The Palestine-Israel Journal asked a number of central Israeli P2P activists about how future people-to-people activities should be conducted. They were interviewed at a forum convened by the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv on January 24, 2006, within the framework of the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGOs Forum sponsored by the EU.

The Aim Should Be for Many Israelis to Meet Many Palestinians

Amit Leshem, Van Leer Institute, head of Projects with Palestinians

The main aim of people-to-people activity should be to get as many Israelis to meet with as many Palestinians as possible. This can only be done if Israelis are ready to meet with Palestinians in their own homes and villages. Unless it is done this way, it will be just more of the same, with meetings only between "the usual suspects" who are meeting each other all the time.
We have to stop the travel abroad - all of the meetings should take place in the area. And it's possible. We have to engage more and more of the younger generation, on both sides, both non-religious and religious. I know settlers who would like to do this, and some of them realize that they will have to move. There are also some in the settlement blocs, who are willing to talk with their neighboring Palestinians, to see what they think.

Israelis Should Get Together with Palestinians for Concrete Goals

Rabbi Arik Asherman, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights

We know that the term people-to-people has become somewhat controversial in certain Palestinian circles. But putting the name aside, I think there is a very important principle involved. I'm not a big fan of meetings for elite groups in Europe or Turkey, though they do have a role. What is more important is what I call the dialogue in the olive groves, when average Israelis and average Palestinians get together for very concrete purposes - to help with the olive harvests and to help protect Palestinians against human-rights violations. Discussions that take place among people who aren't politicians, that are used to carefully phrasing their ideas, are the real dialogue, and in many ways much more important.
Although I accept the criticism that dialogue in itself doesn't lead to any real change or solve problems, it creates hope. And this is important. The statistics show that a similar majority of Israelis and Palestinians want a compromise, negotiated agreement. But an even larger majority on both sides believes that nobody on the other side thinks the same way, so there's no incentive to move forward.
Whenever we go to rebuild a demolished home, the parents insist on bringing out the children. And we hear the same conversations - "What do we say to our l0-year-old son when he says that when he grows up he wants to be a terrorist? We want him to know that although there are Israelis who come to demolish their homes, there are also Israelis who come to help rebuild their homes."
There's an amazing interdependence. Only we Israelis can break down the stereotypes that Palestinians have of Israelis, thereby empowering the Palestinian peacemakers to be heard by their own people. And only Palestinians can do the same for us.

We Have to Build Grass-roots Support for a Renewed Peace Process

Gershon Baskin, Co-CEO IPCRI (Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information)

As I see it, the main challenge that will be facing us once again, after the failure of Camp David and the increased support for Hamas in the Palestinian public, is the question of trust - whether or not there is a partner on the other side. With Hamas participation in the government, the trend in Israel and around the world will be to say that there is no Palestinian partner. If things go in that direction, the job of civil society people-to-people organizations will be to make sure that there is a partner, to find the partner, to increase the dialogue, and to expose it to the public. Even if the Palestinian partner isn't the government, we have to build support at the grass-roots level, at the civil-society level, for a renewed peace process. Otherwise we'll just be heading towards more and more unilateralism, and less and less dialogue and negotiations.
As for possible dialogue with Hamas, that's a question that every person will have to deal with on their own. I personally won't sit down to talk with someone whose ultimate goal is to kill me. But I am willing to engage in dialogue with Hamas people who tell me that they support peace with Israel, who recognize my right to exist. Just as I believe we had conditions back in the1970s and 1980s for dialogue with Palestinian PLO people - our starting point for dialogue had to be some form of mutual recognition - those conditions are relevant today as well.

