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
Amit Leshem, Van Leer Institute, head of Projects with
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
Rabbi Arik Asherman, executive director of Rabbis for Human
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
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
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
Baskin, Co-CEO IPCRI (Israel/Palestine Center for Research
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
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
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
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
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
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
Peace Activists Should Try to Counteract the Growing Hatred on
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.