Interview with Helmi Kittani

Please tell me a little about your background and how you got involved in this work.

I am 57 years old. For 20-22 years, I worked at Bank HaPoalim.1 I was a banker in different management positions, senior positions in Bank HaPoalim both in Jewish and Arab towns and at its headquarters. I am an economist by training. I graduated in 1973 with an economics degree from Tel Aviv University. Then I turned to business within the banking context. In Bank HaPaolim, which operates in a very professional and business like manner, I aspired to work for economic development in the Arab sector. I wanted to use the bank's resources for the sake of the economic development of the Arab sector. I think the bank must not only be a commercial entity that gains money, but also contributes to the welfare of the community within which it operates. I think I was the first person that had the courage to say that the bank must act significantly for the sake of the economic development of the Arab sector. This approach is beneficial for the two sides. It will lead to more customers, larger turnover and more profits for the bank, and also to more businesses and a new level of business in the Arab sector.

This is my background and I really think that, despite the fact that I was young—I was the youngest manager in Bank Hapoalim; I was in a management position when I was just 25 years old, this was not easy as a 25 year old—I think I contributed much to the bank and contributed much to the Arab community. Not just to hold on to a conservative approach to the economy, but also to advance the thinking regarding business in a more modern context, even with regard to agriculture. For example, I was in the area of Kalanswa-Tira2 when it used traditional agriculture. I used the tool of bank credit loans. I encouraged people to jump a level towards developing a modern agricultural approach; all the issues related to strawberries, all the issue of growing flowers in greenhouses require a lot of investment in resources. I believed that if you give people the opportunity to develop, they can earn more; they can also contribute more to the bank's activity. This is what happened. During my tenure, the Kalanswa-Tira area was the number one exporter of strawberries and flowers in the country, primarily exporting to Europe. This is my background.

After a period of 20-22 years at the bank, I thought the time had come to try my luck with a private business. I resigned and created a consultation and investment firm in Baka el-Gharbiyeh,3 where I was born. I was an investment advisor and opened an office in Baka. But after a short period of two or three years in this field, I realized it was more important for me to do more public activity than to work for myself.

What do you mean by you wanted to be more involved in "public activity"?

I prefer projects that are related not just to individuals but focused as much as possible on the community, projects that help advance the community. And in 1991, the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development, which was still a young and small organization, turned to me and asked me to lead special courses for young Arabs on business enterprise. I liked this idea because to prepare young Arabs to manage businesses with a modern perspective and not just family businesses in a traditional manner, is important. We began with courses in the Triangle Area4 especially for the second generation of businessmen, the sons of businessmen, the young siblings, people who still had an open mind to accept the tools for modern business management. We succeeded quite well in this endeavor. This project was greeted with open arms by the community. And this became a strategic plan of the Center.

{Empty title}

In the beginning, the Center worked to encourage the establishment of joint businesses. I came and said that it would be very difficult to create joint businesses of Jews and Arabs if the economy of the Arab sector is very weak and the economy of the Jews is very strong. This gap makes it impossible to advance partnerships and cooperation. I said it is necessary to help to advance and to raise the level of economic development in the Arab sector and then you can develop true partnerships between the two sides. And so we began with the empowerment process of young Arabs, the human capital. Later we helped the Arab local authorities to develop the physical infrastructure. We said first you must begin with this approach and later you can move to the level of encouraging individual initiatives of Arab and Jewish businessmen.

{Empty title}

In 1992, after the success of the courses, the founder of the Center, Sarah Kremer, and the board of the Center requested that I become the executive director. Initially I wavered because from my personal, financial position I knew I would be taking a drastic pay cut. To be a senior manager in a bank and then to own a private business that had good earnings, and then to move on to an association, an NGO 5, would clearly lead to a substantive reduction in my personal income. However, I thought about the future of my children, who were still in high school then, and I thought about what I would have to learn in order to help them develop their personal careers. I thought that for the sake of my community, and for the sake of building one society in the State of Israel with regards to Arabs and Jews, it is worth sacrificing money for the sake of making a contribution. I took this challenge upon myself in 1992, thus becoming a co-Executive Director of the Center with Sarah Kremer. From then on I have been working at the center, I have been "stuck" in the Center. This is my history in the Center.

Could you describe the different things you do at the Center for Jewish Arab Economic Development?

The bank gave me a great deal of experience regarding assessment of economic projects and an understanding of economic development. But since the bank was a commercial body, I thought that it would be more possible to develop an ideology in addition to business development. Through an organization of Arabs and Jews that believe that through shared economic development, through strengthening and providing support to the Arab sector, it is possible to build a foundation on which Jews and Arabs can live together in the State of Israel. I believed that. Since then I have directed all of my thinking, directed all of my experience and knowledge to achieving this goal: cooperative living by means of shared economic development.

