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


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Hagit Ofran

Born in Jerusalem and raised in a politically-minded, Orthodox family, Hagit Ofran avidly studied and was concerned with the history and identity of the Israeli and Jewish people. Today, she is the Director of Peace Now's Settlement Watch team, where she coordinates the most comprehensive independent database on settlements, collects and publishes reports regarding settlement development and policy and has been involved in providing evidence for several appeals, the majority of which deal with illegal settlement and outpost construction.

  • You've been the Director of Peace Now's Settlement Watch team for several years. Please tell me about yourself and what brought you to do this work.

    I was born in Jerusalem and was raised in a large, Orthodox family. Like most of my family members, I was Orthodox and left-wing for most of my life. After serving in the army, I joined Peace Now. As an activist, I have always been interested in the settlements, and I rarely missed an opportunity to visit the Occupied Palestinian Territories - demonstrations, tours. I would ask Dror Etkes,1 the previous Director I later replaced, to take me with him on tours when he could, and he did.

    • 1. Dror Etkes currently monitors settlement growth for Yesh Din. See also, Yesh Din.

  • You mentioned your background is Orthodox and left-wing. How did that affect your perspective?

    I was raised in a home that placed an emphasis on education, and as a result, I learned a great deal about the Jewish people. My identity is very much Jewish, and I'm concerned with the identity of the Israeli and Jewish people and that of Judaism. I belonged to a small left-wing Orthodox community that was primarily concerned with the contemporary struggle of [Jewish] Orthodox identity in Israel. Being socially engaged was a part of my home - part of my upbringing - and I suppose it also influenced my participation in what I've now come to think of as the most troubling and important issue at hand: ending the Occupation.

  • You mentioned your background is Orthodox and left-wing. How did that affect your perspective?

    I was raised in a home that placed an emphasis on education, and as a result, I learned a great deal about the Jewish people. My identity is very much Jewish, and I'm concerned with the identity of the Israeli and Jewish people and that of Judaism. I belonged to a small left-wing Orthodox community that was primarily concerned with the contemporary struggle of [Jewish] Orthodox identity in Israel. Being socially engaged was a part of my home - part of my upbringing - and I suppose it also influenced my participation in what I've now come to think of as the most troubling and important issue at hand: ending the Occupation.

  • What drew you to the Occupied Palestinian Territories?

    Something in me has drawn me to the history of my people. During my undergraduate studies I obtained a degree in the Department of Jewish History. During this time, I also took a course to become a certified tour guide, which included two years of studying Jewish history in Israel, as well as the history of other people in Israel. So I think I'm attracted to Eretz Israel, to those parts that aren't ours in the political sense, or rather, one day won't be ours. I want to get to know them before we lose them. I'm also interested in the Palestinians. I studied Arabic and I like meeting Palestinians and learning from them, getting to know them.

  • What do you do as Director of the Settlement Watch team?

    There is daily work required to maintain the settlement database: tracking what is taking place in the settlements and providing information regarding their location, access roads,1 construction dates, construction type and population. A very wise woman once said my most important mission is to preserve what my predecessors managed to create - Peace Now's reputation as a credible and accurate information source about settlements. Maintaining the credibility and accuracy of information is the most important thing, and that's what I try to do. It means going out to settlements, observing what is happening there, tracking announcements issued by the government, the [Israeli] Central Bureau of Statistics, tenders issued [for construction in the settlements] and plans. I try to study them and write reports in order to bring them to the Israeli media's attention. The main goal is to bring this information to the Israeli public. But, I don't always have accurate information, or in some cases, information is missing. Everyone keeps asking me, "Is there a freeze in settlement construction or not? Is the settlement freeze being violated or not?" I think it's still too early to tell. The Civil Administration might know, since they have a detailed list of authorized and unauthorized construction, but I don't have access to that list. There are different perspectives on the settlement freeze. Because the settlement freeze is only a partial one - if you visit settlements you'll see approximately three thousand housing units under construction - for some it seems as though there is no freeze. But, what is the meaning of the settlement freeze? It is the decision not to begin any new construction. So, while there seems to be no settlement freeze and construction is evident, there is a precedent here: the most right-wing government we've had to date has decided to freeze settlement construction. Even Rabin didn't do that. So, I wouldn't want to say there is no freeze and that it's all nonsense when there is a genuine and unprecedented element to it. Underscoring the success is important, even though it's only partial, and insufficient for reaching negotiations. That's the government's trick. My work includes making appeals to the High Court of Justice2 on settlement-related matters such as illegal construction and illegal outposts. One example is an archeological dig in Jerusalem we believed was illegal. In such cases, I gather information and collect evidence. Sometimes I contact Palestinian landowners or Palestinian civilians, the primary petitioners of our legal appeal, or people who subsequently join. Our work includes maintaining our relationships, transferring documents and tracking the legal process, along with producing maps and comparing [present-day] aerial photographs to older versions. My work also includes attending meetings and leading tours.

