"I am responsible for creating change. Once I start working and stop sitting around complaining, that’s when significant change will occur."
Elad Vazana was born in the southern development town of Ofakim. Elad is an artist, an educator, an experienced mediator and facilitator; he develops curricula for facilitation, initiates and facilitates social change. He has been involved in dialogue for many years. His extensive experience facilitating Israeli-Palestinian dialogue meetings for youth led him to be one of the managers of the Sulha Peace Project, where Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians meet and build mutual trust.
"My community is not outraged against the Israeli government because of human rights violations perpetrated against the Palestinian and the Bedouin populations. I live in a community that is in some ways very satiated; those things are done to make me feel more comfortable when I get on the bus, when I go to university, so that when I'm with my partner at a café I feel safer. There is an element of justification in every conversation with my community, and it's very, very present."
Devorah Brous founded Bustan, an environmental justice organization working primarily in Israel's Negev region with Jewish and Bedouin communities, and was its executive director for nine years. The word "bustan" (fruit orchard in Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian) reflects traditional and diverse indigenous planting patterns of the region. Bustan plants and builds with low cost, sustainable technologies and advocates sustainable development that serves both Jewish and Arab populations, and promotes fair allocation of clean natural resources and community self-reliance.
"We view the Palestinians and ourselves as having fought for useless things. We struggle for security but simultaneously prevent it; they are struggling for a state but the suicide attacks prevent that; we are in transition to a state of refraining from violence."
After Itamar Shapira finished his military service in 2002, he joined Shovrim Shtika, a group of army reservists seeking to raise Israeli public awareness about the occupation's effect on soldiers and Palestinians. Later, Itamar joined his older brothers in Combatants for Peace, a joint organization of Israelis and Palestinians who formerly took part in the armed struggle and who are dedicated to non-violence and dialogue.
"In 2000 I met a religious man, who is my age, and there was true dialogue and true friendship. For the first time I began seeing things in such a different way that I view my previous perspective as ignoring something right in front of me. Like colors you don't want to see so you take them out of the spectrum of your vision, making yourself blind to certain colors."
For most of his life Shlomo Zagman lived in Allon Shevut, an Israeli settlement near Bethlehem. As a youth, he actively supported a political party that advocated deporting Palestinians to neighboring Arab countries, until a religious Jewish mentor convinced him that Israel's continued occupation and settlement of Palestinian territory endangers its future as a Jewish state.
"Imagine what kind of relationship a traumatized couple would have. I think this is the case with the Israeli and Palestinian societies. Honest leaders should do as much as they can to show their societies the trauma the other side is suffering, because this conflict is not only about borders, it's about traumas. Both societies have different traumas."
After his mandatory army service, Ariel Huler trained in conflict management at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He worked with young people in the field of the religious-secular divide among Israeli Jews prior to working at Seeds of Peace. Ariel first worked at Seeds of Peace Camp in the United States, where Israeli and Palestinian teenagers (as well as groups from different conflict regions) live together, have fun, and participate in coexistence dialogue sessions every day. Along with a Palestinian partner, Ariel was a facilitator in these dialogue sessions.
"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.
"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.