"If we can integrate the abilities of these two peoples it will be a wonderful integration. I have not doubt this is the solution and it cannot be otherwise. I do not see a black future. I do not see that these peoples will destroy each other, rather that within twenty years they will build an economy that will be glorious, not just glorious—it will also contribute to all of humanity."
Helmi Kittani is an economist who worked for over 20 years in a senior position in one of Israel's largest banks. In 1992 he became the Executive Director of the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development, where he works to strengthen the economy in the Arab sector in Israel, and to build business partnerships between Jews and Palestinians both within Israel and across the Green Line.
"We summarize our work here in three words: peace, freedom, education. Our aim is to create a generation here who lives entirely in democratic freedom with our neighbors. And this is what we want, to be free like all the other people in the world, to participate in creating this generation."
In 2001, Ibrahim Issa returned from living in the Netherlands to become Acting Director of the Hope Flowers School after his father, the school's founder, passed away. Hope Flowers School in El Khader near Bethlehem, teaches democracy, peace and coexistence. It was the first school in the West Bank to teach Hebrew. Prior to the second intifada, Hope Flowers participated in many exchanges with Israeli students and teachers, but these have been put on hold due to travel restrictions.
"Even ten Israelis at a demonstration can make a real difference. We know from the army's own declarations that their open fire regulations change as soon as they think there are Israelis around. For example, they are not to use live fire when there are Israelis around, and they are not to fire rubber bullets in a direction where they think there are Israelis."
Kobi Snitz is active in demonstrating in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank. His primary activity consists of joining other Israelis in supporting Palestinian-led nonviolent protests in villages harmed by the planned or existing separation barrier. Kobi first became an activist as a student in Canada and the United States, where he participated in organizing a graduate student union and joined the anti-war movement during the US-led invasion of Iraq.
"I believe in the concept of a "critical mass." Every person actively participating will at some point become part of a critical mass, which will then take hold. I can't claim that by saving any one house I've greatly contributed to advancing peace. I do believe that our work, if joined by scores of people and other organizations, can achieve a critical mass, and that will lead to favorable political change."
The focus of Meir Margalit's work is fighting the Israeli government policy and practice of demolishing Palestinian-owned homes. His goal is to increase prospects for peace by working cooperatively with Israelis and Palestinians for social justice and an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Meir immigrated to Israel with a right-wing Zionist youth group, and founded a Jewish settlement in Gaza during his army service in the 1970s. He fought and was wounded in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
"I had just spent a year studying what was done in Sri Lanka, in Argentina, in South Africa, in Rwanda—all these places where people negotiated the past in different ways that were in sharp contrast to what was done here with regard to the Oslo process. So for me it was very clear that I should give up my lawyering skills for a bit and try to do something else."
Ofer Shinar studied and subsequently taught law and human rights at Tel Aviv University after his mandatory service in the Israeli army. In 2001-2002, he studied with South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation leader, Alex Boraine, at New York University. He returned to Israel to help the Bereaved Families' Forum explore the idea and process of reconciliation and to serve as an independent advisor and researcher on Transitional Justice.
"If you are an architect you should know how to use architecture to create change. If you come from the field of communications and media, you should know how to use your profession as a tool for change. The same is true for all the other professions."
Rami Nasrallah's work focuses on strengthening Palestinian civil society and addressing the implications of political agreements on all aspects of life for Palestinians and Israelis, with a focus on Jerusalem. In addition to heading the International Peace and Cooperation Center in Jerusalem, Rami is a research associate at the University of Cambridge, and lectures frequently in Europe, the United States and Canada. He has written and edited several books about Jerusalem.
"Most people assume I would want revenge, that I would try to hurt any Palestinian; certainly not that I would meet with Palestinians or search for peace and reconciliation. Most people raise an eyebrow and say, 'Looks like he lost some of his reason because of what happened.' After I explain what my motives are and why we organize such activities, people accept it. Maybe they don't always agree, but they do accept it as being legitimate— a special way to 'avenge' my daughter's death."
On March 4, 1996 Tzvika Shahak's daughter Bat-Chen was killed in a bombing outside a Tel Aviv mall. During the mourning period, the Shahaks discovered that Bat-Chen's diaries were full of writings and poems about peace. The Shahaks have made it their mission to pursue their daughter's hopes for peace, becoming founding members of the Parents Circle-Bereaved Families Forum, a group of over 500 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones to the conflict, and who advocate reconciliation over retribution.
"Nonviolence sends a message to the dominant powers in the world that our struggle is a popular one. It calls for the end of occupation. It is not a terrorist struggle that aims to destroy the Jews nor a threat to the stability of the region, as we are accused."
Walid Salem is the director of Panorama, the Palestinian Center for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development in East Jerusalem and author of numerous texts about the conflict. He was imprisoned by Israel a number of times in the 1970s and 80s for being an active political member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Walid joined Panorama after the initiation of the Oslo process, and has since conducted joint studies and activities with Israeli academics and peace groups.
"Perhaps the most important issue is that we set aside politics. Elsewhere people head straight for politics, which stems from the naïve urge to convince the other side to change, and pretty soon leads to fights that go nowhere. Potentially that could have happened quite often at our meetings, because we bring people from all over the political spectrum. Instead they discuss issues that are linked to every person's existential experiences."
Yehuda Stolov brings together Christian, Jewish and Muslim Israelis and Palestinians for dialogue sessions and weekend seminars about each other's religions. His work facilitates interaction between communities and encourages individuals to confront their own prejudices and fears of the other side. He deems what he calls the "human infrastructure" as the core of any successful peace process. Before founding the Interfaith Encounter Association, Yehuda Stolov participated in other interfaith dialogue organizations in Israel.
"A constitutive event can create a change here overnight, but what we need is comprehensive, profound and radical change. This is why reconciliation is neither simple nor easy. It is something to work and invest in and we cannot rest on laurels."
After his son was killed as a soldier, Yitzhak Frankenthal, a former businessman, pored through decades of old newspapers to find names of Israeli parents whose children had been killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yitzhak brought bereaved Israeli families to Gaza to meet with bereaved Palestinian families. After this initial meeting, he established the Parents Circle - Families Forum, which grew into an organization of over 500 Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families calling for reconciliation and peace, rather than revenge.