    • 1. By access roads, Ofran refers to roads that are designated or built for Jewish Israeli settler access between settlements and from settlements to Israel. See Bypass Roads and Settlements.
    • 2. The High Court of Justice is Israel's highest national court.

  • Why does the settlement issue engage you the way it does?

    Because it's the daily manifestation of the Occupation. It's currently the most prominent and active aspect of the Occupation. Of course, if we resume negotiations and reach an agreement, the settlements will be the problem. If there weren't settlements, the Occupation wouldn't exist; for Israel, withdrawing from the Occupied Palestinian Territories wouldn't be such a high stake endeavor if it were merely withdrawing our military control. All of the Occupation-related mechanisms - road blocks, checkpoints, permits, the infrastructure we've set up - are mostly a result of the "need" to protect the settlers, which has become the essence of the Occupation. On a more symbolic level, in terms of the State of Israel, we already agreed to a Palestinian state - a Palestinian entity - at Oslo and withdrew our soldiers [from Palestinian cities]. From the Israeli perspective, we have already made peace, and yet we've continued building settlements. What does that say to the Palestinians? That we have no intention of budging. If you build, it means you don't intend to withdraw: you plan to stay. Yesterday, I visited Ali, my friend from Al Khader, near Bethlehem. His story doesn't appear to be at all complicated, but you wait and wait, and nothing happens. In 1999, the UNDP,1 a UN agency that provides farmers with assistance, helped operate a soil improvement project in the Bethlehem region of Gush Etzion2 in Israel. This kind of project requires a lot of work, so several farmers got together under the UNDP's auspices to work on thirteen different farmlands. The Palestinians obtained permits from the Civil Administration because they are the landowners, but when settlers saw them working on the land they labeled the project "Palestinian outposts" and went to the Head Commander of the [Israeli] army's Central Command and said, "Look! Your Director of the Civil Administration granted Palestinians permits to build outposts!" There is a struggle over land [in the Occupied Palestinian Territories], and what were the settlers claiming? They were claiming the Palestinians were "taking over" lands that settlers could potentially claim for themselves. After that, Ali and the other farmers were only allowed to work on the plots they were already farming, rather than the rest of their properties, which included plots that required the assistance of tractors in order to make them arable plots of land. In other words, the project was worthless because the lands that were already being farmed weren't the ones that needed help. A year later, the Intifada broke out and there was terrible violence in the Al Khader and Bethlehem area. There were sieges, people weren't permitted to leave the area for entire weeks and Palestinian farmers weren't allowed to work on their farms. One day, the farmers went out and saw that four settler caravans had settled [on their land]. They found a lawyer through a human rights organization and petitioned the High Court of Justice to request that the settlers be ordered to leave. The court said, "If you want them vacated, go get an eviction order demanding they vacate the premises." From the State's perspective, these are illegal caravans: they were not authorized to settle, there was no regional plan authorizing settling there and the government hadn't made any formal decision to erect a new settlement. [The Civil Administration] issued a demolition order [of the settler's outpost], but nothing happened. Ali's cousin fought, but she lost. She said something interesting, "Every time a settlement had gone up I had thought that it just couldn't have happened [out of nowhere]; there are plenty of suspicions about [Palestinians] selling lands [to settlers]. Until it happened to me I didn't really believe that even when you put up a fight, you fail." We tried to take it to the High Court of Justice using a different approach: we demanded the [Civil Administration's] demolition order be implemented. The settlers haven't received permission to stay, so we requested they be removed and the Civil Administration's commitment be honored. It's a very strong case. We petitioned the court just over a year ago, but the next hearing has been repeatedly postponed.

    • 1. UNDP stands for the United Nations Development Program. See the program's website at http://www.undp.org.
    • 2. There is also a large settlement near Bethlehem by the name of Gush Etzion. See Gush Etzion.

  • That brings me to the question of strategy. How do you choose your strategy?

