"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.
"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.
"Use words instead of swords... You can either beat me up and get what you want, or you can talk to me and get what you want, and more."
Salwa Abu Libdeh studied Arabic Literature and worked as a newspaper reporter before becoming a news anchor with the Palestinian Broadcasting Company. She worked on a joint Palestinian Israeli German project that made a documentary film about life on both sides of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
"The Palestinian people may be boiling, but inside they are very simple and interested in sharing the company of people whom they can trust. The people that engage in dialogue with Israelis are well respected among Palestinians. We aren't engaged in dialogue with Intelligence officers, we are engaged in dialogue with people who have lost their loved ones, were oppressed and have suffered from the Occupation."
During the first intifada while finishing her university studies, Sara Karajeh was imprisoned for five months in Israeli jail for resisting the occupation. Sara's husband, a member of the Palestinian Intelligence Service, was killed by the Israeli army during the second intifada. After her husband's death, Sara joined the Bereaved Families Forum, through which she works for understanding between Palestinians and Israelis and for nonviolent resolution to the conflict.
"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 understand that they are afraid. I am also afraid of them, but I am dealing with it by living in Wahat al-Salam. The way they deal with their fear is by fighting. But war leads only to more war, and fear leads only to more fear."
Before moving to the unique, intentionally mixed Palestinian and Jewish community of Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam in Israel, Wafa Srour was an insurance agent. She was nominally involved in activism with the Communist Party and women's movements in Eilaboun, Ramle and Tel Aviv. Wafa is responsible for women's programming at the School for Peace at NSWAS, and aims to strengthen women's roles in conflict resolution. Her activities focus on dialogue meetings and encounters among Palestinian and Israeli women.
"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.