As a peace activist for more than 30 years, I am frequently
After getting through the political analysis of the moment,
the subject inevitably turns to the personal. One question that repeats itself
constantly is “how do you keep doing it?” It is a very good question, since
peace seems to be so constantly moving further towards the distant
Sometimes the question is more open-ended: “what gives you
hope?” Sometimes I am simply asked “are you optimistic?” This past week a young
person interviewed me with a new and refreshing approach. She asked “what is
your dream?” And to make it more complex, she added “what was your dream when
you were a child?” The questions provoked my imagination.
usually say (borrowing the words of my friend Dr. Yehuda Paz) “it’s a genetic
defect; I can’t help it. Every morning I wake up optimistic.”
extent, it’s true, it is a trait that I inherited from my late great mother.
There are optimistic and pessimistic personalities. I have never met a
pessimistic peace activist. To believe in peace, one must be
ONE THING that gives me hope is the memory of where we were
when I first began to understand the nature of our conflict. Back then, some 25
years ago, after the beginning of the first intifada, it seemed quite clear that
the Palestinian movement was on the verge of a revolutionary shift that would
transform its national goals from “one secular democratic state” to the
two-state solution. In 1976 I met the PLO ambassador to the UN in New
Together with other Jewish Zionist students, we suggested that the
time had come for Palestinians to recognize Israel and accept the two-state
solution. Ambassador Zehdi Labib Terzi’s response was “Over my dead body. We
will never recognize Israel.
All you Jews should go back where you came
from!” In 1988, I met ambassador Terzi in Geneva, and by that time he was
prepared to recognize Israel and accept the two-state solution.
when I founded IPCRI – the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information.
After spending a day in the Dehieshe refugee camp in March 1988, I published an
ad in three east Jerusalem papers. I wrote: “If you believe in the two-state
solution, you believe that Israelis and Palestinian can work together for peace…
Call me!” I gave my home phone number.
The ads went in on a Friday
By Saturday night I had received 43 calls. I made appointments
with anyone willing to meet me. I spent the next five days in the courtyard of
an east Jerusalem hotel and met 23 Palestinians. In preparation for those
meetings, I wrote a one-page paper in which I suggested that our conflict was no
longer existential, but rather about specific issues. I suggested that there
were seven key issues (I would add an eighth today): Palestinian statehood and
the nature of its sovereignty, the delineation of borders, the future of
Jerusalem, the future of Palestinian refugees, the physical link between the
West Bank and Gaza, the nature of economic relations, and natural resources –
mainly water. Today I would add security arrangements. Every person I met agreed
with my proposal. I knew then, as I know today, that agreeing on and defining
the issues in conflict is the first step toward conflict resolution.
1989 we began bringing together groups of Israeli and Palestinian experts to
start figuring out how to resolve the specific issues.
TODAY IN 2011, I
completely believe that there is not a single issue on the list that we don’t
know how to resolve. Let’s face it, this is the most researched conflict in the
history of conflicts, and there are more detailed peace plans out there than for
any other conflict in the world. Amazingly, the answers are not known only to
the experts; any thinking politician knows the answers as well.
no more secrets.
So one thing that gives me hope is the deep belief that
this conflict is resolvable; every single issue, to the minutest detail, has
solutions based on research, dialogue, precedents and “home-grown”
What is lacking, and is absolutely
essential, is any semblance of trust.
Israelis and Palestinians have
definitely earned their mutual distrust.
The most crucial aspects of each
of the five Israeli-Palestinian agreements have been breached systemically by
both sides. There is no clear “good guy” and “bad guy” when it comes to
implementation of signed agreements. And no artificial “confidence- building
measures” can replace such earned lack of trust.
I have borne witness to
the overriding importance of trust, and this is the primary thing that gives me
hope: the personal relationships I experience, every day, throughout the region
– in Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and even in hard places like Syria and Lebanon,
prove to me the importance of integrity, honesty, sincerity, respect and
compassion. From my two years volunteering as a community worker in the
Israeli-Palestinian town of Kafr Qara, where even today, 30 years later, I am
treated as a “son of the village” when I come to visit, I am reminded of the
warm human contact and ability to overcome cultural gaps.
In all my
encounters, my Arabs friends and colleagues know me as a proud Israeli patriot,
a Jew and a Zionist. This has never prevented me from listening to them,
empathizing with their pain and recognizing that we can live together in peace
through mutual respect, recognition, compromise and understanding.
also never prevented them from, in turn, from hearing my story.
why I didn’t experience fear living in Kafr Qara with no lock on my door, or
when I travel in Ramallah, Nablus or even Gaza. I am not so naïve as to believe
I have no mortal enemies, but I don’t allow myself to be constrained by fear, or
allow fear to sour into blind hatred.
I believe in the power of people to
be good. I believe in the power of compassion, which is much stronger than
hatred. And I will always be true to myself and to the belief that making peace
is first and foremost a decision – one that we have apparently yet to
The writer is founder and co-director of IPCRI, the Israel
Palestine Center for Research and Information. He hosts a weekly radio show in
Hebrew on All for Peace radio, and is a voluntary columnist for