Our Agenda Is to Work Together to End the Occupation

Jeff Halper, coordinator of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

I consider myself part of the critical Israeli peace camp rather than the mainstream Israeli peace camp. The critical peace camp is somewhere between post-Zionist and anti-Zionist. We don't think in terms of sides, but rather, all of us together - How do we get out of this conflict? We are opposed to people-to-people programs in principle, and to the whole idea of dialogue. This touches upon the asymmetry of power.
We work a lot with Palestinian organizations, but we are all working to end the occupation. The organizations we work with are not interested in working on educational or environmental programs, teacher's training, etc. They agree to work with us, and we to work with them, as long as the agenda, in one or another, is to end the occupation. That's what creates equality in the working relationship. I think that the place for dialogue is during the process of reconciliation, after you end the occupation.
After 30 years of dialoging, I don't think that dialogue humanizes the other. In my view, as an anthropologist, I don't believe that dialogue changes attitudes. On the contrary, it often reinforces attitudes that already exist. I don't believe in the contact hypothesis in sociology, which says - If we could only meet each other. In my view it doesn't work. It's always the powerful side that frames and directs the dialogue.

We Have to Change Israeli and Palestinian Consciousness

Boaz Kitian,
executive director the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Parents' Circle

I have lived in the joint community of Neve Shalom for 20 years, and was the first principal of its School for Peace. What led me to this activity was the loss of my first son Tom in the helicopter tragedy in 1997.
I think that the goal of people-to-people activity is very clear. We have to continue to change the consciousness of the Israeli and Palestinian publics away from ein breira (there is no alternative), the only solution is the use of force, only violence can enable us to reach our goals and there is no hope for a change for the better. We have to move from there to a point where people will understand that there is an alternative that depends upon people, upon our two nations. There is someone to talk to on the other side, and on the other side there are people who, like us, think that reconciliation is the best way of advancing the goals of the two peoples.
This change in consciousness is what will enable the leaders to sign agreements. And after the agreements are signed, only a continuation of reconciliation work of this type will ensure that agreements won't collapse the way the Oslo Accords did.
We see evidence of success in this approach. In the past few years, Israeli public opinion has moved in advance of its leaders, and this helps the leaders to change their opinion and make decisions. The way of carrying out these activities is to be as creative as possible, to involve as many people as possible, and to enable everyone to make a contribution in the way most suited to them.
I believe there are two main modes of activity. One is to have intimate, personal encounters, an educational process based upon an ongoing dialogue between people - the direct impact of a dialogue between individual human beings. The other method is via the tremendous impact of the media. We should link up to the media, both the news and via the content of dramatic programs. The combination of the personal, and the public, is a winning combination. The only catch is that it requires a lot of patience and determination.

The Palestine-Israel Journal also spoke to several leading Palestinian P2P activists about their views on the future of People- to-People activities between Palestinians and Israelis.

Peace Activists Should Try to Counteract the Growing Hatred on Both Sides

Walid Salem,
Director of Panorama - Jerusalem office

Through my experience in working with Israelis, I came to the realization that we have to be more focused. We are working together, but public opinion on both sides is moving in a direction that does not coincide with our expectations. While we are promoting cooperation among peace activists, hatred and separation is growing between the two peoples.
The difficulty here is that it has acquired a religious dimension. A certain religious tendency has been growing in both societies that is going to lead to an intractable religious conflict. Thus we have to work through cooperation not only between NGOs, but also with other sectors like youth, women, workers, etc. to address the problem.
The majority of society on both sides is made up of youth. On the Palestinian side, 80.3 percent of the population is below the age of 35. Therefore, one should concentrate on the youth because they are the ones who will build the present and the future between both peoples.
Thus I call for the intensification of the work on both sides and suggest the following mechanisms which might prove helpful:
1. A network within each society between the institutions that work in P2P field, and to end the fragmentation which works against the cooperation between the two peoples.
2. Setting up programs in which we can work together in spite of our differences and in spite of the daily difficulties. We should also work towards the deepening of equality between the two sides and the consensus over ethics and ground rules.
3. The involvement of student councils, youth movements, syndicates, and women organizations in our work so that we can move forward.
4. The inclusion of the religious dimension in the activities as this will bring in the element of forgiveness that is present in the three religions, and to focus on the fact that this will prevent hatred.
5. The development of non-violence education and a joint campaign that will prove through practical applications the availability of a successful alternative to violence.

