/shnaton55/st02_01.pdf According to Passia, the Palestinian population of the West Bank is between 2.3-2.5 million. See Population Statistics at http://www.passia.org/palestine_facts/facts_and_figures/0_facts_and_figu...
    • 5Internationally renowned Palestinian-Israeli actor and director.
    • 6Hebrew for attacks. Generally used to refer to suicide bombing attacks. Plural form of the word pigua.
    • 7A Jewish Israeli settlement located in the West Bank, population approximately 2500. It is located in the West Bank near Ramallah.
    • 8Refers to one who aligns oneself with the Likud Party. The Likud Party is one of two major political parties in Israel, and currently the party with the largest number of parliamentary seats. Likud tends toward the conservative, center-right of the political spectrum. The Likud grew out of the "Revisionist" movement of Zeev Jabotinsky as the main right-wing opposition to the dominant Labor Zionist Movement and Labor Party. It was ideologically committed to establishing Jewish sovereignty over all of British Mandatory Palestine and, until recently, ideologically opposed to any territorial compromise with the Palestinians. Its first electoral victory came in 1977. Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed a peace treaty with Egypt. He also launched the War of 1982. Current leaders include Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.

  • What are the activities you're involved in now that relate to coexistence and peace work?

    Well, mostly I'm the director of Peace Child Israel. That's the main thing I do, and it's a full-time job. It's more than a full-time job. There's just not enough funding to get enough people to be doing what I have to do. I do small projects from time to time with people. I occasionally get invited to conferences and to different kinds of new initiatives. Eliyahu McLean1 called today about something they're doing in August in Binyamina.2 So there's always something new. But my entire life, more than 80 hours a week, is Peace Child. There's not much left but I have to juggle it. I also teach voice lessons, but that doesn't have anything to do with peace initiatives.

    • 1Please see Just Vision's interview with Eliyahu McLean.
    • 2A town on the Mediterranean coast in Israel between Netanya and Haifa. It's population is approximately 6500, the majority of whom are Jewish citizens of Israel.

  • For someone who doesn't know anything about this conflict how would you explain why you are doing what you're doing?