    That's a question I ask myself all the time. Petitioning the High Court of Justice is instrumental in pressuring the government. The government is not democratic if it doesn't enforce its laws. Declare you're being undemocratic and stealing land; that you're issuing draconian legislation to steal land [from Palestinians] to construct settlements; that you go ahead and approve such legislation. State the matter clearly so people know what it is they're voting for, what Israel's real policy is. That's why we have to petition the courts and pressure the government.

  • In many cases judicial appeals are not effective.

    I think judicial appeals are very effective because they force the government to confront the problem. For example, we petitioned that the court carry out its previously issued demolition orders for houses that had been under construction when we had originally filed for the demolition orders.1 We requested the demolition order, arguing [that the government] demolish the houses or, at least, order that the construction be halted. But the settlers were permitted to finish construction; they have moved in and live there. Now evicting them is much more complicated, as is demolishing their house. This legal debate has been going on for four and a half years - hearings and deferrals. Just yesterday, the State Attorney announced that it would not execute the demolition order because the option of legalizing the outpost is currently under consideration. That means the State would create a plan for the outpost and issue construction permits ex post facto, and that's quite a significant declaration. Politically, it implies that Israel is declaring its intent to establish a new settlement; furthermore, it implies that the State is claiming privately owned [Palestinian] land as State property. The State will claim that these lands are already state property because they haven't been formally claimed [by the Palestinians].2 The fact of the matter is they haven't declared such a thing in the past four and a half years because of the political implications, but we force them to make such declarations. Another article in the newspapers, another demonstration, maybe someone here or someone abroad will talk about the government's real policy - this creates pressure and pressure is an important instrument. I think the problem with the legal system is that while you could use it to respond to many issues, it isn't an effective instrument in terms of immediacy. So in terms of Ali's land, even if the demolition order [against the settler caravans] is executed tomorrow morning, it does not mean he will be allowed to farm the land. It will either be declared "too close to a settlement" or a closed military zone.

    • 1. For an example of a Peace Now petition to the Israeli High Court, see "Delimitations Petition Part II."September 2007. Peace Now. 23 June 2011. http://peacenow.org.il/eng/node/290.
    • 2. For more information on how Israel declares privately-owned Palestinian land to be State land, see "Settlements & Land: Land Expropriation and Taking Control of the Land." B'Tselem. 23 June 2011. http://www.btselem.org/settlements/taking_control.

  • What do you do as Director of the Settlement Watch team?

    There is daily work required to maintain the settlement database: tracking what is taking place in the settlements and providing information regarding their location, access roads,2construction dates, construction type and population. A very wise woman once said my most important mission is to preserve what my predecessors managed to create - Peace Now's reputation as a credible and accurate information source about settlements. Maintaining the credibility and accuracy of information is the most important thing, and that's what I try to do. It means going out to settlements, observing what is happening there, tracking announcements issued by the government, the [Israeli] Central Bureau of Statistics, tenders issued [for construction in the settlements] and plans. I try to study them and write reports in order to bring them to the Israeli media's attention. The main goal is to bring this information to the Israeli public. But, I don't always have accurate information, or in some cases, information is missing. Everyone keeps asking me, "Is there a freeze in settlement construction or not? Is the settlement freeze being violated or not?" I think it's still too early to tell. The Civil Administration might know, since they have a detailed list of authorized and unauthorized construction, but I don't have access to that list. There are different perspectives on the settlement freeze. Because the settlement freeze is only a partial one - if you visit settlements you'll see approximately three thousand housing units under construction - for some it seems as though there is no freeze. But, what is the meaning of the settlement freeze? It is the decision not to begin any new construction. So, while there seems to be no settlement freeze and construction is evident, there is a precedent here: the most right-wing government we've had to date has decided to freeze settlement construction. Even Rabin didn't do that. So, I wouldn't want to say there is no freeze and that it's all nonsense when there is a genuine and unprecedented element to it. Underscoring the success is important, even though it's only partial, and insufficient for reaching negotiations. That's the government's trick. My work includes making appeals to the High Court of Justice3 on settlement-related matters such as illegal construction and illegal outposts. One example is an archeological dig in Jerusalem we believed was illegal. In such cases, I gather information and collect evidence. Sometimes I contact Palestinian landowners or Palestinian civilians, the primary petitioners of our legal appeal, or people who subsequently join. Our work includes maintaining our relationships, transferring documents and tracking the legal process, along with producing maps and comparing [present-day] aerial photographs to older versions. My work also includes attending meetings and leading tours.