The first thing I initiated when I started working at the Center was research to determine the true needs of the Arab sector, what is the current situation, what is the potential. Taking into account the existing situation and the potential, how can we arrive at a level of economic development and at a level of shared businesses between Arabs and Jews? In this survey, which was conducted by two academics, one Jew and one Arab, we arrived at several conclusions that were very interesting-- the reasons for the absence of economic development in the Arab sector, the potential, how those obstacles could be overcome. Some of these reasons are political; Israeli governments have not invested enough to build infrastructure for the Arab sector, have not provided the budgets to foster economic development in the Arab sector. This requires more advocacy and convincing the governments that it is worthwhile to invest more in the Arab sector because this will help to build the whole Israeli economy. But it is also important for the State of Israel from a political perspective. Once you have a community that feels deprived, that feels alienated, that feels that it does not receive its rights, not only will it not contribute to the society or the economy as a whole, but the situation can also lead to damage.

{Empty title}

There are more internal reasons for the absence of economic development in the Arab society in Israel. For example, Arab women, because of societal reasons, are not active enough in the economic sphere; heads of the local Arab municipal authorities do not have enough professional tools, do not know enough about how to manage projects, how to create employment resources, or how to foster the professional development of their municipal workers.

We made two meaningful decisions: First, that we would establish a special department in the Center to advance the status of Arab women from the societal and economic standpoint. Since 1995, for nine years now, we have a package especially for young Arab women, which includes a business-training course. We talk about how it is possible to adjust their lives from an economic, societal perspective but also within the household; how to deal with their personal positions in the household, how they can raise children and at the same time manage a business and contribute from an economic perspective to their family, to their society. This should give them a sense of empowerment, that they are contributing, creating. They are not only housewives. They produce something, and can economically contribute to their families. A woman's independence makes her a role model. She can "push" her children to be more independent, and she can contribute to her community as a model or example for young women about how to develop a business. Because of our activities, during the past four years, four hundred new businesses have been opened in the Arab sector, which are owned or managed by women. This is amazing.

Today we have established what we call "businesswomen clubs." In addition to creating businesses, we wanted to create a framework that would allow people to meet to discuss their business, society and how they can contribute not only to their own well-being, but also to their community. We also established clubs for Jewish and Arab women to enable them to learn how to advance joint Jewish-Arab businesses. In the final analysis, we want to help facilitate the development of joint Jewish-Arab businesses. The clubs, which meet once a week, are an amazing tool. These meetings strengthen the women and provide them with the opportunity to learn from one another. We believe this process can contribute a lot to Arab women, and create the infrastructure for joint activities of Arab and Jewish women not only regarding the economic issues but also in the societal and cultural spheres. I very much hope that we will succeed with our current annual project to develop a national union of Arab and Jewish business women, which can become the arm that will fight for the sake of achieving the rights of women and their equality and will make people realize they are not the weak link in society. This is one example.

Do you think it is easier for women to work together in cooperative activities between Jews and Palestinians?

If we speak of quantity, it is much easier with women; we can speak from our own experience. We have succeeded with projects for men and women. However, women are represented in greater numbers probably because the element of societal cooperation is important to them and they are more aware than men of the issue of their children's common future. This helps them and us succeed in our projects, whether the joint ones, the independent ones or the groups. So, yes it is easier for women. Easier and more successful.

However, we have not neglected the other side, i.e. the men. We created an entity in the Center, which is called "The Club for Arab Businessmen in Israel, "ABC, Arab Business Club in Israel." Its 80 members are the leading businessmen in the Arab sector. We wanted a representative entity of Arab businessmen. Prior to its creation there had not been an entity like this one. Through this entity, it's the same story. There is empowerment of Arab businessmen, and also through the framework of the club they can foster a lot of thought regarding joint ventures with Jewish businessmen and with other Jewish entities like the Industrialists Union and the Chamber of Commerce. Through the Club, we were able to establish cooperation with these entities, cooperative efforts between Arab businessmen and Jewish businessmen.

{Empty title}

One of the more successful projects, and the first we started in the Arab sector, was the technological incubator in Nazareth.6 The technological incubator is a big investment. There was no other example in the Arab sector of a project of joint investment by multiple Arab businessmen. Traditionally, in the Arab sector, most of the businesses are family-owned. Even the big and successful ones are family-owned and not joint ventures. We succeeded in bringing Arab businessmen to invest serious amounts of money in a joint venture. We also brought Jewish investors to this project. However, for us it was more significant that we brought Arab businessmen. In the Jewish sector there are already large public projects, they already know what a board of directors is and what technological businesses are. What is wonderful is that all of the Arab businessmen, six Arab businessmen, came together to invest money in this project and none of them had a technological background. All of them are traditional businessmen: a contractor, a meat distributor, a gas distributor. To bring these businessmen together to invest in a risky venture—because ultimately a technological incubator is about developing ideas that can succeed or fail—this, in my opinion, was our success. We also showed the young ones that want to develop ideas that they have a "home," they have a "father" that can adopt them, invest in them, and show faith in them despite the risk of their projects. This is a giant success when you think about it.

