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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.