Lior Amihai (1999, Israeli Delegation) is Executive Director of Peace Now, an Israeli non-governmental organization that advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
You are in the thick of conflict and have been at it for a long time—for the longest time with the Palestinians. This would drive many to despair. How do you keep the joy and hope alive? What makes you carry on?
I will start by saying that it is okay to be in despair, because as human beings we realize that sometimes situations are tough, and it can be very hard to find hope in some circumstances. Therefore, I believe it is important to be part of a political community, a community of people with shared values. It is important to surround yourself with people who want progress and equality for everyone, people with whom you can share your struggles, and who can help achieve sound political aims. Community gives hope.
The second thing that I find hope in is action. I can do things; I do not have to just sit in front of the TV and feel frustrated. I am lucky I am paid to do this, but one can volunteer too. If you are an engaged political citizen, you are in a position of privilege and can do a lot. That is something that helps in dealing with despair and struggles—knowing that you are actually doing something! If there’s positive value in your work, it contributes to the overall system, leads you to a better place, and is in solidarity with colleagues who are also trying to figure it out, it is all good.
I also keep my strength from being inspired by others. I look at the brave women in Afghanistan, who are resisting a harsh regime. If they are finding hope in their resistance, who am I not to resist my government? I am also inspired, for example, by Palestinians who resist the occupation. They deal with a foreign military that acts against them. Just last Friday, 400 of us at Peace Now marched to a Palestinian village that a settlement took over its lands. We marched together with Palestinian colleagues from the village. However, we were met with military resistance who did not want us to meet our Palestinian partners. They blocked our buses, so we marched for two miles in the sun, and they even used tear gas and stun grenades against us. But I am still here. Only few miles away, other Palestinians from a different village were doing something similar. They were met with live ammunition. I would say it was my privilege to have to deal with less dangerous attacks.
We must use the powers we have to affect change. In the words of Christopher Robin: “You are stronger than you think.”
From aspiring team leader at Camp to being the Peace Now Executive Director: how has the journey been and what have some of the more remarkable milestones along the way?
It has all been fascinating, with different emotions inspiring me at different times. Camp was one of the first truly eye-opening experiences, followed by my higher education in London, where I studied alongside Palestinians. There, we were more than just our usual national and religious identities. Life was very unlike how it is in Jerusalem or say, Tel Aviv. In the company of my Palestinian peers, it became clearer to me the large gaps in perception that we have. It taught me a lot about power relations and narratives.
The next milestone was when I joined Peace Now. In my initial years in the organization, I was assigned to settlement watch where monitoring and ground research is done on the effects and implications of settlements. It was the first time I was going regularly into occupied territories, and I learned a lot from seeing the geography, the Palestinian communities, the settlements, the political architecture and mechanisms and the dynamics of military occupation first-hand.
I also learned a lot as the Executive Director of Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization, that gives legal representation to Palestinians under occupation that are victims of violence from Israeli citizens or soldiers. In addition to learning about the dynamics of occupation, I also got to witness and learn from the dynamics between the Israeli and Palestinian members of the staff. In some variation, it shared elements the power dynamics of the world outside. Using dialogue as a technique, I had an opportunity to influence the power relations within the organization.
Presently, I continue to do similar work with Peace Now where the biggest challenge is to get the Israeli public—a chunk of which thinks of itself as liberal—to act. We want them to stop being afraid of the idea of ending occupation, and mobilize them to take decisive steps.
Who is your greatest inspiration?
I was lucky enough to have many role models, but right now, one person that comes to my mind is my colleague, Hagit Ofran. She is an intellectual, who is dedicated to ending the occupation, and who demonstrates a lot of courage and persistence. She has a very clear compass of what needs to be done. I have seen her persistence for over 20 years now, and despite all the political and social changes, her clarity of values has been unwavering.
If you could magically change one thing about the world right now, what would it be?
You know, there are so many things, but if I had to pick one thing, it would be to return to a world without populism! I wish for a world where facts and frank discussions would be the way forward, and not the way things operate on lies and propaganda and majoritarian narratives now. I think we would all love a world where genuine dialogue and democratic collaborations would be used as tools of problem-solving and growth.
If you could ask every Seed to do one thing for sure in their lives, what would that be?
I would tell everyone—Seed or not—to be civically engaged and do so with solidarity! Life is so hard, and there are different ways of dealing with different problems. There are thousands of people around the world, who believe in liberal values and do humanitarian and human rights work. But their vision may not be 100% aligned but we need to work together to fight the “bad ideologies”. Even if we agree only on 80% or 60% of their way, I believe that it is a lot to work with. We must forgive one another, build solidarities, and support each other. We must find ways to be engaged ad keep working to create a world that is better, more just, and more equitable.