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Dialogue between the Peace Now movement in Israel and Palestinian peace forces always took place on two parallel planes:

a. The political level, conducted by the leadership of the two sides in the framework of meetings both in the country and abroad. Among the participants were Janet Aviad, Tsali Reshef, Prof. Yitzhak Gal-Nur and Dr. Mordechai Bar-On on the Israeli side; and Ziad Abu Zayyad, Faisal Husseini, Professor Sari Nusseibeh and Radwan Abu Ayyash on the Palestinian side.
b. The grass-roots level, involving rank-and-file activists from both sides. Without going into detail on the first category, what follows is a description of growth of the grass-roots level, even though it is hard to make a clear-cut differentiation between the two categories.

One of the claims directed against the architects of the Oslo accords was that they underestimated the danger that their peoples would be left far behind: They were accused of building "a peace for leaders" instead of "a peace for peoples."
But the dialogue movement of Peace Now and the Palestinian peace movements did indeed exist. Neither should it be overlooked that Peace Now is not the only Israeli movement conducting such dialogue. Many independent groups, left-wing organizations and parties were and are involved.
Genuine dialogue requires equality between the participants. Up to this day, such equality does not exist because of the protracted Israeli occupation. It can be assumed that grass-roots dialogue is nevertheless possible because the Palestinians believe that, even in a situation of inequality, Peace Now activists fully recognize the Palestinian right to equality and to independent statehood.

Profile of the Main Participants in the Dialogue

The Palestinian side:
a. Intifada activists who were held for many years in Israeli jails and came to the conclusion, after much suffering, that armed struggle must give way to negotiations so as to reap the fruits of the popular uprising.
b. People from a younger generation born to the reality of occupation who, as workers in Israel, became acquainted with Israeli society. They approached the Israeli peace movement as partners in the peace effort.
c. Citizens, mainly working in the professions, in commerce and as academics who saw the need for peace in order to conduct normal, everyday Palestinian economic and social life.

The Israeli side:
a. Veteran activists from groups on the left and left-of-center of the Israeli political spectrum. They became conscious of the fact that peace necessitates recognizing the enemy and that occupation destroys not only Palestinian society, but also the human image of the Israeli.
b. Young people who fought in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during the Intifada period and saw the need to go back to the same places and people in order to work for the creation there of a new human reality.
c. Groups of academics and intellectuals advocating peaceful solutions stemming from their pragmatic understanding of the conflict. This group is the cornerstone of Peace Now's active dialogue campaigns.

Types of Meetings

The meetings were either limited preparatory meetings, larger dialogues with 50-100 Peace Now participants, or joint political gatherings and demonstrations. Because of difficulties with permits, they usually took place in Nablus, Qalqilya, Tulkarem, Hebron and Khan Yunis. The Israelis come from the Sharon area, Rehovot, Tel Aviv, Beersheva, Haifa and Jerusalem and the kibbutz movement. Current events usually dictate the content of the dialogue and the meetings often end with a joint declaration to the media.
Examples of joint political gatherings and demonstrations are the visit of Israeli writers and intellectuals to Hebron, protest demonstrations against settlement in Al-Khader or Silwan, or Wad El-Tin near Tulkarem (against the plan for quarrying) and, lately, against land expropriation in Kufur Qadum or in Ras El-Amud, and building in Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim).
The biggest joint demonstration was held in Jerusalem in December 1989, in the form of a human chain of some 30,000 peace-lovers from the country and from abroad around the walls of the Old City. The Israeli police reacted with violence against the demonstrators.
On both sides, there may be doubts in public opinion about the political effectiveness of joint demonstrations, since they might lead to the misrepresentation of the participants as serving the interests of the other side. Thus, some Peace Now circles wonder whether it is not a political error to present the matter of settlements as mainly a Palestinian issue, and whether the protest against settlements would possibly gain more public support when treated as an Israeli concern.

