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Can this conference inspire a new Israeli-Palestinian peace movement?

Can this conference inspire a new Israeli-Palestinian peace movement? For activists Maoz Inon and Aziz Abu Sarah, reviving a joint peace effort that learns from past obstacles is ‘the biggest antidote to extremism.’

Maoz Inon and Aziz Abu Sarah are an unlikely pair. Inon, 49, is an Israeli tourism entrepreneur and the founder of Abraham Hostels. He lost both of his parents, who lived on Kibbutz Netiv HaAsara, during the Hamas-led assault on October 7.

Abu Sarah, 44, is a Palestinian peace activist, journalist, and tourism entrepreneur who founded MEJDI Tours, and a resident of East Jerusalem (and a former +972 contributor). When Aziz was 9 years old, his older brother Taiseer was arrested and held in prison for nearly a year; shortly after his release, Taiseer died of internal injuries he sustained while being tortured in prison.

The two met after Abu Sarah wrote to Inon in the days after October 7, expressing his condolences for Inon’s murdered family. Since then, they have been leading a personal and public campaign against revenge and in favor of reconciliation. They have spoken in media interviews, conferences, and home circles, held an open conversation at a TED conference, and met with diplomats and, recently, with the Pope.

Together with dozens of organizations, Inon is now leading an event titled “It’s Time — The Great Peace Conference,” which will take place on July 1 in Tel Aviv, and is expected to be the largest formal left-wing gathering in recent decades. Delegations representing vast swaths of Israeli and Palestinian society will be in attendance, with artists, politicians, and intellectuals expected to speak. The event will screen a video message from Abu Sarah, who is currently abroad.

In an interview with +972 and Local Call, Inon and Abu Sarah discussed the new peace process they are promoting, the goals of the conference, and how they plan to convince their respective general publics to support their work. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Where did the idea for the conference come from?

Inon: It all started in Geneva in March. Aziz and I were there with 70 other Palestinians and Israelis. We wrote a charter for a common future and started thinking about a road map to achieve peace between the river and the sea. This is the first step, to make the calls for peace and to build legitimacy for the peace process and for us — the leaders of the future.

The conference is the first public event in Israeli society in which Jewish and Palestinian citizens will come out publicly and begin a peace process that derives from the people. This is the first time, at least from what I remember, that more than 50 civil society organizations are working together to build the infrastructure for such a process. Since we aspire to build legitimacy, it will take place in the Menorah Hall and not in demonstrations in the streets. This is just the first event in a series of events we plan to organize.

We have seen protests against the war in recent months, as well as demonstrations calling for a ceasefire. What is the difference between that and the conference?

Inon: We are not against anyone; the demonstrations are important, and some of us participate in them. But this is not a demonstration. We’re changing the framing and talking more about hope and the future. The idea is to build a coalition and work together.

Abu Sarah: I look at when I was a child in East Jerusalem, and, honestly, I never saw or heard from the Israeli peace movement, and there are Israelis who have never seen a Palestinian peace movement. The inability to see these movements has established a perception that there is no one on the other side who wants to bring peace, who cares about human rights, and so on. This event, which is making a lot of noise, will have thousands of people say they want to live together, to find a way to end the bloodshed, and to work with partners on the other side. This declaration itself is very strong and will be an important message to the Palestinian side.

This is something new. The only way we will have an impact is with a sort of unity, even if we are not exactly the same and there are differences here and there. A meeting of thousands of people will not end the bloodshed and will not bring peace tomorrow, but it is an important step. And if we continue on this path, and organizations learn to work together, everyone’s power will double.

One of the major obstacles to a ceasefire is the Israeli government, which refuses to make a deal. Is the event also a message to the government, meant to pressure them to agree?

Inon: That’s a good question, but I won’t answer it directly. We have been kidnapped by extremists, on both sides, and those extremists thrive on bloodshed, revenge, and killing. Now is our time to draw up an alternative — ideological and political — that will change the discourse, and that’s what we’re doing.

I lost both my parents and so many childhood friends on October 7. I felt angry, and a desire to punish and take revenge on the Israeli government, which repeatedly promised my parents security and protection. After every cycle of bloodshed, they continued to make this promise to us. Of course, they failed, and my parents paid the price. But I decided to forgive them. I’m not interested in punishing them, they’re irrelevant to me.