    I want to be proud of where I live. I want to be proud of being Jewish and Israeli. I want to fix it. I don't put all the responsibility for this change on the Jews. It's not just one-sided; it's not only the Jews who created this problem and they're also not the only ones who can solve it. So, yes, we have to do all the changing AND the Arabs or the Palestinians in the country have to come and find a way to make their demands palatable for the Jews to be able to answer them. They're not doing that right now. So I feel that it's a kind of expression, an opportunity to express our needs in the hope that we can in fact live in some semblance of order and honor on both sides. We need to go through a process and this is the process that I'm involved in; that was my background. I'm doing what I'm doing in Peace Child because that's where I am and I believe in it, as long as people coming out of this process will think that the other side is less monstrous. I'll give you an example. Last weekend I was in Sakhnin and Misgav.1 We had the show there and the show almost didn't go on. Why? Because when the parents heard that there was a fictitious tree, which is actually a girl playing a growing tree, and when they heard that there was a discussion about who's tree it is, some parents in Sakhnin said, "We're not sending our kids unless that play comes out saying that that tree and that land is ours, we planted it and it's ours. We're not letting our kids take part in this." This was the Arab-Jewish conflict in real time. Sakhnin is also [the site of the original] Land Day and it's very, very sensitive. But they had an absolute requirement, the condition that if that play wasn't going to have a major political statement that didn't, from their perspective, "distort the facts," then they weren't going to do it. We had to have an emergency meeting with school principals and the parents-only the Arab parents in this case because it would have never gotten done if we invited the Jewish parents, too. Peace Child has begun working with parents now, too. Last year we began, and this year we expanded. They were saying, "What do we get out of this?" "How do we profit by doing this?" I got upset, and I said, "You have 300 Jewish kids from Misgav who don't think the Arabs are monsters; that's what you got. That's your profit." At the end of the meeting I said, "Look, I want to say how I feel." People always ask how you handle these things. Basically, you say how you feel. You ask, "How do you feel when you hear the Arabs say..." I never took a course. I took a short course in co-facilitation with Edy Kaufman2 and Noah Salameh.3 I went to the first session of the 100-hour course that they did together. Anyway, at the end I said to the parents in Sakhnin, "In Peace Child we try so hard to bring the Palestinian narrative and the pain and the anger to the fore, to center stage, and to honor it, which is more than almost anywhere, more than any Jews are doing these days. And we really try to do this honestly. And yet you're coming and saying that it's not enough because you want all or nothing. You want us to say that the Jews have no right to be here, that it's your land and get out." Basically that's what they were saying. It wasn't all the parents, and there were other parents from Sakhnin who actually moderated it. The school principal said everything can't only be one-sided, you can't only have your way with a bi-lateral group. So, I said, "It really makes me sad that that's what you want, no matter what we do to try and do the critical thinking it takes." And I said, "It's not easy for the Jews to hear this stuff, yet that's not good enough for you, you want it all." And what I didn't say but I thought about later is that this man, who was a little bit of a problematic personality in his own right, is a classic example that builds the case for the Jews who say, "They want it all, why bother talking to them." Meaning, no matter where they are, inside the Green Line, outside the Green Line. There's a huge number of Jews who say that they [Palestinians] want it all, you can't trust them. He had a few issues, basically he wasn't a maniac, but he needed this to be so clear. They need to go through a process where they need to let that go, they have to let that go. I'm not going to give it all up; I'll do everything to make this place a place where I can feel honored, for my own self, that I'm not generating pain for other people, for the minority that I'm coexisting with. But I'm not going to let it go and if that's what you want then we're not on the same page. That's where we get back to what we're working on, this whole field, which I take issue with on a couple levels. Cross-border folks [people working together from opposite sides of the Green Line] who work in this field have pretty much arrived at an agreement: two states for two nations, a two-state solution. The ones who are still talking or doing peace building agree on that. They agree. They may not totally agree on the refugees and right of return, but basically most of them agree to two states. There are many people inside the country for whom that is not a solution. For Arabs and Jews inside Israel who are working on bi-lateral processes with adults or kids, I can say for sure, there hasn't been a reality check to see if we're on the same page. What do we want to see at the end of the day? The reason there hasn't been one is that they're afraid that if they had that process, everything would fall apart, and it probably would. I do not think that Arabs and Jews who are doing this work together are on the same page and therefore there's something dishonest about it. Now, that could be their survival mechanism, and it's better to be talking than not talking at all, but there's still something not right about it. It's not clean. I'm an intuitive person and I have instincts. Some people are really way out there, like this woman I was working with who's a psychic. She thinks I'm a channel. I don't go that far, but I'm pretty sure when I have these instincts they're right. I have a lot of things I call myself on for my weaknesses, but there's something that I'm pretty right on about. I don't think it's a clean process that we're in here, and I think it needs to be addressed. I've been saying that for 3 or 4 years at this point. We need to get all the people who work in the field together and have a process and ask ourselves what we are doing. Because people are going off in many directions... there's a gap among members of the field. It's not simple, it's so complicated and it involves people who know each other and want to like each other. Like the kids, who want to love each other, but on a day of a pigua [an attack] they want to hate each other and they're confused. "Well, I can't hate them because I like them." This is the insane context that we're doing this work in.

    • 1The Misgav area is located in the Western Galilee region of Israel. The population of the villages in the area is approximately 19,000, including approximately 5,000 Bedouin Palestinians citizens and a majority of Jewish citizens of Israel.
    • 2The Executive Director of the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University in Jerusalem See: http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/bio.asp?id=11
    • 3The Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation in Bethlehem. See: http://www.mideastweb.org/ccrr/

  • What is your goal?

    I think that I'm not necessarily in the framework. I think that one day maybe, I hope to be in the kinds of frameworks where people are really asking the most unbearable questions, the hardest questions. I feel like I would function very well, but for reasons that are, I think, probably cosmic, I have not gotten into those frameworks.

  • What are the hard questions?

