NEW YORK, Sept. 6 (JTA) — Sitting in Israel’s Consulate on a New York street named for her grandfather, Noa Ben Artzi reflects how things have changed since the namesake of Second Avenue, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated in 1995.
“In this craziness, we sometimes lose or forget why we are here,” says Ben Artzi, 24. “We don’t have a chance for a normal life in Israel without the peace process.”
She says there has been a lack of leadership on both sides — Israeli and Palestinian — since that day in November 1995 when Rabin was assassinated after speaking at a massive peace rally in Tel Aviv.
“If you ask me what my grandfather would have done, he would have done the whole way different, from the point of six years ago,” she says.
Ben Artzi is emerging as a leading voice of her generation, and currently is touring major Jewish cities in the United States to send a message of peace on behalf of her peers.
She says she believes Israelis of her generation simply want to live the more comfortable, private lives they have grown accustomed to over the last decade, including the right to live in peace.
“Most of the people really want to wake up in the morning, do whatever their lives lead them to and go about quietly,” says Ben Artzi.
Israelis in their 20s know of the War of Independence only through stories, but she says they still have the deep nationalism that has helped the country survive — and thrive — for more than 50 years.
“We were never forced to defend ourselves in the same terms that my grandfather’s generation had to,” she says. “We were more spoiled, even” expecting that “we have a natural right to happiness.”
Seeing the ambitions of the young generation and the future of Israeli democracy helped steer Rabin, one of Israel’s greatest war heroes, toward a process of peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians.
Since her grandfather’s death, Ben Artzi has sought to become a leader in her generation. Her book in tribute to Rabin, “In the Name of Sorrow and Hope,” was a massive success. Currently she works as a freelance reporter for the Israeli daily Ma’ariv and studies law and politics in Herzliya.
Ben Artzi volunteered to come to New York this week to speak about Israel her country and her generation of Israelis. Eight years after the beginning of the Oslo peace process, she can’t help but see the very different tone of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.
“They made a lot of human mistakes,” she says of the Israeli leaders that succeeded Rabin. The economic and social gestures toward the Palestinians were not enough in the Palestinians’ minds, she says.
At the same time “the Palestinians, at a certain point, entered a” process “that they could not stop, or did not want to stop, of propaganda and anti-Israeli speeches,” she says. “It influenced the people on both sides.”
She says she believes Israelis have lost touch with the truths behind some of Rabin’s mantras.
“You don’t create peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies,” she says, quoting her grandfather. “You have to understand that the Palestinians are enemies, but they are neighbors.”
She says she believes Palestinians are still “candidates for friendship,” and that Israelis have no other choice but to live alongside the Palestinians in peace.
“At the end of this very long way, and no matter how many horrible killings will be in the way, we have to live together,” Ben Artzi says.
She says reconciliation between the two nations will only come about through “brave decisions by leaders,” and slow, deliberate gestures.
“You must be strong enough for peace,” she says.