We will open the event with a reading of the poem ‘Revenge’ by Taha Muhammad Ali. [The speaker of the poem initially imagines how he will take revenge on his father’s killer]. This beautiful poem ends by saying that the revenge on his father’s killer will be to ignore him as he passes by on the street. In the same way, I decided to ignore the government. They are part of the past. I prefer to focus on the future, not on one government or politician or another. Whoever wants to join, the door will always be open. Even to those who now choose violence.

Abu Sarah: I don’t think many attendees support the Israeli government’s policies or what Hamas has done. If the event had focused on either, it would have been bad; we could focus on governments that have failed for decades and got us to where we are today, or we can focus on how to move forward and work together despite those obstacles.

One of the things that Israeli governments have been saying for decades is that there is no Palestinian partner on the other side. You can argue and yell that they’re wrong, or you can show that it’s bullshit, that there’s a partner, that we’re here. The existence of Maoz and me is the greatest threat to the extremists, who claim that war, bombing, and killing are the only way. We are demonstrating what the alternative is, what the road to peace will look like. When people find a meeting point, it’s the biggest antidote to extremism.

You call for making an “All for All” deal, meaning the release of all Palestinian prisoners and all Israeli hostages. At the beginning of the war, this call was heard in Israel as well, but it has since been marginalized.

Inon: We have to go back to the ‘All for All’ deal that was on the table. Prisoners can play a significant role in reconciliation and peacebuilding.

Abu Sarah: If you look at who are the people who can speak on behalf of the Palestinians, who have power and legitimacy, they are all prisoners. I understand that people say, “But how is it possible, given what they did?” But in conflict, everyone involved has blood on their hands, and they are the people who can legitimize an agreement that will last, as in Northern Ireland and South Africa. Without the prisoners, there would be no agreement.

[Former U.S. President] Barack Obama said we have to admit that everyone is to blame for not acting before October 7. When there is a ceasefire, we don’t want to say, “Everything is good” and not do anything else, like before October. We don’t want to say that the status quo is sustainable; we hope to push for the status quo not to be maintained.

I was in Northern Ireland earlier this month. It seems that before the Good Friday Agreement there, there was a feeling on all sides that they had had enough. In Israel, there is a feeling that the public, or at least some of it, is still not tired of war and violence, and perhaps even the opposite, that people want to continue with all their might.

Inon: There was a poll conducted by “aChord” showing that 74 percent of Israeli citizens support a diplomatic agreement. The poll shows that maybe we’re not reading the map correctly. Besides, no one is currently offering an alternative, and that’s where we come in. For the first time in many years, we are proposing a solution to the unsustainable status quo and the ongoing bloodshed. That’s our mission. Jews attend a prayer for the return of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, at the Western Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem, March 21, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90) Jews attend a prayer for the return of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, at the Western Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem, March 21, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Abu Sarah: I worked a lot in Northern Ireland. I met soldiers and members of organizations, police officers and military personnel. At some point, they realized that peace was coming. They understood that what they did would only prolong the war and suffering, and they saw friends and family paying the price for what they had done. It took time, but once the understanding of the depth of impact on families and lives was internalized, it helped create the transformation.

To this day, the society in Northern Ireland is very fragmented. About 92 percent of schools are segregated. Nevertheless, they understood that even though the Good Friday Agreement was not perfect, the alternative was much worse. Everyone I met there said it wasn’t the agreement they dreamed of, but that it was better than the alternative. We need to get the people here to see this too.

Dialogue meetings between Palestinians and Israelis have been held since the 1990s, and there has been much criticism of them, including that they maintain the imbalance of power and serve only the strong side.

Abu Sarah: I’m a little more cynical than Maoz. I was very critical of the idea of “people to people” work. I felt it wasn’t enough, that there was a lot of talk but not much happened. This is something the peace movement needs to be careful about.

I remember in the late 1990s, when I came to the peace movement, there was a lot of hope. I remember a huge meeting of Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza in 2000, before everything exploded. But that peace movement eventually delegitimized itself, and that’s why, as Maoz said, one of our goals is to create legitimacy ourselves.