    For instance, do we even agree about what we're doing here? If I'm not willing to give up the Jewish state, are you still willing to keep talking to me, and vice versa? If they say, "Look, we don't want to. Are you going to talk to me?" Then I'd say, "No I'm not going to." Now what are we going to do? I'd be willing to consider it [giving up the Jewish state], but I don't know if I'll live that long. I'm serious. Theoretically, if there was quiet and some sort of absence of threat between the people and an absence of negative energy for let's say 50 or 100 years... I don't need the Jewish state just on principle. I feel an affinity, an allegiance to a group, but I don't know if that is necessarily something that has to continue forever. I have a theory about this too. Religion was founded on a need in human beings to answer fears. They created and imagined these forces, these spirits, these idols, because it answered the fear they had about something they couldn't understand. That's fine; that was good for then. Sometimes fear is a good thing to have... not to do something stupid like put your hand in fire; it's good to be afraid of fire. But basically fear is a negative energy. Anything whose whole core and essence was based in negativity couldn't have good results in the end. It doesn't mean that religion doesn't answer some needs for people, but basically it's no surprise to me that religion is the core of all this, of many, many tears. Recently we started working with our staff, asking the question, "Can we even do anything together?" They say it depends what you're asking. What are you asking me to give up? Those are the hard questions... what are you expecting me to give up? It's hard to answer it, too. It's not many instances where we get into those heavy discussions, and they're facilitated pretty well, usually. But it's not easy. I'm usually known as a catalyst. People say that I get to the point and that conversations get started because I cut the crap. It's strange for people in this field. I'm a strange bird in this field in some ways.

  • Why do you think you are unusual in this field?

    I don't have a resounding distaste for the target population that I want to change. This leads me to another theory, if I could talk about processes. I think the wrong people are doing the processes. I think the processes have to come from a small core of heroes within the population that needs to go through the change. I can tell you specifically why. Here, my experience is that the people who are doing this work, for the most part, are condescending snobs towards the exact target population they feel needs to go through a change. They're right that they need to go through a change, but their attitude to them is so condescending. So all logic says they are not the right people to be providing the process for the change.

  • Can you describe the target population?

    The 70% of Jews who don't trust an Arab as far as they can throw him. That's a huge number. Only 30%--and that's a good number some days, depending on what happened that week--can tolerate the idea of coexisting or trying to find a solution. I'd say a huge majority of the people, though they'd never admit it, would be happy if there were no Arabs here. Everybody on both sides wishes that the problem would just go away. The change has to take place among the 60% of the Jewish population that has no faith whatsoever in any Arab. You have to ask what they need in order to let go of the child abuse syndrome, and that's not being asked.

  • What's your strategy for reaching the people you think need to be reached?

    I believe there needs to be a core of people from within. We have to find the package that makes sense to them and not ram our vision down their throats, but create a package, and most of that is based on Jewish values. You need to use the Jewish values card. Because what we're [Israel is] doing in a way is against Jewish values, our behavior is unacceptable on the Jewish values level. You mean in a religious sense? I'm talking about traditional, humanistic values, which might be coming from Jewish religious sources. Those sources include all kinds of values that don't allow for people suffering around you. The other thing is we have to have a few heroes among the downtrodden minority who will stand up and say "we'll help you do it, we'll help create a sense of well-being for those who are in total fear of us." That's the only way the Jews are going to be able to let go, and it's not happening. The ones who are doing the [reconciliation] processes now don't think in those terms. They don't give any legitimacy to the Jewish majority who needs to go through a process. They think they're just primitives. Not everyone, but a good number of people. They won't say it that way, but I know that's exactly what it is. They're really not the right people to do the process.

  • Are there people that you think are doing the [people-to-people reconciliation] process well?

    There's an organization called B'Sod Siach1 that's doing a conference. They're all psychologists; they use the Tavistocks2 system. They include settlers there, settlers and Arabs, which is unusual. I don't think people are really into this yet. I think there are a few individuals who would agree with what I'm saying, but it's not in style, and certainly most of the people I know would think that I'm a traitor. Not that I am a traitor. In a way I'm saying that what we're doing is becoming irrelevant, or that it's basically meant to go in another direction and will mean that everyone's out of a job. What I'm claiming is that we should put ourselves out of business. And that may be true.

    • 1Founded in 1993, B'Sod Siach is an organization that works with groups in conflict within Israel.
    • 2The Tavistock Institute teaches group, personal, and organizational dynamics.

  • Does your work impact your relationship with your family?

    Well, my daughter Alex is now twelve-and-a-half and she's actually pretty proud of it at this point. It raises some issues for her that other kids don't have. Sometimes she has to cope with issues at school. When I was working for Play for Peace, I was doing it voluntarily... It was one of the reasons I left my ex-husband. It had less to do with me and more to do with him, but I guess it takes two to tango. He felt that I was neglecting the family and it pissed him off that I was doing it voluntarily. Had I been paid, it wouldn't have bothered him that much. So I could say that in a way it did in fact impact my family. Was it a political issue? No. Well, it was for some of his family, his mother. He couldn't really talk about it with his family too much. They weren't exactly in that direction. I was on my way out anyway, I guess. I didn't know it at the time.