Was it difficult to convince people to invest in the technological incubator project in Nazareth? What did you tell them in order to get their support?

Truthfully, the people who invested large amounts of money, hundreds of thousands of dollars each, did not exactly believe in the business goals of the project. Therefore, I had to influence them more in terms of their contribution to society—adopting Arab scientists, developing new projects, providing a framework, or a home, through which scientists could reach the international markets and connect with the international business community. This idea appealed more to the businessmen, so I focused more on the issue of the social empowerment rather than the business empowerment, despite the fact that in retrospect everyone understands that this is a wonderful commercial project that can generate high profits. However, the Arab businessmen joined this project due to societal and communal reasons rather than for business-related reasons. At the beginning I did not think we would be able to convince them, but together we succeeded in implementing this project. Today everyone is pleased that I convinced them to join the project.

When did you begin working on projects that cross the Green Line?

We began just after the signing of the Oslo agreement7 between the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel. We thought it would be natural that we expand to include joint economic projects between Israel and Palestine. First, from a geographic perspective, we thought it would be natural that this region would foster the development of many joint ventures. These projects would also help facilitate negotiations with elements in the other Arab countries. We thought that through the joint ventures of Jews and Israeli Arabs with the Palestinian Authority there was an opportunity for Israeli Arabs to integrate into the Israeli economy and into the mainstream. Ultimately Israeli Arabs and Palestinians are the same people, and thus it is possible for them to coordinate a joint deal.

Here also we worked on two levels. We encouraged joint ventures between Israelis and Palestinians. We were among those who pushed the idea to establish a joint industrial zone in Karni8 in Gaza,9 factories which were Israeli and Palestinian investments, and created places of work for Palestinians. It was part of our belief that a long-term peace cannot be sustained if Palestinians live in poverty while Israelis are rich. It cannot exist, it is just impossible. The same reasons that we thought of within the State of Israel: to raise the economic development in the Arab sector, and to create partnership and integration in every day life, not coexistence. I don't believe in coexistence because in the State of Israel we need to aspire to create one Israeli society with two components – the Jewish community and the Arab community - but they are one Israeli society.

We also tried to advance joint agricultural ventures between Israelis and Palestinians. To this day we believe that there must be open borders between the State of Israel and Palestine. We believe that joint ventures must be created. This is important from an economic perspective. These joint ventures can help build this area, Israel-Palestine, as a central element in the Middle East. In addition, this can solidify the peace. It can also help in building faith between the State of Israel and the rest of the Arab world. Arab countries look at how Israel today relates to its Arab citizens and to the Palestinians in the Palestinian Authority.10 If we can succeed in building one economy here, I believe we will be able to foster economic cooperation throughout the region.

How are you working to accomplish your goals now?

Currently, economic cooperation is difficult because of security reasons, but we do not give up. We are more focused on building the human infrastructure of business or economic leaders in the Middle East. This is the framework of more educational, cultural projects. We have an MBA program at Haifa University, which is called BBB, Building Business Bridges.11 There are 30 students that participate in this program, 10 Palestinians from the Palestinian Authority, 10 Jews from Israel and 10 Arabs from Israel. The goal of the program is not to receive an MBA because an MBA you can receive from any university. Rather, the goal is in addition to an MBA that the participants will develop a cultural awareness of all of the participants in the program. Therefore, the students study during the day at the university and at night they stay at a hotel in Haifa to learn about each other's customs, each other's culture, the political conflict. They begin to have a dialogue.

{Empty title}

The achievements of this program are outstanding. Thirty students, Jews and Arabs, live together and begin to build ideas. They say that this place can become the Garden of Eden. We must build a common Middle East business leadership. They believe they will be the foundation. We also believe that they will be the foundation because they serve as a good example. Today they can convey to the Jewish people in Israel, to the Arabs in Israel and to the Palestinians that it is possible to live together, that we can understand each other. Despite the difference, it is possible to respect each other and still understand that others are different but that I can live with them, I can learn with them, and I can establish businesses with them and everyone will profit from that. And I think that if we succeed in conveying this message to the Palestinian and Israeli leaders we can break down the barriers and help foster trust and the creation of a true and righteous peace in the region.

What is the hardest thing about establishing personal and professional relationships between Palestinians and Israelis in the joint business program?

The hardest, from our perspective, are psychological matters and not matter-of-fact issues. From a business perspective, we have proved that one plus one, in this situation, Palestine and Israel, equals much more than two. They equal three or maybe more than three. From a strategic and business perspectives, as soon as there's peace here, it will be possible to open the region to foreign investments. This will raise the region and people will be able to live in prosperity.