In the past, they were unable to advance beyond dialogue. What’s different now, at least for some, is that there’s more than just talk. You see it in movements like Standing Together, Combatants for Peace, Rabbis for Human Rights. You see that it’s not just dialogue, but also working together, building stronger bridges, seeing what is needed and how we can fill those needs. This movement is much stronger, and it learns from the past.

Inon: We are dreaming, but with a plan – to make peace by 2030. We need to constantly check that our actions are effective. This is exactly the formula to create hope, imagine a better future together, and make that future a reality. We have already been very effective and we are growing. The dialogue is just one phase of the plan. The goal is not dialogue, but peace. Left-wing activists protest against the war, calling for ceasefire in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, January 18, 2024. (Itai Ron/Flash90) Left-wing activists protest against the war, calling for ceasefire in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, January 18, 2024. (Itai Ron/Flash90)

Regarding a peace plan toward 2030: do you intend to publish a concrete plan, which includes steps and demands from the parties?

Abu Sarah: This is not the time to say exactly where the borders will be; in my opinion, that was never the problem. The problem was mustering the will, a critical mass that would support an agreement. The problem was that people hijacked the political process. In the field of ideas there is, for example, A Land for All [which promotes a confederation], the Geneva Initiative [which promotes two states], and more. Ideas are not what’s missing.

Do you intend to deal with core issues in dispute, such as the right of return?

Abu Sarah: I think we will look at all the issues. The basic principle we are talking about is equality, dignity, and security. It doesn’t matter if that’s in one country or two. There will be no peace with occupation or injustice. We are delusional if we think it is possible to talk about peace and not talk about all these issues. The question is what are the basic human values on which we agree.

People across the world have expressed their sympathy and support for your project. Do you think that at this point in time, the project can be accepted here as well, given the current political situation — in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, in Israel, and in light of all the criticism of the peace process in the past?

Abu Sarah: I think so. People are still very pragmatic, despite the pain and anger. One of my dearest friends from Gaza, 50 members of his family were killed, his whole family was wiped out — uncles, aunts, cousins, everyone is gone. I wanted to talk about this friend’s story at the event, so I asked him how he felt about me doing so. He didn’t even hesitate, and replied: “One hundred percent, that’s what we need.”

Anti-war rally in Tel Aviv

Stopping the war - moving towards a solution!

Following is the text of the call published by Israeli peace groups towards yesterday's anti-war rally in Tel Aviv

In spite of the harassment of the police, controlled by the racist minister Ben Gvir, we raise a loud and clear voice against the war and the occupation. Rally at 5.30 PM today (Sat. June 8) at Habima Square, Tel Aviv to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the occupation and protest the ongoing war in Gaza and the harsh occupation on the West Bank.

At the end of the rally, those who are interested can march together to the corner of Kaplan and Begin Streets and join the rally organized by families of Israeli captives held in Gaza - also calling for the end of the war.

Starting on June 5, 1967, this week 57 years ago, the State of Israel occupied territories inhabited by Palestinians: East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Already in the first months of the occupation, there were far-sighted Israelis who called for an end to the occupation and warned of its dire consequences. But successive heads of state would not hear of it. hearing. The occupation continues to this day. During the past year, it has reached its most barbaric moment.

A few days ago we witnessed the abominable "March of the Flags" in the Old City of Jerusalem, an orgy of hatred and violent racism. Physical attacks on Palestinian shopkeepers and on journalists, verbal abuse of peace activists who stood between the racists and their victims. An atmosphere of evil nationalist poison, a parade of Jewish supremacy reminiscent of Central European countries in the 1930s. But today we will witness and take part in the polar opposite: a rally to end the horrible war, end the occupation. A rally for peace. Standing against the terrible darkness of racism and opression, we will illuminate the city. In the face of inhumanity, we will put up a stubborn resistance wall of humanity. Come one, come all! Tonight at 17:30, we will come together to call for morality and justice.

A few days ago the police approved the "March of the Flags" in occupied East Jerusalem where the marchers spread hatred, racism and violence. The same police refused to give us a permit for a non-violent march calling for an end to the war in Gaza and commemorating the 57th anniversary of the occupation. Though we were willing to abide by various conditions set by the police, they - having a notorious violent racist as the minister in charge - arbitrarily refused to let us march and restricted us to a stationary rally at Habima Square. So we will have to make this rally count! We will not give up. We will not let this voice be silenced, the only voice which offers a sustainable solution, an end to the war and an equitable and safe future for all.