Stages in the Growth of the Dialogue Movement

At the time of the Intifada there were individual initiatives by groups of peace activists to provide humanitarian assistance: treating the wounded, assistance to administrative detainees, activities against the demolition and sealing of houses, opposition to delaying payment of wages for workers in Israel, publicizing unacceptable behavior by the occupation authorities and sometimes providing economic assistance to Palestinians. In all such cases, the activists worked as volunteers for organizations like B'Tselem or Workers' Hot Line.
One of the first activities was carried out by the Beersheba branch of Peace Now, led by Chaya Noah, who was among the initiators of the dialogue called "Building Peace" and was later to be director of Peace Now. A large truck full of flour was sent to Gaza, thus initiating the first contact with the late Mary Khass.
It should be emphasized that these initiatives were carried out by individual groups while the movement, as such, took a firm decision to concentrate on political dialogue in order to achieve the following goals: recognition of the PLO, the struggle against settlements and recognition of the right of Palestinians to an independent state.
The beginning came in meetings organized sporadically in private homes, attended by Intifada activists. For the first time, the Israelis heard straight from the horse's mouth how things looked from the other side. It was the sympathetic response of the Israelis to Palestinian suffering which gave birth to Palestinian hope. So they decided to bring more people to meet these Israelis, to see with their own eyes that there were other Israelis. By the same token, they wanted the Israelis to recognize that, among the Palestinians, there were those who wanted to live in peace with them.
These encounters led to the next stage: wider popular meetings. A meeting of this sort took place in Tulkarem in 1993. In a conference at the Red Crescent hall there, about 250 Israeli and Palestinian activists took part. Ya'akov Manor and Yehudit Harel, who continue to playa central role in the Peace Now dialogue movement, led the Israeli team. The Palestinian group was headed by Dr. Thabet, Adnan Dmeiri and Jamil Muhana from the Fatah and FIDA movements in Tulkarem. At the time, Palestinian women were prominent in such gatherings.
The meeting aroused great enthusiasm and a feeling that it was an event of historical importance. It ended with the publication of a joint leaflet calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In spite of everything, meetings still took place and the toughest questions were clarified openly, no matter how hard it was for both sides.
One of the outstanding events took place in 1990, when the Intifada was at its peak. Initially planned as a political activity, it turned out to be an extraordinarily moving human experience. Three full convoys of Israeli cars and buses set out for three different destinations in the West Bank. One went to the entrance to the village of Turmos 'Aya. It was a Saturday and a general closure was in force in the West Bank. The buses and cars, decorated with Peace Now posters, moved slowly through the empty West Bank streets, amid a tense atmosphere. It was a very violent period. People stood on rooftops and gave the "V" sign. Was it a provocative sign or one expressing sympathy?
As the vehicles crossed the empty streets of the first village, everything became clear. The local population was indeed waiting for the Peace Now convoy. And from one village to the next, windows and rooftops were crowded with people waving and signaling their greetings. People rushed from the fields onto the road and also waved to the visitors. This continued until the vehicles reached the entrance to the village, where Border Policemen prevented them from entering, claiming they were concerned for the safety of the Israelis.
The villagers were permitted to come out toward the Israelis. They agreed to move away so as not to create a threatening atmosphere. Peace Now activists went down to the olive grove at the entrance to the village. Suddenly there was a commotion. A great mass of mainly young people was advancing along the road: these were the very same youngsters who had been seen throwing stones at IDF soldiers.
The first of these children shook hands with the Israelis. In the confusion and embarrassment, Israelis and Palestinians mingled, made contact, shook hands firmly and exchanged looks and smiles. The children went to shake hands over and over again with the adults. The older Palestinians came last. Small groups sat and talked under the olive trees.
The great surprise was mutual. Peace Now people knew that there was a great desire for peace on the other side, but they had not expected such a great outpouring of emotions from young Palestinians. A number of speakers addressed the crowd through megaphones, the wind carrying the speeches, while all those present listened excitedly to the words. It was then that a loud whistle was heard from the surrounding hills. The Intifada children whose task was to "watch over us" informed us that the Border Policemen had come back. The event was over. As far as we in Peace Now were concerned, it was a fascinating demonstration of sympathy for the idea of peace on the •Palestinian side.
The emotional aspect undoubtedly plays a central role in the whole subject of dialogue. Years later, after the Oslo accords had been signed, members of Peace Now participated in a dialogue in the village of Ya'abed near Jenin. The old people came to welcome us. One said that "peace came thanks to two things: the children of the Intifada and the people of Peace Now."
During this pre-Oslo period, other meetings took place regularly between Peace Now's Tel Aviv branch and a group from East Jerusalem, led by Sirhan Salima and other members of the Fatah establishment. The meetings were held in Nuzha House near Orient House and in the hall of actor-director George Ibrahim's Al-Kassabah Theater.
The Jerusalem group made several visits to Tel Aviv. One took place when peace talks in Washington were frozen, about a year after Rabin's victory, with the participation of some 50 Palestinians and 70 Israelis. This was some days before the unexpected revelation of the Oslo initiative.
The subject was "Jerusalem and the Negotiations." The central claim of the Palestinians was that, on their part, it was a great error to enter any agreement before their national rights were assured in Jerusalem. The Israeli side argued against placing Jerusalem at the top of the agenda. Looking back, and in view of all that is happening in Jerusalem now, it should be admitted that the suspicions of the Palestinians were justified. Delaying the discussion on Jerusalem was, indeed, exploited by the Israeli government in order to unilaterally impose facts on the ground, thus diminishing the chances for real negotiations.