  • How has this conflict affected you personally?

    Oy. Personally, it makes me very pessimistic. And that's a sad thing to be. Ironically, I'm a little less pessimistic now because the whole world is in the same conflict; they're just not calling it that. The whole world is now processing Islam against the West, but they just don't want to say it. We've been doing it here, but now I can say it's no better anywhere else. To me it's quite alarming. I probably won't live long enough to see it, but I also feel that there is an enormous Armageddon on the horizon; that's what we're headed towards. This makes you feel less pessimistic? It seems less pessimistic than the idea that I'm stuck in the only gray place on the planet. I think the whole word is a sad place right now. This conflict is sad because I don't see it ending soon at all, I don't see the healing starting soon enough, let's put it that way. I don't feel that the healing is going to be on its way for a long time in this area. After 9/11 it all turned into the whole world, so it seemed to put this place a little more into proportion. The whole place is in good company.

  • Do you see signs of success in your work?

    I tell the kids that the fact that they're sitting in a room together in this context is a miracle. It's not just a success, it's a miracle. Also, we started working with adults and parents. Because of the extreme conflict and the pathological context we are working in, we have to adapt. Every move we make has to be wiser and better thought out, which is more expensive. Also, we have to give these kids some camp and field trips and spoil them. Although now we're going in another direction, which is that they're going to pay, like when they go to the Scouts. We want real leadership so that we can do this outreach and influence other kids by performing a lot more than just once at the end of the year. If we don't do that then we're really wasting a lot of money just for 20 kids. It's so hard to get 20 kids to stay together because of the pathology of our daily existence, so there really is no justification for it unless we take the show on the road and influence other kids. We don't really have the time to wait for the kids to grow up. I think it's time for the adults to start a process, and that's where we're not so wise. The practitioners don't know how... in almost all of the places where we work there are almost no adult dialogue groups going on. The parents aren't talking like the kids are. It's time to shake up the parents and get moving.

  • What do you do with the parents' group?

    This year was really the pilot. There is always one unilateral meeting, a separate meeting, and then in most cases there are two additional meetings, sometimes in the middle of the year and then at the end of the year, right before the show, so we can recruit them to help out with rehearsals and other things. If we don't have the parents recruited to this they can be more trouble than good. And they can be very supportive when there are crises. But we are also offering them a process. Half of the session is "tell us what you're hearing from the kids or what do you want to know about the kids and how are you feeling about this whole thing," and the second half is talking about anything else they'd like to bring up. It could be something they heard from their kids that they want to take on. That's basically how it's worked this year. I wanted this year to be "peace parents" year, too, not just Peace Child. We're finding there are really almost no random dialogue groups. Now not all the parents came; some said, "Well, just because my kids chose it doesn't mean I have to."

  • In the Sakhnin meeting, you said that the Palestinians got out of it that "there was a group of Israelis that didn't think they were monsters." What do you mean?

    Well, it's the other way around too, definitely. But they were challenging. I think it's really important that the Arabs met Jewish kids, whom they see as... we're getting into tricky terrain again. It seems it always gets complicated. Because of the political agendas of certain factions, there is a hesitancy to work on inter-personal relationships. If you support or justify the existence of the other side, then that means you have to compromise. For the Palestinians in Israel who may still have this hope that they're going to get rid of this little thorn in their side called the Jewish state, getting too friendly with them [Jewish Israelis] is not a good idea; it's a sell out, even. It's almost too dangerous... if they're insistent on keeping their nationalistic identity and agenda cooking, it's not such a great idea for their kids to think that Jews are okay. It's logical, there's something tricky for them there, and they're in a very uncomfortable position. I think they're very nice human beings, and I think they want to get along with people. It's not that they're looking for trouble, but they have this historic gripe that we took something from them. So they don't want to be so friendly with the people they're supposed to be furious at. They're in a really difficult position. Is that the same in the other direction too? You said that among the Israelis there's a fear of having to give up something. That's where it gets at me. When I start thinking about this, if I'm really honest about this, then I'm going to have to let it go. Because these people have such a good case. But then, I think, no, until all the states are gone, we can have one, too.