Today peace organizations, united in the broad Jewish-Arab coalition known as The Peace Partnership, will mobilize from across the country to come together in Tel Aviv. We will call for an end to 57 years of Israeli military occupation, which denies the Palestinian people the right to self-determination, thus denying peace and security to Palestinians and Israelis alike and negatively impacting all peoples in the region.

We will call for an end to the criminal war in Gaza which threatens millions of Palestinians. Continuation of the war also destroys the chance of an agreement that will guarantee the return of the Israeli abductees and hostages held in Gaza while they are alive, and which can set in motion a political process instead of the process of destructive war. We will also call for an end to the crimes committed on the West Bank by the settlers and the army, for an end to the persecution of Israeli Arab citizens and opponents of the war, and for an end to the neglect of the marginalized populations in Israel's periphery who are paying the most expensive price for the occupation and the wars. Specifically, we will refer to the crimes that are being committed right now in the city Rafah and demand that they end forthwith.

We will demonstrate for a prisoner exchange deal on the basis of "All for All" - i.e., release of all Israelis held captive in the Gaza Strip in exchange for the release of all Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. Such a deal can be the beginning of progress towards a political solution that will guarantee both peoples, the Israeli and the Palestinian, a life in peace, equality and security.


The rally was initiated by The Peace Partnership and endorsed by the following groups:

The Bloc Against the Occupation Gush Shalom Mothers Against Violence Hadash ( Demo ratio Front for Peace and EqualityZ) Tandi - Democratic Women Standing Together Mothers' Outcry Itach Macki - Women Lawyers for Justice A Land for All - Two Countries, One Homeland Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace Isha L'isha - Haifa Feminist Center Horiya (Liberty) Yesh Gvul Combatants for Peace Messrvot (Refusers' Network) Messages of Solidarity Women against Violence Ossim Shalom - Social Workers for Peace A Rabbinic Voice for Human Rights Mizrahi Civic Collective Breaking Silence Torat Tzedek Peace Now The Feminist space—Our Feminism Cannot be Divided Machsom Watch Sons of Abraham This is Not an Ulpan Windows - Avenues for Communication Women in White New Profile Zazim - A Mobile Community

"They were abandoned on October 7 and have been in hell for eight months. Every moment in the Gaza Strip could be their last moment - and we must not accept this horrible situation!"

Following is the call for a rally later tonight,called by the Kibbutz Movement and the Gaza Captives' Families

Shaking the country: the abandoning of the captives must not be allowed to continue - make a prisoners' exchange deal now!

On this night there will be a joint mass rally of the Kibbutz Movement and the Families of the Gaza Abductees, at the Museum Square in Tel Aviv (unofficially "Abductees' Square). renamed . We will celebrate the upcoming Shavuot Holiday on the Abductees' Square and cry out with a broken but determined heart: the government of Israel must sign a deal for the return of the abductees The Kibbutz Movement says: This week we got proof that four abducrees were killed while in Gaza captivity. Yoram Metzger, Chaim Peri, Amiram Cooper and Nadav Poplev - members of Gaza Border kibbutzim - were taken alive from their homes and are known to have been still alive in captivity months later, and are now declared dead. The circumstances of their deaths were not specified.

After getting this harsh news, the kibbutz movement issued the following statement:

"Our dear friends were abandoned on October 7 in their invaded homes, no one coming to rescue them. They were abandoned for the second time, to die in the tunnels in Gaza. As of tonight, while we are grieving the hard news, Netanyahu's proposal for a deal to return the captives is placed on the table - except that Netanyahu himself tries to shirk implementing it.. Every day that passes, more of our abducted friends die in captivity. We ask the government Until when? Until there is no one left? The blood of our dead friends is on the conscience of Benjamin Netanyahu and the entire Government of Israel.

Note: We deplore the fact that the Kibbutz Movement and the Abductees' Families speak only of the abducted Israelis and make no mention of the terrible suffering of the Gazan Palestinians. Still, the bottom line is that their rally, like ours, calls for an end to the Gaza War, for a prisoner exchange deal which may lead to more far-reaching deals. Like us, they are striving to put strong pressure on the government to end the war. For that reason, many of us prepare to join their rally after the end of ours.