The difficulty stems more from psychological reasons, from concern, from fear, from hatred and from the uncertainty about whether other people are willing to accept me as a partner in this region. This is what must be broken, the stigma. The stereotypes must be broken and it must be proven that we can overcome the psychological barriers and live together and that we can earn a lot of money together. However, we must build a healthy and safe environment for everyone. If we succeed in giving the sense that both people can have security, and if we succeed in convincing the two sides that ultimately Jews and Palestinian are children of Father Abraham, we can live together. We are both Semites. We can advance business together and also advance culture, sports, society, and build a common future that is better for everyone from all perspectives.

You are a businessman. You probably didn't think of yourself as a psychologist.

I am a businessman and I seek to advance business projects, but a long time ago I arrived at the conclusion that it is impossible to succeed in business projects if we do not simultaneously address the psychological and societal aspects. With regard to Arabs and Jews, in the beginning of my activities, in 1993, I approached Jewish businessmen and told them it was worthwhile for them to invest in Arab villages and towns. The Jews said, "Can we enter Arab villages and they won't through stones at us?" And the Arabs said "You want us to give our land to Jewish partners?" When we began those projects and showed them that we are all partners in this country, it became clear that the devil is not so evil. And thus we must operate on two levels: psychological/societal/political and business. It is impossible to focus solely on the business track. And it is impossible to focus only on the societal level. The approach that integrates the two tracks is the appropriate formula to succeed in building business and societal partnerships. It is impossible to build economic cooperation without societal cooperation or societal cooperation without economic cooperation.

With all the absence of trust today, is it possible to convince people to work together, to invest together?

There is definitely an absence of trust, but I am happy to say that businessmen on both sides still believe this is the only solution – to build a joint economy. This attitude helps us a great deal. For example, on the same day that the meeting in Geneva took place to promote the Geneva Initiative,12 we had a meeting in Herzliya13 at the Sharon Hotel, which 80 Israeli and Palestinian businessmen attended. We discussed what is the role of businessmen, how can they influence the politicians, the political leaders, so they will have to solve the political conflict in order to build the economy and to strengthen the State of Israel and Palestine. Despite the difficult situation, the difficult political and security situation, these businessmen believe they can cooperate and so there is no reason that economic development cannot occur. Everyone believes it is our fate to live together or to die together. Everyone prefers to live together and not to die.

As an Arab Israeli, do you have a specific role in this process?

As an Arab Israeli, I have several roles. First, to convince my fellow Arabs that it is good to integrate into the Israeli economy. It contributes to strengthening the society and also to the partnership with the Jews. I must convince the Jews that it is also worthwhile for them, that we must move toward economic partnership, and through economic cooperation we can create cultural and societal cooperation. Today we are promoting an industrial zone between Rosh Ha'Ayin14 and Kafr Kassem.15 These two communities are located in a very strategic place for investments. I say that if people will go into this project, ultimately there will be big revenues for both municipalities, for Rosh Ha'Ayin and also for Kufr Kassem. Thus, with this money they get from the joint industrial zone, the municipalities can provide better cultural, educational, and sport services, and also meetings for youth that can help the two communities understand the need to live together and think about their common future, which is a good and a beneficial idea for both communities.

{Empty title}

I share the Palestinian culture, since I belong politically and culturally to the Palestinian community. However, I also have the Israeli culture because I am part of the State of Israel and it's important for me to build it. I can serve as the natural bridge between the Jewish society in Israel and Palestinian society in Palestine. I can serve as the bridge that can really help foster economic cooperation and also foster peace on the political level. These are two educated communities. These are two multicultural communities because they both come from a Diaspora16 throughout the world. Therefore, these communities can greatly contribute to the economic development in the whole of the Middle East and they [the Israeli and Palestinian communities] will enjoy it. By building the Middle East economy they can become the leading economy in this region and serve as an example, perhaps even more successful than the European Common Market.

Do you have children?

I have six children.

What do they do and what do they think about your goals?

They support me. Sometimes we have a serious argument whether or not it can happen. But they believe ultimately that cooperation is the true idea that can facilitate building a fair and just society. They still think that, on the political level, there is a problem because they do not feel that the Israeli governments treat the Arab population equally. The policies of the Israeli governments are discriminatory, particularly towards the young Arabs. One of my children is a lawyer and has an office in Beer Sheva17 with six other lawyers – three Jews and three Arabs – and through their work they also develop a social and cultural life. He visits the families of his colleagues; they are good friends. His colleagues and their families come to our home. I have one daughter who completed her masters' degree in communications. She has Jewish friends, she is welcome in their homes and they are welcome in hers. They have thought about how together they can contribute, with regard to Jewish and Arab young children, to develop programs where the children can meet, discuss, and speak. However, I think we are still missing the political backing, the budget, the equality, the justice, the feeling of true democracy. And then we could work harder for equality and justice for the sake of achieving peace between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.