  • Do you want your daughter to participate in something like this?

    Yes, next year she's going to. All of this has to do with money. We're having such problems; everything's based on money. I bring her to summer camp, and she meets with Rasha, so there's some kind of connection. There's going to be a reunion and she's looking forward to it. She's been going around with me now to see the shows, and she met some other kids, and other groups, kids from Sakhnin and Misgav. She now likes girls in Sakhnin, I'm really glad about it. We were there for the weekend when I was directing that show. The fact that she is growing up... now that's going to make her confused at some point too. At some point there's going to be a bigger confusion, but at least she'll have a reference that she knows Arabs that she doesn't want to see get hurt. No matter what her idiot friends are telling her. But we're going to be doing it this year, I hope. If I had a son... Now, I'm going to get booed and hissed by people who have expectations like "he'll never go to the army." I'm not so sure I totally buy into the idea that everyone has to be a conscientious objector. I don't know if I think there has to be chaos. That's a warning bell for me. I can't say that I would totally forfeit the fact that there should be an army here. There are certain expectations by our colleagues in the field that we should of course be against the army. I can't say that. Not only that, I want to get to the point where my Arab colleagues and friends are not going to expect that of me. If you expect me to say there shouldn't be an army, that means you think I should basically be willing to take that chance and erase my existence. Don't ask me to do that.

  • Can you talk about previous peace processes?

    In retrospect it's always easy to look back, but basically everything happened exactly as it was supposed to happen; that's what they were ready to do at the time. I'd say that the reason it didn't work is the obvious one, that as long as we stayed there in their kishkes,1 it was impossible to create a framework or a functioning system where the Palestinians wouldn't be impacted by our presence, and as long as the settlers were there, then the soldiers needed to be there. The fact that it wasn't done in one big withdrawal was probably a major factor. But on the other hand there was no way they were going to bring all of the settlers back in '93, there was no way they were going to do one of those over night air lifts. But the thing about being in the Territories... this is my argument with people, with taxi drivers and such. I say, "Since '93 they've [Palestinians have] been saying if we just get out and give them a state then everything is going to be fine between us, and we'll all get along and there's going to be peace." I want the burden to be on them. I want us to be out. You've been giving us this line for 10 years--now show us! But that means we have to really get out, we have to get all the settlers out, and we can't be there to protect them. That's what I would like to see: all the settlers come in for a landing in the Negev over night. I'm tired of being the occupier, and having no case. If we were not occupying, I could so easily jump up with glee and say that I'm so glad that they knocked off Rantisi. But because we're in there, it's not clean for me to jump up and say that. I want it to be clean. It's clearly impossible that that guy should live. He shouldn't live, and neither should Yassin. He was, in my opinion, a scum-nobody would say that in our field. I'm sure nobody else you talk to is going to say that, but that's what he was. It's not in fashion to say such things. We can't be right in their [Palestinians'] guts and stopping them from getting to hospitals and stopping them from going here and there. I talk to a taxi driver, and I say, "Imagine your daughter lived two kilometers down the road and you get a phone call, she's poured scalding coffee on herself by mistake, and you're ready to dash out the door to go see her and some 18-year-old punk in a soldier's uniform tells you that you can't go. What would you do? What would you want to do?" This is what I say to an Israeli taxi driver when we're having a discussion. Well, he says, "If it were my daughter, if it were me, I would be really quite capable of homicide." So that's what our presence does, and they don't get it. I don't want that on my conscience any more, and I also want to be able to say [to Palestinians], "After you said for 10 years that we'll get along..." Look, there'll be another 5 years of chaos until they get organized because it's not going to go smoothly, but let's say after 5 years that they start getting it together and there's still this crap about wanting to get rid of us, I'd have no qualms whatsoever about any action we would take. But as long as we're there, it's really a problem for me. What we're doing is immoral, and I don't want to be immoral.

    • 1Yiddish meaning "guts."

  • Do people in your community support your work?

    Most of my community is my work at this stage. Everybody I knew before was pretty much sympathetic to the idea, but people that are rational, and not racist, went through a change in the past years, and they're turning to a side that says you can't trust Palestinians. So a lot of my community doesn't anymore, much less than it did. And we can thank Uncle Osama1 and Uncle Yasser. Those are the people we can thank as far as I'm concerned, Yasser and Osama, these are the people that are making people think that we can't trust them.