    • 2. By access roads, Ofran refers to roads that are designated or built for Jewish Israeli settler access between settlements and from settlements to Israel. See Bypass Roads and Settlements.
    • 3. The High Court of Justice is Israel's highest national court.

  • Besides the legal system, what other means are at your disposal?

    When we petition the courts and invest our efforts in the legal system, we run the risk of losing the case and, potentially, neglecting other courses of action at our disposal - namely, public action. I think public action is much more important, and in terms of democracy, even more powerful than legal means. The public is supposed to scream and the government should be afraid of that happening. That's really what we're trying to do. I started out with a lot of legal-oriented work. Over the past two and a half years, my work has involved contacting many Palestinians and collecting many stories and letters that could potentially evolve into a petition to the High Court of Justice. Gradually, I found that as I pursued that course of work, I neglected a much harder challenge: creating public pressure [on the government]. This is a very difficult task; the [peace] camp is in bad shape. Nobody believes there's any point to taking to the streets. People have given up.

  • You said reaching out to the public in Israel is difficult, why is that?

    Because people really have given up. When you look at the half glass, you choose what you see. If you choose to see the glass half full, ten years ago Israelis didn't talk about dividing Jerusalem, removing settlements and compromising over the refugee issue.1 Olmert, Sharon, Tzipi Livni and Netanyahu have all used the words "two states" - some joyfully, some sorrowfully. So in terms of people's perception, we won. The [Israeli] public is much more willing to divide this land into two states. If you want to see the glass half empty, while people say, "We agree to two states," they also say, "But it'll never happen," or, "The Palestinians will never agree," or, "Not in our generation." There are all sorts of excuses. What prevails is the sense of a lack of a partner for peace and that's a significant obstacle. People don't believe [peace] is possible; they say, "I'm willing, but the Palestinians have to go first," "Look at what happened in Gaza,"2 and all sorts of things. Politically speaking, I think the Labor Party possibly committed the worst sin, which now causes our biggest problem. Ehud Barak led us to final status talks3 - those were the most extensive talks. They dealt with the exact location of the future borders, along with the question of settlements slated for removal. But Barak didn't reach an agreement, and after loosing the elections to Sharon, he began saying, "I didn't fail; peace can't be achieved. It isn't that my approach was wrong; I proved to the world we don't have a partner [for peace]." The mainstream, or rather the party that had always represented the Israeli mainstream peace camp, was in fact saying, "It's no longer up to us." What happened to people in the peace camp who still believed we do have a partner? They were pushed to the margins, together with Meretz and Peace Now. The politicians and the mainstream public discourse shifted to the Right, and these people [on the Left] are perceived as bizarre, because they have no political resonance. Going back to what we are trying to do at Peace Now: we try to influence public opinion. Influencing public opinion requires that we relate to the political agenda so our message resonates within public discourse. Often we'll reject an activity if we think it'll be considered too eccentric and it won't resonate publicly. Having said that, we always argue over just how much we give up on, questioning, "Even if this doesn't resonate, shouldn't we at least try?" It's a fine line. When do people stop listening to you and think you're too eccentric? When do you stop having an impact because you're dealing with something that is already widely accepted?

  • Peace Now supports a two-state solution although many Palestinians no longer believe in such a solution.

    Perhaps. I don't think we've lost that opportunity though. When we do reach an agreement, I assume most of the Palestinian public will endorse it, including people who voted for Hamas. But this agreement has to be genuine, not like Oslo. A final status agreement will include removing settlements, declaring East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital, and providing a just solution for the refugees. I truly believe that although many Palestinians may prefer a single state, they'll endorse, accept and support a two-state solution. I could be wrong, but I haven't given up yet. I think a single state isn't a [realistic] solution. I think establishing a single state would result in a bloodbath. This place would become horrible economically and socially, extremist and violent, and those who can flee, will, leaving the religious extremists together. That will be their single state. If it were a realistic solution, it might be difficult for me morally because I'd have to ask myself questions about my Zionist beliefs. Why not support a single state? Why do we need a state with a Jewish majority? Luckily, I am still able to say that for practical reasons, [a single state] would be a disaster. Two states could become a kind of confederation or other cooperative model based on self-definition, for Jews too.

  • Peace Now reaches out to international audiences, publishing information and reports. How does that affect your relationship with the Israeli public?