Which comes first, relations between Jews and Arabs within Israel or the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

In my opinion, first there must be relations between Jews and Arabs, the equality and justice must come first. Why? Because the moment that there is true equality in the State of Israel and true cooperation, the Arab population can be a stronger agent in achieving peace. That's the first thing. Second, because of the way the State of Israel treats its own citizens, it will be possible to convince the Palestinians that Israel truly wants peace and justice. This will help to cultivate a sense of trust with Palestinian people. They will think, "Israel is treating our brothers, who are citizens of the State of Israel, in a fair manner" so they must have arrived at the conclusion that they want a true peace with the whole range of the Palestinian people. I think the first step, just as the Orr Commission,18 which discussed the events of October 2000,19 recommended, that confidence-building measures must be implemented immediately to turn over a new leaf and build good relations with the Arab population and between the Arab and Jewish populations. It is not enough for this to happen between the two populations, or between Arab and Israeli businessmen. Good relations must also be built with the authorities, the state, the government. This, I think, must happen immediately. This will ease the way for the State of Israel and the Palestinian people to achieve a true and just peace for the two peoples in this region.

Do you still live in Baka?

I still live in Baka el-Gharbiye. Some of my children live with me; one lives in Beer Sheva, one in Haifa. I still live in Baka el-Gharbiye.

How do the people of Baka relate to your ideas about establishing joint businesses?

Look, I already said this in my meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon20 last Tuesday. I think that at least eighty percent of the Arab-Israeli population thinks that the connection must be strengthened, thinks that they must integrate into Israeli society. They view themselves, from a citizenship perspective, from a business perspective, as part of the State. And they view themselves as the natural link for advancing peace with the Palestinian people. They support me; they encourage me and turn to me. All of our meetings are successful. It's a fact that businessmen I turn to believe in me and they know that I am working in their interests, the interests of the Arab population and the State of Israel and that there is no contradiction between these. They encourage me to continue my activities. They think this is a holy path that one must invest a lot of energy in.

How does the conflict affect your life?

Look the conflict impacts my personal life in a harsh manner. I'm in Baka el-Gharbiye and it is located on the seam line, just on the Green Line. My mother is from a village that is over the Green Line. So my family is located on the other side of the wall21 and it is difficult for me to keep up natural and normal contact with them. Even if a relative dies I cannot always participate in the mourning – if they live on the other side of the Green Line. And likewise, it is hard for my relatives, my cousins, to come and participate in my happy events or, mourning, God forbid. The conflict is not easy; it is difficult for me on a personal level. I think that this is what has obliged me to become very active in achieving peace-- in order to fulfill my obligations to my country, the State of Israel, to my family, to my people, the Palestinians. I also encourage all those that I know to be active in the process of building trust, building peace so we can create one economy, open borders and trust that together that two independent countries, Israel and Palestine, can be examples to the whole world of how it is possible to develop an economy, how they together can be good examples to other people of the world.

Do you not have a doubt that this process is not moving fast enough?

By nature I am an optimist; I know that this is not easy. There were periods when I thought it [a peace agreement] was close, and there were periods that I thought it was sort of far away. But I never despaired. Until this day I believe that it must come. The question of whether it will happen in a while or soon is a matter of perspective. I believe with full and complete faith that within ten years there will be peace in this region. Nothing else can happen. There will be peace. There will be two countries here. They will begin to plan and work together and in twenty years Israel and Palestine will be a central source regarding world economic development. From a perspective of human capital, the concentration of capabilities in these two countries is the best in the world. Despite the fact that the two countries are small, they have the human abilities to develop the world. The Palestinians are scattered throughout the world, and among them are those who helped develop the Gulf States. The Israelis are scattered over the world and among them are those that helped to facilitate the economic development of many countries. If we can integrate the abilities of these two peoples it would 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, but rather within twenty years they will build an economy that will be glorious, but not just glorious—it will also contribute to all of humanity.

How does the wall affect your work?

The wall does not help. And this wall, in my opinion, can cause a delay of a year or two, though they are beginning to realize… but I think we can still overcome this wall issue. I sense that in the two peoples, even if not with the current political leaderships, the majority of Jews and Palestinians are beginning to believe that it is decreed that they will live together. And if they are going to live together, then they should live together under good conditions. There's no escape from that. The extremists of the two peoples will only the marginalized.

Do you travel to Palestine? Do you attend meetings in Palestine?

