"We were raised on this conflict and its myths; we were told what is true and what isn't, who is right and who isn't. This goes for both sides, and now it's difficult to repair things. We were raised on history as it is in the eyes of our teachers and it takes time to begin to think in a different way-- maybe it doesn't necessarily have to be this way, maybe things can be fixed."
Michal Eskenazi is a coordinator at the Young Israeli Forum for Cooperation. YIFC promotes dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and encourages young leaders and professionals in Israel to participate in conflict resolution and policymaking. Originally from Karmiel, Michal has volunteered in various organizations in the past, and is currently a student of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University in Be'er Sheva.
"[My work] is not going to stop the bulldozers. It won't do that. But I researched the roots of the change in South Africa, and from a few articles I read [about the transition to democracy], I realized there were always groups that engaged in dialogue and cooperation, and white people who joined in the black people's struggle... And in that sense, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, actions are meaningful."
Michal Zak heads the facilitation training program at the School for Peace, a conflict resolution program in the unique mixed Palestinian and Jewish village of Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam [Oasis of Peace] in Israel. With other members of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, she is also involved in providing medical aid and supplies to nearby Palestinian villages. Michal has lived and worked in this intentional community since the early 1980s.
"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.
"I think that one day history will judge the role of media in our time of war, and what an important role it plays in making wars happen. The media lets people believe that wars are possible— leads them to believe that it is the right solution, and the only solution. People don't know enough about other solutions. But then it will be too late for a lot of people."
Rutie Atsmon is the founder and director of Windows, a joint Israeli-Palestinians organization. Its goal is to promote understanding and reconciliation through educational and cultural programming. One of the organization's primary projects is a youth magazine in Arabic and Hebrew produced by Israeli and Palestinian children. Windows also distributes clothing and provides humanitarian aid to people in villages in the Tulkarm area.
"I live in a country like many countries, where racism exists, people judge you according to what they see at first glance without trying to get to know you personally. I've always had to deal with it and say, 'This is me, Shwanesh, standing in front of you.' They were always talking to me as you Ethiopians."
Shwanesh Maniov immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia with her family when she was seven years old. While majoring in Middle Eastern Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, she became involved in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. As the coordinator for the Israeli foundation Children of Abraham, she organized and participated in exchanges between Israelis and Palestinians that focused on religion, culture, and history. Shwanesh was a facilitator for Palestinian and Israeli teenagers engaged in daily dialogue at the Seeds of Peace summer camp in the United States in 2004.
"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.
"I had always been active in minorities' struggles for rights. In the Ukraine it was the Jewish minority. Now it's the minority that's changed, not me; the current minority is the Palestinians."
Yana Knopova immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine in 1996 through a Jewish youth program. She is the coordinator of Coalition of Women for Peace, an umbrella organization for nine Israel-based women's organizations working to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and emphasizing the importance of women in building peace. Through the Russian-speaking sector and organizations such as Ahoti [my sister], the Coalition also empowers women in Israel's minority social groups to work for peace and justice.
"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.