After the Oslo Agreement

Immediately after the signing of the Oslo accords, Peace Now decided to undertake educational activities on the subject of peace under the heading of "Building Peace." In this connection, the first outstanding phenomenon was the appearance of Palestinian peace movements. One cannot make any distinction between the enthusiasm in the West Bank and Gaza of the population in general, and the appearance of these movements. We all had the feeling that there was no guiding hand here, but rather a spontaneous movement growing out of authentic feelings. Here is a list of these movements:
1. The Movement for Peace and Understanding from Gaza and Khan Yunis, led by Adnan Damiri, Dr. Jawad Tibi and Dr. Sa'adi El-Kruns, later elected to the Palestinian National Council, and now led by Fathi Wadi.
2. The Dialogue Group in Nablus (an inter-party group), led by Hilal Tufaha, Abdel Basset Khayat and Ms. Sihab Shahin.
3. The Tulkarem Dialogue Group, led by Adnan Damiri, Dr. Thabet, Dr. Ta'abi and Jamil Muhana.
4. The Qalqilya peace movement, led by Nimer Radwan, Muhammad Judeh and Yasser Masri.
5. The Youth Movement for Peace in Ramallah, led by Ala' Abu ' Ain. (Meetings with the group started long before Oslo.)
6. The Youth Movement for Peace in Gaza, led at the time by Issam Sa'ad and Hussam El-Marari.
7. The Ibda' Organization in Hebron for Encouraging Talented Youth, led by Ibda' Rahman Abu' Arafa.
The Palestinian peace movements were now the first to make contact with Peace Now. The first visit to Tel Aviv of the members of the Movement for Peace and Understanding in Gaza took place in Peace Now's old branch in Montefiore Street, with some 15 people from each side. The Palestinians, some from refugee camps, expressed their support for the process of historical reconciliation between the two peoples and stressed the role awaiting peace lovers from both sides in bringing the message of conciliation to all sections of the population. For Peace Now members, it was "too good to be true." This was the first in a chain of visits by Palestinian peace groups, and very close contacts developed over the following years. In response to the visit from the Gaza group, a meeting took place between professors from Tel Aviv University and Al-Azhar University in Gaza.
For many years one heard the hostile question: "Where is the Palestinian Peace Now?" as if the Palestinians were not under a violent occupation and suffering from a prolonged suppression of their freedom. From the moment that the first buds of peace appeared, the voices of peace-lovers on the other side also began to be heard.
Unfortunately, the violent acts which accompanied the peace process blocked the natural development of these movements. Most of Palestinian territory is still under occupation and there has not been created an atmosphere of freedom which would facilitate dialogue on the basis of real equality. In the Palestinian street, doubts over the peace process prevail all the time. As the process advanced, sermons were even preached in mosques here and there against all dialogue activity and, in particular, against meetings of Palestinian and Israel youth, which were presented as "corrupting morality."
Of course the original change had come about when the Palestinian Authority (PA) expressed its sympathy for the idea of dialogue. The dialogue meetings then enjoyed the unstinted support of people like Nimer Radwan from the Peace Movement in Qalqilya, who had sat for 18 years in Israeli jails, Hilal Tufaha from Nablus (five years in prison) or Ms. Sihab Shahin, who had been deported for 25 years. These people believed that peace was the only way and the time had come to reap the fruit of the struggle for which they had sacrificed so much of their lives. All this provided the strongest backing on the Palestinian street for dialogue activity.