The Future of Both Peoples Is Too Vital to Be Left in the Hands of Politicians

Zahira Khalidi,
member of the Editorial Board, the Palestine-Israel Journal

Since the issues concerning the fate and future of both Palestinians and Israelis are too vital to be left only in the hands of politicians who were brought into government by a population that is desperate for reform and radical changes in their lives, I think civil society on both sides should work even harder and with a greater sense of responsibility to bridge the divide to help make peace a reality.
Unfortunately, many have come to consider work in peace-building as a lucrative business and do not pay much attention to the content or nature of the activities carried out or the population targeted. It is essential that Israeli civil society, in particular, should issue statements regarding ending the occupation, the rejection of the use of military violence, and putting a stop to all forms of humiliation and collective punishment of the Palestinians, and calling for a return to negotiations. Also, Israel should actively engage in peace education at home and in schools, for when it comes to the violence related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the recurrent practice in the Israeli media is the presumption that Israel is only a victim of violence. The basic fact that the occupation and its practices are the most powerful form of violence is regularly left out.
It is also important to concentrate on the effects of the coverage by both the Israeli and Western media. Rather than reporting the violence against the Palestinians who are living under the harsh conditions of occupation and the myriad non-violent responses of the Palestinians, these media focus on violent responses by a handful of people. By doing that and presenting Israeli violence as a "response," most media sources ignore the basic nature of the conflict. It is presented rather as a conflict between religions, or as some kind of "primordial ethnic strife" which afflicts the Middle East, or, worst of all, as a "clash of civilizations."

The Emphasis Should Be on Peace between Peoples

Sam'an Khoury,
general manager of Peace and Democracy Forum

I think that peace could be possible if it is based on two states where the two peoples are allowed to live peacefully. I am putting an emphasis on peace between peoples and not governments. People-to-People projects should be based on the recognition of the needs that would satisfy the people. What is important in this case is that the dignity of both the individual and the community be provided equally on both sides.
A situation, for example, where Israelis take the upper hand because they have the power and treat the Palestinians as inferiors won't lead us to peace. I think that People-to-People projects should aim at a permanent peace, based on equality and dignity for the people on both sides.

People-to-People Activities Are Most Needed When Political Activities Are Stalled

Ata Qaymari,

The approach of People-to-People in peace-building is most necessary when official parties are reluctant to engage in mutual recognition as partners in any political or peaceful process. The reality of having two peoples living on the same land, each claiming it as its own and engaging in continuous conflict, needs direct dialogue between the people to reach any possible understanding in how to share the land and to keep peace among them for generations to come.
People on both sides of the divide should be creative in finding ways to reach one another. The only way to force the decision-makers to sit together to find suitable formulas for coexistence is through public opinion pressure which comes from activities of the people themselves. These can be demonstrations, public statements, meetings, or even family gatherings. All these are legitimate and necessary to bring people together to make their voices heard in order to make their leaders take the necessary political steps. People shouldn't surrender, and peace between them is going to be the future, no matter what plans the leadership on both sides have.

Israeli Violations Impede Participation in People-to-People Activities

Fadwa Sha'er,
political activist

I am in favor of the continuation of P2P activities if these are governed by clear political legitimacy. I insist that these activities produce results because the political situation is ambiguous and we do not see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The Israelis have to be serious about maintaining these projects, whereby well-defined bases are laid out, without any obstacles, and that they set out to influence the Israeli public.
They should also be able to influence the political decision-makers to bring them to end the violations which impede a participation in P2P activities. The violations against the Palestinians are many, especially in prisons, at military checkpoints, the unilateral decisions, the building of the separation wall, etc. I am one Palestinian who will stop participating in joint activities if these violations do not stop. Israelis have to realize that we are human beings, so the agenda between us should be quite explicit. <