I tell you, it is not easy. It is not easy. On Thursday, I was in Ramallah.22 In order to get to Ramallah I had to arrange for an entrance permit from the Israeli army and this is not easy.23 We also help those who want to visit us and the students participating in our program who need to enter Israel, we help them get into Israel. Sometimes we meet in Jerusalem. Sometimes we meet abroad. But, once again, I hope, in my optimism concerning this place, that in a short period we will be able to hold meetings on a more frequent basis to advance our common interests. There is cooperation between the countries. This is also cooperation on the idea level. We have established an entity that is known as the Israeli-Palestinian Business Forum. It convenes meetings between powerful Israeli and Palestinian businessmen. They discuss how they can develop joint ventures. However, they also discuss strategic projects, big joint ventures, and they discuss how to influence the political leaders to follow their path and about the heavy price the Israeli people and Palestinian people are paying because of the awful current situation. And explain how it is worthwhile for the two peoples to establish peace and, that it is not just good for business, but much blood will be saved from the two sides. The righteous and true and long-term peace.

Do you see signs of hope?

I said in the activities that I meet with them and they are wide and influential. There is a belief on the two sides that concessions must be made, confidence-building measures must be implemented, and that this bloody conflict must be ended, that we must enter into negotiations to achieve a true peace. I can absolutely say that despite the fact that on the face of it the situation is difficult, I see signs that people are fed up with the conflict and want to establish peace, want to build peace.

Which international society do you think has the biggest influence?

Today, in my opinion, the Americans have the biggest influence on the nature of things. But I think that all the international bodies must get involved, the United Nations, Europe, also the Arab countries that believe in peace because that will contribute to the building of the atmosphere, to the building of the economy and to ensure that this peace will be a lasting one. Absolutely, the two sides have a common interest to build trusting relations with the Americans, the administration and people, and also with the Europeans and the Arab countries. The Arab countries that support peace – like Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Arab Emirates, Qatar-- are interested in entering the peace process and in reconciliation with Israel. And I think the State of Israel has an opportunity today to integrate into the Middle East. Israel needs to take advantage of this opportunity. And countries like the US, Europe and Egypt can help the State of Israel to integrate and help the State of Palestine to exist and build its institutions and its economy and, in the future, build with Israel a strong economy that will allow them to export to the entire world.

What are the biggest misunderstandings of the international community concerning the situation here?

This is complicated. I think that the international communities did not try to influence the leaders – i.e. Yasser Arafat,24 the president of the Palestinian Authority and Ariel Sharon, the prime minister of Israel – to stop playing games of ego and honor and to think more about their interest and long term confidence-building measures. I think the international communities are influenced by the extremist behavior, whether the Palestinian terrorists or the Israeli extremists, all of whom made a coalition to neutralize peace-making measures. I think that service must be provided to the majority of the Palestinian and Israeli societies, those who want peace and believe in it, before they lose hope and begin to believe that force, military measures and death are the only way to solve the conflict. Then it will be too late. And I don't want to think about this, because like I said earlier I am in principle an optimist and I think international communities must help us to arrive at the conclusion that peace is the only solution and the only way.

What does the word "peace" mean to you?

Peace means to me two independent countries, the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, within borders, which most people in the two regions agree to, the 1967 borders.25 Peace means to me that between these two countries there will be open borders, allowing economic and social activities. Peace means to me that it is possible to establish many areas of joint economic activity between the two countries for the sake of creating sources and places of employment for both peoples. Peace means to me that in Palestinian universities and Israeli universities Palestinian and Israeli students can learn together and in the process also develop common cultures. Peace means to me the life here will be quiet for all. Israelis can live in quiet and Palestinians can live in quiet. And both peoples can together think about building a market – culturally and economically – that will serve as a positive example to the rest of the world. And true peace means to me that Israel and Palestine can help resolve other conflicts in other places of the world. That's the peace that I want.

End.

NOTES
We have done our best to provide accurate, fair yet succinct footnotes to help you navigate the interviews. Our research team comprises more than 6 individuals, including Palestinians, Israelis and North Americans. Still, we recognize that these notes cannot capture the full complexity of this contested conflict. Therefore, we encourage you to seek additional sources of information, we welcome your feedback and appreciate your openness.

1. One of Israel's leading private banks. ^

2. Two Palestinian Arab towns in the North of Israel. ^

3. A Palestinian-Israeli town in the North of Israel. ^

4. An area comprised of Arab villages in the North of Israel. ^

5. Non-governmental Organization ^

6. Nazareth. A city in Northern Israel. The majority of its residents are Christian and Muslim Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. It is adjacent to Nazareth Ilit, a predominantly Jewish Israeli city. A holy site for Christians who believe Jesus was raised there. Est. population 63,700. ^

7. Oslo process. This process was unveiled with the signing of the Declaration of Principles ("DOP") by Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn in 1993, although it was preceded by an exchange of letters between Rabin and Arafat. In those letters, Israel recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative body of the Palestinian people and the PLO recognized Israel's right to exist in peace and security. The DOP called for a permanent settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on United Nation Resolutions 242 and 338. It also led to the creation of the Palestinian National Authority ("PA" or "PNA") as part of the 1995 Oslo Interim Agreement. Yasser Arafat became President of the PNA. A series of agreements between the Israeli government and the PNA followed. The agreements are known collectively as the Oslo Accords. The Oslo process took a serious blow with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, and by the failure of the Camp David Accords in 2000, but ended officially with the assumption of the second intifada in September 2000. For a text of the letters and the Declaration of Principles see: www.palestine-un.org or The Israeli Ministry of Foregin Affairs ^