Youth Dialogue

In the post-Oslo period, the focus of dialogue activity was directed to educational work with youth, even though much had been done in the former period, particularly between youngsters from Jerusalem and Ramallah.
A youth movement arose spontaneously in Peace Now and developed under the dynamic leadership of Hen Raz. While this blossomed into a large and impressive movement, the broad public was not familiar with it. Peace Now was seen as a movement of people with graying hair, yet today, in reality, most of the activists are young people and they have 26 branches all over the country.
The outstanding characteristic of Peace Now's youth activity is dialogue with Palestinian counterparts on a regional basis: Hebron with Israeli groups from the South, Qalqilya and central Israel, Nablus and the North, Jerusalem and Ramallah, Gaza with Rishon Lezion and Nes Tziona. The period between the signing of the Oslo accords and the fall of the Labor-Meretz government saw very many youth dialogues, the most important of which were three large seminars in which hundreds of Palestinian and Israeli youth participated.
In the first, called "Creating Peace" in 1994, Palestinian and Israeli artists helped the two groups to get to know each other through joint artistic creation on the subject of peace. In the wake of the success of this seminar, a year later another one was planned under the name "Play Peace," creating educational games dealing with the cultural and historical background of the two sides.
The third seminar, scheduled for January 1997 in Giv'at Haviva, near Hadera, was almost cancelled because the Israeli security authorities refused entry permits to the Palestinians. A joint Palestinian-Israeli youth committee decided to set up two separate encampments on both sides of the Green Line (1967 border) near Qalqilya. Separate discussions were held for two days and working papers were exchanged.
Then the two groups marched to meet each other on the "border of peace."
Israeli security people on the spot were flabbergasted to see youngsters carrying Israeli and Palestinian flags who refused to recognize the barrier dividing them. For a minute, the two parties stood on each side of the dividing line and then they broke out towards their counterparts, shook hands, exchanged flags and sat down to read out the joint declaration formulated over the last two days. Anyone watching such meetings of young people might adopt an attitude of unwarranted optimism toward the reality.

