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Difference Maker

Osama Abu Ayyash tells his story to Israelis who've never met a Palestinian

Osama Abu Ayyash visits Israeli classrooms, telling his story of loss and forbearance to humanize Palestinians to Israelis who may have never met one.

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Abu Ayyash also tells how, in order to attend the funeral, he and Sara walked over mountains and navigated West Bank back roads to get around Israeli soldiers blocking Palestinian road traffic. Afterward, he watched over his wife so that she didn't try to take revenge.

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He talks about an epiphany he had one day after noticing an Israeli car at the house of a neighbor who had lost a child. He accused the neighbor of hosting "murderers." But Abu Ayyash was persuaded to listen to the Israeli, who told of losing his 14-year-old daughter to a Palestinian attack. "I was crying inside…. How could they talk together? I started to think from the beginning" about the conflict, he says.

Right-wing critics say this dialogue confuses and softens up Israeli youths. Michael Ben Ari, from the right-wing National Union Party, says, "Identify with the families of murderers? That is insanity which is impossible to understand."

An Israeli Education Ministry statement explaining the ban on Abu Ayyash objected to equating the grief of relatives of "terrorists" to the grief of Israeli families whose loved ones were killed by militants.

But at least one Israeli student got the message, writing on the Facebook page of Israeli Education Minister Gideon Saar that Abu Ayyash's visit exposed students to "pluralism" and that the student now could see another side to the story.

Abu Ayyash gives one of the most influential and effective lectures because Israelis can identify with his story, Parents Circle director Nir Oren says. Despite that, the organization is respecting the ministry's decision because it doesn't want a ban imposed on its other Palestinian speakers.

But Abu Ayyash continues to speak with young Israelis, including at military preparatory schools.

At a class of teaching students, the audience of about 20 sat in rapt attention during a recent Abu Ayyash lecture. After the talk, Noa Bassin, a young Israeli teacher, noted that the lecture was the first time she had seen a Palestinian in person.

"I am encouraged," she said, "but I think [reconciliation] will take much more time ... it's much easier for people to hate than to reconcile."

Abu Ayyash says he hopes the Israeli Education Ministry will lift its ban on him.

"It's important that we talk," he says.

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