    We are widely criticized for it and I think much of the criticism isn't fair. The Right uses it to condemn us, claiming that reaching out and fostering relationships with governments of friendly countries means that we are operating against Israel. Simultaneously, nearly all the settler organizations maintain relations with the exact same institutions, supplying them with information and trying to influence their opinions. For instance, they have a lobby in the US and they work very hard - I'd say harder than we do - to influence international decision-makers. The world is very much involved in this region we live in, and [international audiences] have a say. I reject the notion that only one side is allowed to develop relationships with the world. Many people say that by telling the world what Israel is doing I'm informing them. I'm explaining to Israelis what their government is doing, but it's difficult to explain, especially since a well-coordinated attack is being launched against us. The settlers view us as the enemy; they vilify us, create obstacles and claim we are illegitimate. It's easier to condemn us than to respond to our criticism. And then, whenever I join activities that are organized by left-wing organizations along with Peace Now, people laugh and joke at my expense, "Here comes the Zionist Left." They1 always attack [Peace Now] for being "Rightists, nationalists." [Israelis] think we've already relinquished the settlements, and that seems to be the sticking point. Everyone knows that the remote settlements will be evacuated. Some people say that the "Settlement blocs are ours," which reflects their understanding that the settlements outside the blocs are not ours. I think people psychologically feel as though we are no longer present in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This illusion has severe repercussions, because it means they don't understand - "Why do the Palestinians care? Why are they so angry? We are willing and ready, we've already agreed [to withdraw from the Occupied Palestinian Territories]. [The Palestinians] haven't, they aren't satisfied." People are deluded if they think we aren't [occupying] the Territories. The fact that we are willing to [withdraw from the Occupied Palestinian Territories] in principle doesn't make a difference when we are, in fact, still there, continuing to build [settlements]. The entire system of occupation is dedicated to staying in the settlements.

    • 1. For an example of such groups, see Anarchists Against the Wall.

  • How can Israeli audiences be better informed about the settlement issue?

    That's the $64 million question. We're trying to affect the public in two ways: 1) disseminating as much information as we can, publishing fliers, organizing meetings, conferences and lectures, and 2) through the media, depending on how interested the media is in the information we can supply, and whether we are willing to speak the language the media is willing to listen to or broadcast. It's very important to have as much information as possible, and this debate continues to go on but lacks very important information.

  • When you visit settlements, do you have direct dialogue with people there?

    No. At settlements I don't converse with the settlers, and I think many settlers are angry that I'm not willing to speak to them. For me, visits to settlements are very tense affairs and I try not to make myself visible; I stay in the car. I used to get out and take photographs and if anyone saw me, at most, he would curse at me. But, nowadays it's quite dangerous: I have been stoned and there have been times when I have not been permitted to enter settlements. Once, I wasn't able to leave, which is much scarier than not being allowed in. Recently, settlements began circulating pictures of me and Dror Etkes, ordered that the pictures be hung at the gates and that we not be permitted to enter. They're saying, "These are our enemies" and that's frightening. Having my picture hung and becoming the issue is fairly stressful; I am not the issue. Interaction with other people doesn't occur often in the field. Often settlers seek legitimacy and say, "We have different opinions, but accept us." I say, "I accept you as people but not as settlers." I think saying things such as, "Let us be united," and, "We shouldn't argue," isn't a good thing; we should have different opinions. We should argue and fight so people are invested in what happens [here], as opposed to saying, "No matter what, united we stand." The settlers and I come from the same family - the Jewish people (sometimes this literally refers to family relatives; I have cousins in settlements and my brother lived on a settlement until a few months ago). So family, yes, that unites us, but we have very different opinions regarding the path we're on. I don't think arguing is a problem. Why should it be? It's important that we argue.

  • The Israeli Right often calls left-wing organizations in Israel racist toward Jews. How do you address this?

