Three years ago, Esther Wachsman’s life was shattered. Her son, Nachshon, a 20-year-old corporal in the Israeli army, was kidnapped and killed by Palestinian terrorists.
But instead of becoming a militant, like those members of Hamas who murdered her son, Wachsman has sought to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. As part of their effort, Wachsman and her husband, Yehuda, Orthodox Jews who live in Jerusalem, established a center in their son’s memory to promote the idea of tolerance and coexistence. Esther, who was in the United States last week to speak at Ohio State University, has traveled around the world to gain support for their efforts.
“My son’s blood cries out to me from the earth and I have his voice, and this is why I am not sitting home and just taking care of my children and doing my job,” Esther Wachsman said last week in an interview with WJW. “I feel at this point this might be my mission to cry out.”
The Wachsmans, who are not affiliated with any political group in Israel, have used their circumstances to be consensus builders with the ability to bring their message to Jews across the political spectrum.
They also have reached out to Palestinians. Yehuda Wachsman even met with the father of the Palestinian who shot Nachshon as Israeli commandos burst into the terrorists’ hideout in a failed-rescue attempt. Nachshon’s murderer also was killed in the raid.
Before the meeting, however, Yehuda demanded and received a letter from the father condemning terrorism and declaring that anyone engaging in terrorist acts deserves the death penalty. After the meeting, the terrorist’s father received death threats from Arabs and is no longer active in any kind of dialogue.
“There are [Palestinians] who are promoting coexistence, but it is a losing battle if they are afraid for their lives,” says Wachsman, originally from Kew Garden Hills in New York. “It’s got to come from an authority. The atmosphere has to be one that promotes tolerance and coexistence. The message that we are there to stay, and we are aware that they are there to stay, is a very simple message.”
One Palestinian promoting coexistence at the grassroots level, Zoughbi Zougbhi, director of the Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, says there are many Palestinians working with this goal in mind, but are discouraged by what they see as harsh Israeli restrictions on their daily lives.
“Through justice we can reach a better solution,” he tells WJW. “Through justice we can have a better relationship, and here people will feel that rights are important, that dignity is preserved and they are on equal footing with others. Otherwise, it will not be a peace, it will be a truce. And we don’t want any more truces in the Middle East.”
Zoughbi, a Christian, says Arafat is committed to fostering peace but are in a difficult position, trying to reign in the militants while not appearing to be servants of Israel and the United States.
Even though he is committed to peace and non-violence, Zoughbi says he “can’t guarantee myself to be all the time a peacemaker,” reflecting the frustrations felt by the Palestinians. He is upset that his wife, who is American, has been denied a visa to live with him in Bethlehem.
After Israel and the Palestinians reached their historic agreement in 1993, Israeli schools added to their curriculum the theme of peace and coexistence with the Palestinians, says Wachsman, a teacher.
The Palestinians, however, have not followed the same path, she says. “I have not seen that kind of educational message” says Waxman. “On the contrary, I hear from the mosques, from the schools, from the television, from their leader, messages of incitement to hatred, violence and murder.” Waxman says Arafat has not spoken the words of peace as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat did when he made his journey to Jerusalem in 1977.
“Everyone hears [Sadat’s] words still ringing in our ears, ‘No more war. No more blood,'” Wachsman intones. “You never heard Arafat say that, and he got a Nobel Peace Prize.”
The announcement that Arafat had won the peace prize, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, was made on the same day — Oct. 15, 1994 — Nachshon was murdered.
Last Tuesday, Wachsman made a quick visit to Washington to raise the issue of how U.S. taxpayers’ money is being spent by the Palestinians, especially the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), which is funded by direct grants from US ID, the “Agency for International Development”.
Wachsman joined David Bedein, media research analyst and bureau chief of the Israel Resource News Agency, who has closely monitored Arabic-language PBC radio and television. They showed Capitol Hill staffers excerpts taken from PBC broadcasts, which are examples of how Palestinian children still are being taught to hate Israel.
One clip shows a young girl reciting a poem for Arafat:
“I am finished practicing on the submachine gun of return… We swear to take a vengeful blood from our enemies for our killed and wounded. We will board a bustling boat which will take us to Jaffa.”
“The American people are under the presumption that you are out there helping poor widows and orphans, or feeding the hungry, or clothing the needy, and this is not what’s happening,” Wachsman says, reiterating what she has told lawmakers on several occasions. “What you are doing is supporting this kind of propaganda, which I don’t think the American taxpayer is aware of.”