The Influence of Acts of Violence on Dialogue in the Oslo Period

Like every aspect of the peace accords, the subject of dialogue suffered enormously on both sides every time acts of violence took place. All the expressions of regret conveyed by Israelis to their Palestinian colleagues after the Hebron massacre of 29 Palestinians in February 1994 failed to undo the awesome impression it made on the Palestinian street. It was the enemies of peace who immediately profited from the event.
Hard as it was to admit this, we all felt that, in the short run, Baruch Goldstein had won. He had succeeded in bringing us back to a seemingly unavoidable cycle of recurring bloodshed.
When many Israelis were killed in a series of bomb attacks in Israel in 1994-95, it was hard for our Palestinian colleagues to come out openly against them on their street. They sent their friends from Peace Now private expressions of sorrow, but refused to publish them publicly. A particularly difficult meeting took place after the attack at Beit Lid in January 1995, which left 21 Israelis (mainly soldiers) dead.
Peace Now activists were invited to Tulkarem for a discussion with the local branch of Fatah, meeting there with many friends from the northern part of the West Bank. The Israelis came with the naive belief they would be able to publish a joint condemnation of terror. It was not to be. From the Palestinian point of view, the discussion was intended to clarify why they were unable to come out publicly against terror. Once again the painful fact was brought home - that, as long as one side is under occupation, any expectation of symmetry will be unrealistic.
To some extent, the murder of Yitzhak Rabin turned the tables, with adults and youth expressing sorrow and identification. And, indeed, with the next round of Palestinian terror, the signal came from the PA to demonstrate against it. These Palestinian demonstrations were condemned as "staged" by the Israeli media, but one cannot underestimate the role played in them by Palestinian peace groups in the West Bank and Gaza. Their members felt that public opinion was drawing closer to their positions and that the time had come for a public condemnation of terror. A demonstration of this kind took place in Hebron with the participation of a Peace Now speaker. Since to this day, the condemnation of terror constitutes one of the greatest factors affecting Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, it is worth examining and trying to define how the word "terror" is understood. In the Palestinian view, the word has been adopted by the Israeli media to describe any act of Palestinian violence. In the case of Israeli violence, this is generally ascribed not to terror but to self-defense or a case of local madness.
But the killing in 1990 of 18 Muslims on Jerusalem's Temple Mount (Haram Al-Sharif), was perpetrated by people in uniform. Also, in the events following the February 1994 murder at the Cave of the Patriarchs (the Ibrahimi Mosque), people in uniform took part. The participation in the course of duty of uniformed soldiers in violent activities is regarded by the Israeli citizen as legitimate. The Palestinians hold the opposite view, defining such activities as acts of terror against civilians.
To this one can add categories, like the role of the army in expropriating lands and destroying houses, not to mention the daily humiliations experienced by Palestinians in security searches. It is therefore very hard to disregard the Palestinians' condemnation of the use of the word "terror" by Israel when applied only to activities perpetrated by them.
The Victory of the Netanyahu Government
Following the victory of the Netanyahu government, a joint struggle ensued to save the peace process in face of the government's policy of destroying it. Facing the need to contend with major acts of terror on both sides, the goal was to foster a sense of reconciliation and mutual recognition among both peoples. A major obstacle to this was the Israeli government's reaction, particularly the economic closure which accompanied the peace process.
The character of the dialogue changed completely. Formerly, its difficulties stemmed from a disparity of expectations. Now, whatever Netanyahu says or does, the basic mutual trust of the Palestinians in the peace process has broken down.
At a dialogue which took place in Nablus, two phenomena stood out.
For the first time, this sort of dialogue took place in the stronghold of the Hamas movement in Nablus, the An-Najah University. It was honored by the presence of the city governor, General Alul, and of Hani El-Hassan, who is the PA official responsible for dialogue. Representatives of parties which opposed the Oslo process were also present.
On the other hand, there appeared manifestations of that ideological mistrust which had characterized the initial dialogues. The Palestinian participants, who now included representatives of former rejectionist trends, strove for the broadest possible Palestinian common denominator. This looked to the Israelis like a total disregard for the needs of Peace Now in putting its case before Israeli public opinion.

Student Dialogue

Under the auspices of Peace Now and the Palestinian Peace Movement, a Palestinian-Israeli Student Committee was established. It includes, on the Israeli side, representatives of Peace Now, the Labor party, Meretz, Campus and other student cells, including a group from Bar-Ban University. On the Palestinian side, it includes students from the universities of An-Najah, Bir Zeit and Hebron. After several well-attended meetings, the committee published a number of joint declarations condemning the prevention of Gaza students from studying in the West Bank, demanding the opening of Hebron University and, finally, asking for efforts to be made to save the peace process. It is intended to bring in groups of students from the universities of Al-Azhar and Gaza. Future seminars and additional meetings are planned.
Following the bomb attack in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehudah market in July 1997, all student and youth activities had to be cancelled because of the closure.

Conclusion

The popular dialogue movement depends upon the recognition of a mutual need for its existence. Today, a question mark hangs over the aims of dialogue and the necessity for it. The questions asked:
What is the point in continuing to speak of building peace when the politicians strive to destroy the peace process?
What is the point in small and cultured meetings between Israelis and Palestinians while the bulldozers create facts on the ground?
Hasn't the prognosis of the enemies of the peace process - that it leads to a dead end - been proven right?
There are no easy answers to these difficult questions. It is a fact that there is a need for both sides to maintain the network of relations established up to now. There is a sense of common fate which moves people on both sides to struggle against Netanyahu's policies.
The popular dialogue movement depends upon the recognition of a mutual need for its existence. This was proven once again in the joint activity conducted in September 1997 in Ras al-Amud. Peace Now erected a "protest tent" there, next to the house which Israeli settlers tried to take over in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem. This became the center of an imposing common Israeli-Palestinian effort to block the settlers, which attracted major media coverage at home and abroad. Though the demonstrations did not wholly achieve their political goal, they did succeed in strengthening those peace forces among both peoples which oppose every provocation designed to sabotage progress towards peace. The struggle at Ras al-Amud expressed the essence of current Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and cooperation in active support of the peace process.

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