8. An industrial zone opened in the town of Karni in Gaza in 1999, financially backed by the World Bank and donor countries, including Israel. According to Kav L'Oved, a worker's rights advocacy NGO in Israel, "The industrial zone at Karni employs some 4,000 Gaza Strip residents and has continued to operate throughout most of the intifada." See http://www.kavlaoved.org.il/katava_main.asp?news_id=708&sivug_id=29 ^

9. Gaza Strip. Geographical territory located on the Mediterranean Coast and bordering the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and Israel, with a total land mass of 360 sq km. Population: 1,376,289. The Palestinian populated territory was under Israeli administrative and military control from 1967 to 1994, when an agreement pursuant to the Declaration of Principles (DOP) gave the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) limited self-government for an interim five-year period, although Israel retained responsibility for external and internal security and for public order of settlements. Until August 2005, approximately 7000 Israeli settlers lived in the Strip. Negotiations aimed at determining final status of the West Bank and Gaza commenced in 1999, but were derailed by the second intifada in September 2000. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw all troops and dismantle all settlements in the Gaza Strip and return the territory to PNA control was completed in August 2005, although Israel maintains control over air space and borders. http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/gz.html. ^

10. Palestinian Authority. Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Also known as the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA was created to serve as the governing body in charge of Palestinian self-rule in the Occupied Territories as part of the Oslo process. As leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which negotiated the Oslo accords as the recognized sole legitimate representative body of the Palestinian people, Yasser Arafat became the PA Chairman. Upon Arafat's death, Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the PA. The PA has observer status in the United Nations. ^

11. For information on the Building Business Bridges MBA program see http://www.cjaed.org.il/BBBbrochure.doc. ^

12. Geneva Initiative. Also referred to as the Geneva Accord. A nongovernmental initiative launched in Geneva on the 1st of December 2002 by Dr. Yossi Beilin from the Israeli side and Mr. Yasser Abed Rabo from the Palestinian side. The initiative outlined proposed steps and cooperation toward a final status agreement in fields ranging from economics to natural resources as well as the resolution of issues such as settlements, status of Jerusalem, and Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. The Geneva Accord never gained official recognition, although proponents continue to press for its adoption and implementation. For a full text of the terms outlined in the Geneva Initiative, see the Geneva Initiative website: www.geneva-accord.org ^

13. Herzliya. Israeli city North of Tel Aviv. Est. population 100,000. ^

14. An Israeli town to the east of Tel Aviv close to the West Bank. ^

15. Kafr Kassem Massacre.

Kafr Kassem is a town in central Israel with a predominantly Palestinian Arab population. On October 29, 1956, on the eve of Israel’s war with Egypt, Kafr Kassem was the site of a massacre in which 47 Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, including women and children, were killed by Israeli border police. At that time, Israel feared that Jordan might attack, and placed Palestinian Arab villages near the Jordanian border under a wartime curfew. However, many Kafr Kassem residents were outside of the village when the curfew was first declared and Israeli police fired on them when they returned to the village past the curfew hour. An Israeli court later convicted the Israeli border policemen of murder. See Mattar, Philip, ed. Encyclopedia of the Palestinians. New York: Facts on File, 2005; and Stern, Yoav. “50 years after massacre, Kafr Qasem wants answers.” Haaretz. 30 October 2006. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/780569.html.  http://www.justvision.org/glossary/kafr-kassem-massacre

^

16. Diaspora. The term diaspora refers to communities of peoples in exile from their homeland. It is most commonly used to refer to the Jewish community in exile, particularly referring to the dispersion of Jews from biblical Israel beginning in 586 BCE with the destruction of the first Temple. It is more recently used to refer to any large community in exile, including Palestinians, Tibetans and others. ^

17. Beer Sheeva. A city in the south of Israel in the Negev Desert, with a population of approximately 200,000. It is Israel's fourth largest city and home to Ben Gurion University. ^

18. Orr Commission.

An Israeli commission headed by Justice Theodor Orr that investigated the events surrounding the deaths of 13 Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel during the October demonstrations and riots of 2000 (see October 2000 Events). The commission found that Israeli police used excessive force in quelling the riots and demonstrated prejudice against the Palestinian minority. In addition, the commission accused the government of neglect and bias with regard to its treatment of the Palestinian Arab Israeli population; however, it did not name individuals responsible for the killings. See “Official Commission of Inquiry into the October 2000 events.” March 2004. Adalah. 22 August 2011. http://www.adalah.org/eng/commission.php.  http://www.justvision.org/glossary/orr-commission