    We investigate Jews' illegal construction as opposed to that of Arabs' because it harms the State of Israel; not because of its legal consequences, but because of its political implications. The illegality of the settlements is an instrument for circumventing democratic processes such as decision-making, planning, and the possibility of voicing objection. I think Jews' construction in settlements directly harms the State of Israel, while the Arabs' illegal construction in the Occupied Palestinian Territories doesn't affect Israel's future one bit. It is politically insignificant; therefore, we don't address it. In terms of the violations themselves, there is a world of difference between Palestinian and Jewish illegal construction when referring to the settlements. First of all, most of the Palestinians' illegal construction takes place on lands they own, while the Jews' illegal construction is either on land controlled by the State, termed "State lands," or Palestinians' privately owned lands. So it really isn't even on the same moral scale. Let's be honest, no settler would ever change places with a Palestinian. If you're Palestinian, the chance of receiving a [construction] permit is much lower, and the chance of receiving a demolition order is much higher. The State has initiated construction for scores of thousands of houses in settlements, and I believe not a single one for Palestinians [in the Occupied Palestinian Territories].1 There is no equality.

    • 1. In 2009, the United Nations reported that planning restrictions by the Israeli Civil Administration make it almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits. See "Restricting Space: The Planning Regime Applied by Israel in Area C of the West Bank." December 2009. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Palestinian Affairs. 24 June 2011. http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/special_focus_area_c_demolitions_december_2009.pdf.

  • What do you consider a small victory?

    Victory is ending the Occupation. Small victories are ones that successfully raise salience on an issue. Given the new U.S. administration1, there is a sense that what I publish might resonate.

    • 1. Ofran speaks about the Obama Administration, which spoke out against Israeli settlement construction in 2009. See Kessler, Glen. "Obama Continues to Press Israel to Freeze Settlement Activity." Washington Post. 29 May 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/28/AR2009052803771.html.

  • You said reaching out to the public in Israel is difficult, why is that?

    Because people really have given up. When you look at the half glass, you choose what you see. If you choose to see the glass half full, ten years ago Israelis didn't talk about dividing Jerusalem, removing settlements and compromising over the refugee issue.8 Olmert, Sharon, Tzipi Livni and Netanyahu have all used the words "two states" - some joyfully, some sorrowfully. So in terms of people's perception, we won. The [Israeli] public is much more willing to divide this land into two states. If you want to see the glass half empty, while people say, "We agree to two states," they also say, "But it'll never happen," or, "The Palestinians will never agree," or, "Not in our generation." There are all sorts of excuses. What prevails is the sense of a lack of a partner for peace and that's a significant obstacle. People don't believe [peace] is possible; they say, "I'm willing, but the Palestinians have to go first," "Look at what happened in Gaza,"9 and all sorts of things. Politically speaking, I think the Labor Party possibly committed the worst sin, which now causes our biggest problem. Ehud Barak led us to final status talks10 - those were the most extensive talks. They dealt with the exact location of the future borders, along with the question of settlements slated for removal. But Barak didn't reach an agreement, and after loosing the elections to Sharon, he began saying, "I didn't fail; peace can't be achieved. It isn't that my approach was wrong; I proved to the world we don't have a partner [for peace]." The mainstream, or rather the party that had always represented the Israeli mainstream peace camp, was in fact saying, "It's no longer up to us." What happened to people in the peace camp who still believed we do have a partner? They were pushed to the margins, together with Meretz and Peace Now. The politicians and the mainstream public discourse shifted to the Right, and these people [on the Left] are perceived as bizarre, because they have no political resonance. Going back to what we are trying to do at Peace Now: we try to influence public opinion. Influencing public opinion requires that we relate to the political agenda so our message resonates within public discourse. Often we'll reject an activity if we think it'll be considered too eccentric and it won't resonate publicly. Having said that, we always argue over just how much we give up on, questioning, "Even if this doesn't resonate, shouldn't we at least try?" It's a fine line. When do people stop listening to you and think you're too eccentric? When do you stop having an impact because you're dealing with something that is already widely accepted?

  • What central lessons have you learned through your work, especially in terms of strategies, that might be useful for other activists to learn from?

    That is the big question. I began to research how the public struggle brought about the withdrawal from Lebanon1, in order to decode it, as though it were a formula we could replicate. Unfortunately, there is no formula, especially since this is different than withdrawing from Lebanon or freeing Gilad Shalit. The battle to end the Occupation is a much bigger revolution. I think the key is the Israeli public and its opinion. If the Israeli public demands the Occupation end, that's what will happen.

    • 1. Ofran refers to the 1985 withdrawal of Israeli military forces from fighting with various Lebanese forces in southern Lebanon. See War of 1982. For information on the efforts of the Israeli peace movement during the war, see Bar-On, Mordechai. In Pursuit of Peace: A History of the Israeli Peace Movement. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 1996.

  • In your opinion, what are the roots of this conflict?