    • 1(b. 1957) Leader of the al-Qaeda network, a Sunni Islamist terrorist network. Bin Laden has claimed responsibility for attacks against civilians and military targets around the world, including the attacks on September 11, 2001 on New York City and Washington, DC.

  • Do you think there has been any attempt by Israeli leadership over the past few years to establish trust with Palestinian people?

    I did not intend to reference these two men as dignitaries. However, yes, there were some Israeli leaders who did make such overtures: Yossi Bellin, Avraham Burg, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, to name a few.

  • Why do you think that recent violence didn't make you lose trust the way you say it has for others?

    Because I'm so involved and I have so many deep, personal relationships with Palestinians. Look, I've had moments, we've had conferences with people in this field and people admit that there are some moments when something happens and you just want to say, screw them. That's just what you want to say at that particular moment, but I have too many deep, close friends. So when you have these kinds of friendships, it makes it harder. There are moments when I just want to be so free and clear and just be angry, furious, with no feelings of guilt at all. It's hard when you see the other person's narrative and know that, if not myself personally, then my people had something to do with their pain. It makes it more difficult for us, which is why more Jewish kids don't come to the programs. It's a lousy position to be in, to be the Jew in dialogue these days.

  • What are the times that you get most angry?

    When there are lynchings, naturally.1 When there are these disgusting, barbaric things that these people who I'm promoting-see I'm promoting the Muslims and the Palestinians-- and when they go and do something totally despicable like that, I lose credibility. I really do, I lose credibility in the eyes of everyone else I know. Now, I'm working promoting them, but the truth is I'm trying to fix my own society, we're repairing our own karma, but a lot of it has to do with promoting their side to people who don't want to hear about it. Some of my reactions are not very complicated. Some things get complex, but some things are most basic and I'd even say in a way very Neanderthal, primitive. I don't even want to get sophisticated about it. I like the simplicity. The work with Peace Child is the opposite. Every word you say has ramifications, it's on a sophisticated level; it's not primitive enough at this point. It was more so, but it's gotten very sophisticated. I'll give you an example: there was this discussion about whether I should tell new staff whether it was mandatory to go to this B'Sod Siach conference as part of their entry into Peace Child. I had no problem saying that it was mandatory, but Halil and Rula were in this big debate about whether it should be mandatory or not and what that meant... it's only the oppressed minority that worries about using that word. I didn't think about it. There are certain things that if you want to work, you have to do that, and that, number 1, 2, 3, and 4. So I start thinking about things that to me seem so clear and obvious but sometimes they are much more complicated.

    • 1Lewine-Boskovich may be referring to an incident on October 12, 2000, in which two Israeli army reservists were lynched in the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank. She may also be referring to the lynching of four American contractors in Falluja, Iraq in March 2004, about six weeks prior to this interview.

  • Where did you get the training to be able to do this?

    Some of it was on the job. When I was hired, it was to be the director. Part of it was working in theater and the arts-- and I had that background. Part of it was to be the administrator, and I also had that [experience]. What was missing was group facilitation, which I hadn't done. In fact I didn't even know what a facilitator was; I didn't know what that word meant when I got started, and that was 1996, it's not so long ago. I did that course three or four years ago. I was pretty fresh in it. I did a lot by instinct and I made some mistakes, too. There were things that needed to be altered due to circumstances, and I learned a lot. I wasn't facilitating in the beginning. This year I facilitated by default, I wasn't supposed to. However, I do have a flair for it because I'm sensitive to people. It's because of the nurturing that I didn't get because of my own personal issues. It's all connected. I see things happening. Theater people have that... I've had very intense experiences working in theater on acting scenes; allowing yourself to be vulnerable is part of the deal when you're doing theater. We support a safe environment. We try our best to create a safe environment so that people can allow themselves to be vulnerable or to honor a person's discomfort, to acknowledge it. In our group here in Jerusalem, when Palestinians were making some claims against what the Israelis were doing, and the Jewish kids, see here's another digression: the wrong people are in the room! The ones who are willing to come these days, for the most part, on the Jewish side anyway, are kids or adults who grew up in families who already have some sort of inclination to accept the other or to honor and respect the other. And they're no match for the really hyped-up, super-charged, identity-driven Palestinians these days. So it's not a fair fight. It should be the kids of Lieberman.1 Even what very moderate Arab kids have to say, and even when they say it in dulcet tones, is not hard to hear. The Jewish kids don't have the backbone. I mean, I don't think that the backbone of Lieberman or Benny Alon2 or any of those people is a healthy one, but they certainly have an answer for anything anyone would say to them. So if you would ask Lieberman's kids to understand the pain of what the Arabs went through, "just imagine it was your land that somebody took from you," or whatever, and that would make a major shift. There's something out of whack with who's in the room these days. Not many people will admit it. Everybody talks about the fact that in a lot of cases we're already working with the convinced in some ways. But they don't take it as far as saying that the process itself is unfair. What's your solution? Stick it out until this comes back in style. Purposely look for communities where it's needed. They're not particularly willing to do it now, and things got really bad in the last couple of years. They don't want to hear about it. Another factor is the financial situation here. This is the last thing they're going to invest in when the economy is going to hell in a hand basket at warp speed.