^

19. October 2000 events. Following the collapse of the Oslo process and the launching of the intifada in September 2000, Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrated in several villages and cities, expressing solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and voicing discontent about inequality and neglect within Israel. Some demonstrations turned into riots. Violence ensued and Israeli police used rubber bullets and live ammunition, killing 13 Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. The events highlighted and deepened the rift between Palestinian Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. See also Orr Commission. ^

20. Sharon, Ariel.

(1928- ) A Jewish Israeli political and military figure. From the year of the Israeli army’s founding in 1948 until 1973, Sharon served as a commander and officer. Upon his retirement from the army, he helped found the Likud party and went on to serve in many ministerial positions within the Israeli government. Israeli Minister of Defense during the Lebanon War from 1981-1983 (see War of 1982), Sharon resigned after a government commission found him indirectly responsible for the September 1982 massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Lebanese Christian Phalangist militias. He also held the position of Minister of Construction and Housing from 1990-1992, overseeing the most comprehensive expansion of Jewish Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories in 1967. Prime Minister of Israel from 2001-2006. Sharon initiated and oversaw the withdrawal of all Israeli settlers from Gaza in the summer of 2005 (see Gaza Disengagement). In November 2005, he quit the Likud party and formed Kadima, stating that the Likud party was no longer equipped to lead Israel nor oversee any future peace deals with the Palestinians. In early January 2006, Sharon suffered a massive stroke, underwent several operations, and is currently in a coma. Following Sharon’s admission to the hospital, powers of the Israeli Prime Minister were transferred to Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. See Hartley, Cathy, ed. A Survey of Arab-Israeli Relations, 2nd ed. London and New York: Europa Publications, 2004; and “Profile of Ariel Sharon.” 12 November 2010. BBC. 27 June 2011. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1154622.stm.  http://www.justvision.org/glossary/sharon-ariel

^

21. Separation Barrier. A long structure of connected concrete walls and fences that separates Israel from parts of the West Bank. It runs both along the Green Line and within the West Bank. Critics and proponents disagree over the intent behind the structure, its route, and its name. References to it include the "wall, separation wall, security fence, Apartheid Wall, separation barrier, annexation wall." Begun in 2002, its construction is still in progress. For a map of the existing structure and proposed route, please visit the B'Tselem website. Israel claims security needs necessitate its construction. Israel has modified some of the routes in response to a High Court of Justice ruling as well as in response to international pressure. Palestinians point out that the wall was built unilaterally, seizing lands recognized as illegally occupied by Israel according to international law. They also maintain that the wall steals privately-owned land, and chokes off some cities almost completely. For a thorough report: "A safety measure or a land grab?", visit the Economist, October 9, 2003 A debate about its appropriateness sprung up after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an advisory opinion declaring it a breach of international law. ^

22. Ramallah. Palestinian city in the West Bank, about 16 kilometers north of Jerusalem. Est. population 40,000. The population of the Ramallah District, including its surrounding 88 towns and villages is 220,000. It is headquarters to the Palestinian Authority. ^

23. Travel Permits. Refers to Israeli-issued travel permits required primarily for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to travel into Israel, and at times throughout East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Israelis seeking to travel to Area A regions as delineated by the Oslo Accords, must also receive permits. For information on restrictions of movement for Palestinians, see: B'Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) http://www.btselem.org/English/Freedom_of_Movement/Index.asp. ^

24. Arafat, Yasser. (1929-2004) Founder of Al-Fatah (1958). Regarded as a symbol of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Yasser Arafat served as Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization from 1969 to 2004. He oversaw political and guerrilla activities of the PLO first from Jordan, then Lebanon, and later Tunis. In 1996, he became the first Elected President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) (also called the Palestinian Authority), a position he held until his death. While initially opposed to the existence of the Israeli state, evidenced by the militant tactics his party employed throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Arafat altered his stance in the late 1980s and 1990s. In a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in December of 1988, Yasser Arafat stated his willingness to accept Palestinian statehood based on UN Resolution 242—a resolution that recognizes the rights of all states to sovereignty. Many viewed this as the beginning of the PLO's recognition of the right of the State of Israel to exist. He launched the Oslo process with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1993, for which he received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 along with Rabin and Shimon Peres. In January 1996, Yasser Arafat was elected the first president of the Palestinian Council governing the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He became increasingly marginalized by the United States and Israel after the second intifada (2000-present), and was isolated completely from diplomatic relations in 2003. Arafat died on November 11, 2004 in Percy military hospital in Paris. ^

25. 1967 Borders. Refers to the borders of Israel with Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria prior to the War of 1967. The war is referred to by Palestinians as the "June War" and by Israelis as the "1967 War" or the "Six-Day War" on account of its duration. Israel captured the Egyptian Sinai, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip, then under respective Jordanian and Egyptian control. See also War of 1967. ^