    The roots of the conflict are the rise of nationhood in the 19th and 20th centuries1 and the Jews' return to Eretz Israel. Zionism. The fact that Jews suddenly started coming here, saying this is our homeland. I also think this is our homeland, my homeland, and that we have the right to live here; but, when another people living here has to pay the price, that's the root of the conflict. What are the implications? What is the solution? A shared life here in the same country based on a compromise; neither side gets everything, but each side's basic interests are met. That's the two-state solution. Saying Zionism, the nationalistic struggle over this land, is the root of the conflict doesn't mean the Occupation's significance should be underestimated. The Occupation is the most pressing issue, and if we can take care of it, the entire conflict will transform into something entirely different, perhaps, limited to a philosophical conflict. As soon as we end the Occupation, this conflict will be able to exist without us killing each other. So, in this sense, Zionism would unequivocally win. In 1988, the Palestinians2 accepted the two-state principle, UN resolutions 242 and 338, giving up on the idea of a greater Israel.3 But the entire Arab world is willing to recognize Israel and accept us, including normalization, once an agreement is made [with the Palestinians].4 We would be able to calm down and stop saying, "The Arabs are going to take us over." We won! And, now we are free to live; let us permit ourselves to live. You're accepted; accept it. Don't keep fighting. Yesterday, one of Ali's neighbors said, "You are, in fact, prolonging the Occupation." He didn't say Occupation, he said thulem - abuse, tyranny, oppression. I thought he meant to tell me that by working to alleviate [the Occupation's effect], I'm enabling it to continue. But no, he was actually saying it in a much simpler way: "By coming here and allegedly helping us, you're actually extending this oppression." There's something to that. When I meet friends who are active in Leftist grassroots organizations, many suggest other formulae for the struggle. There are plenty of question marks. There's still a lot to consider.

    • 1. All of the existing countries in the Middle East became independent nation-states in the 20th century, breaking free from the defeated Ottoman Empire after World War I and later from British or French mandates. See Gelvin, James L. The Modern Middle East: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2005.
    • 2. Ofran refers to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was internationally recognized as the representative of the Palestinian people. See Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian Declaration of Independence.
    • 3. "Greater Israel" is a reference to Palestine. See Palestine.
    • 4. Ofran refers to an initiative of Arab states first proposed in 2002 and later affirmed in 2007. See Arab Peace Initiative.

  • How does your work come together with that of other organizations, which have different strategies?

    I'm really pleased with the inter-organizational cooperation we have in the field. This isn't organizational, it's personal. I know people who work with Bimkom, B'tselem, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, activists from the struggle1 in Sheikh Jarrah, Rabbis for Human Rights, Ta'ayush, Bnei Avraham and Shovrim Shtika. We cooperate on a daily basis, on a personal level; I get phone calls, people see things or send me information relevant to my work. I have wonderful capacity in terms of mapping and access to other information: a plan of someone's field who is being prevented from plowing it; an aerial photograph for a court discussion that could be helpful, and maps that I could easily create. I very much enjoy this kind of cooperation. Organizationally speaking, it's more complicated. Each [organization] has its organizational ego: donors that must be impressed and credit the organization needs to take. But on a personal level, all of us activists have a common goal, and that's great. I feel it's a social identity. I think people [in the Israeli Left] are learning to also appreciate what Peace Now is doing. Ultimately, despite the frustration - and it can be very frustrating - Peace Now has a great deal of influence. And, it isn't only because of Peace Now's thirty+ years of experience, but because of the way we work. The examples can be very aggravating. Three hundred people demonstrate in Sheikh Jarrah every week, and they've been relatively successful in reaching the Israeli media and creating a debate. In comparison, we bring twenty people to a demonstration and it's broadcasted on television and on the radio. Have demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah had any television coverage despite the hundreds of demonstrators? It's almost unfair. However, our demonstration was politically relevant in terms of timing, and it takes years of work and an attempt to speak the language mainstream Israelis might be able to listen to - or at least the media that nourishes what the mainstream can accept. It's a critical effort, and it's important for people to make that effort. I'm glad to be part of it.