    • 1Resigned from the Israeli parliament in 2003. He founded the right wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, and was a proponent of what he called "voluntary transfer," the resettlement, deportation or expulsion of Palestinians, including Israeli citizens, to other Arab countries.
    • 2A member of Israel's parliament with National Union, a coalition of right wing parties, which was dismissed from Ariel Sharon's cabinet and coalition government for opposing the disengagement from Gaza.

  • What does the word peace mean to you?

    Was I supposed to do a quick association? Because I was going to say inner quiet. That was the first thing I thought of, but that's not a political definition. Peace in the political context here means two states, it means fair and just minority-majority relationships, it means the other side of a long process of acknowledging an injustice that took place, and going through a process that allows everyone to be able to let go of the past without feeling they've compromised their integrity.

  • Do you think you'll see that in your lifetime?

    Most of the time I'm pretty pessimistic, but sometimes these little things happen. Now it turned out not to be the right thing, but there were a couple of moments, a year or two of great hope after Oslo, there was a sense that it was going to change. You never know, you think something could happen, but it's still going to take fifty years. But sometimes one right thing happens that's going to affect everyone. Peace Child and all the other organizations are going to go into big business after the political solution, because then you really have to get into the basic work of trust building, and a little bit more integration than there is here. That work is going to need to go on for years and years. It should go on in the school systems; it should be part of the regular education. Everybody should be learning the Koran and all the... at least as history books, or at least what they [the books] are. Actually, my daughter is learning some of that stuff. I'm surprised at the things she's learning, things that I never learned about at her age, about Islam... I didn't know what Islam was at her age. When I was twelve I don't think I knew what Islam was. I did know what all the different Christianities were.

  • Do you think there has to be a political solution before there is that kind of reconciliation between the two peoples?

    We've been going at this grassroots direction for over 20 years and it hasn't worked. I often question why are social change processes that were successful in other places not working here? The radicals [in the United States] influenced opinions during the Vietnam War and there were certain changes. Radicals and non-radicals in the black communities worked to earn their rights. Here it doesn't seem to have moved. Yet other people say that nobody would have ever dreamed they would be talking about a Palestinian state... and then they give these numbers. If you try to look at it from 200 years from now looking back, you'd say well, they were moving along somehow. But I don't have the sense that it's going to be from the grassroots. I think there's going to need to be some sort of spark, or trigger that allows everyone to go that way. But again, it's going to take a lot for the Jewish side here to believe they can let go of their fears. And that's where the work needs to be. That's the only work that needs to be done actually.

  • What do you think the real fear is?

    Extinction. It's very primal. Yeah, it's basically that they want to get rid of us. Not trusting that they don't want to annihilate us if given the slightest chance. And there are enough people out there saying it, if not violently, then politically, "make this a bi-national state1 from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, why should there be a Jewish majority here at all?" This kind of statement didn't exist 10 years ago, and it's not helping Jews that have this fear get over it and start trusting. It's doing the opposite. That's why I don't go to demonstrations; I began to think that demonstrations are counterproductive. These trapped animals-that's the way they're feeling-see their own people betraying them, and it just makes them feel more fear that they can't even trust their own. I was in a few demonstrations and I was called all kinds of names, and I decided it wasn't helping.

    • 1Refers to the notion of one state on the land of Israel/Palestine consisting of national rights and equal protection under the law for both Israelis and Palestinians.