    • 1. In 2008 and 2009, the Jerusalem District Court evicted three Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, ruling that the homes were historically owned by Jews. Jewish Israelis now reside in these homes, with some of the Palestinian families daily pitching tents across the street from their former homes. Other Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah are also under threat of evictions. Currently, weekly protests of the evictions take place, attended by some of the Palestinian families and a growing number of Israelis and internationals. Several foreign governments, including the United States, and the United Nations have condemned the evictions. For information on the protest movement against the evictions, see the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity's website at http://www.en.justjlm.org/. For information on the ongoing property dispute in Sheikh Jarrah, see Lidman, Melanie and Dan Izenberg. "Sheikh Jarrah Palestinians fear new evictions." Jerusalem Post. 29 September 2010. http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=189577.

  • Peace Now supports a two-state solution although many Palestinians no longer believe in such a solution.

    Perhaps. I don't think we've lost that opportunity though. When we do reach an agreement, I assume most of the Palestinian public will endorse it, including people who voted for Hamas. But this agreement has to be genuine, not like Oslo. A final status agreement will include removing settlements, declaring East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital, and providing a just solution for the refugees. I truly believe that although many Palestinians may prefer a single state, they'll endorse, accept and support a two-state solution. I could be wrong, but I haven't given up yet. I think a single state isn't a [realistic] solution. I think establishing a single state would result in a bloodbath. This place would become horrible economically and socially, extremist and violent, and those who can flee, will, leaving the religious extremists together. That will be their single state. If it were a realistic solution, it might be difficult for me morally because I'd have to ask myself questions about my Zionist beliefs. Why not support a single state? Why do we need a state with a Jewish majority? Luckily, I am still able to say that for practical reasons, [a single state] would be a disaster. Two states could become a kind of confederation or other cooperative model based on self-definition, for Jews too.

  • What is the relationship between your work on the Settlement Watch team and a future peace agreement here?

    I think my work adds to the chance of reaching [a peace agreement]. Sometimes I think we have a preventative effect, while modest. For example, the outposts. Outposts were a system that allowed the establishment of more and more settlements, but that stopped and [new] settlements aren't being established anymore. Peace Now is the one who put the matter on the public agenda, petitioned the High Court of Justice and the government started paying a very high price. There haven't been new settlements constructed since the beginning of 2005. There are games - putting up a tent and taking it down - but, these aren't new settlements with infrastructure. They stopped putting those up. When negotiations begin soon, God willing, there will be fewer settlements to remove. On a different level, I believe we affect public opinion, even if in a very small way. It's so very important to have someone telling the public here in Israel what we do, taking a stand and fighting to create the groundwork for a future agreement, so that it has support, so that it is viable.

  • Where do you see signs of hope, currently?

    In public opinion, which is ready for an agreement; the fact that Netanyahu can be pressured, even though he is devious and provocative; Obama's administration, which I haven't given up on (I think people's expectations of him are impossible). But all in all, [peace] is possible. I think that most people, Israelis and Palestinians, are sick and tired of this conflict. Let people live.

  • How does your family regard your involvement?

    I know it's embarrassing for some of my relatives; I have a large family. But that's okay; they have to cope because I'm their cousin. I said I come from an Orthodox, left-wing home; that's the dominant part, but not everyone agrees. When I go to settlements, people say, "You're part of a distinguished family," and they're referring to my cousin, who the settlers regard as an important rabbi.

  • Please tell us about your relationship with your late grandfather, Yeshayahu Leibowitz.

    For me he was my grandfather, someone many people came to hear. He always had visitors who came to discuss existential matters: questions about life, values. I liked asking him questions, talking, spending time with him. He was an extraordinarily wise man - very knowledgeable in a very wide and comprehensive way. He was also provocative, and he spoke in a way that attracted a lot of attention. I think he did that to inspire discussion. He used provocative statements, not only in terms of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but in terms of faith, too. Everything I am today has to do with my grandfather; he influenced me in many ways.

  • In December 2010 we followed up with Hagit.

    My work changes in relation to the political agenda. When we met, I probably talked about the settlement freeze. That is over and now there is a lot of construction underway. I'd go so far as saying insane construction, in over sixty - more than half - of the settlements.1 Settlements where we hadn't witnessed construction for many years suddenly initiated construction projects. This is worrisome, especially given the fact there is no settlement freeze, and, therefore, less interest in settlement construction. The government decided not to freeze construction and it's lifting the pressure and enabling almost everything. The settlers can truly do anything they want to do without facing any sanctions.

    • 1. For information on settlement construction in late 2010, see Bronner, Ethan. "After Freeze, Settlement Building Booms in West Bank." New York Times. 22 December 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/23/world/middleeast/23settle.html.