By Yael Patir, Israel Director
Ron Pundak was my mentor and I am personally deeply saddened and devastated by his loss.
I started working closely with him as the Assistant to the Director-General of the Shimon Peres Center for Peace, and the Israeli Coordinator for the Palestinian Israeli Peace NGO Forum which Ron co-chaired. As the years passed, he continued to advise me as a member of the J Street Israeli Advisory Board, a position he took because of his belief in the importance of our organization and mission.
Ron Pundak gave me the most valuable gift one can give – a vision and passion for peace. Ron served as a mentor to many young idealists who became influential figures in Israeli politics and civil society. He touched the lives of many in Israel, Palestine and around the world, who will treasure his legacy as a great humanitarian with profound intellect and love for life and people.
Ron was a humble man. He did not like ceremonies or people making a fuss about him. As I write these words, I hear his voice in my head asking me to stop. I know that Ron would have said that we should talk, not about him but about the cause he fought for. He taught me that as Israelis we have an obligation toward the Palestinians – to work with them to create a secure and prosperous Palestine. He wanted Israelis and Palestinians to be equals; he demanded an excellent education system for Palestinian children, equal rights for Palestinian, and for all the right to live, study and work in safety.
Ron demanded these things not only because they are just but also because they serve our Israeli interests. He understood that as long as the Palestinians do not have a state of their own, Israel cannot be safe. He understood that we Israelis have an obligation to them, not just because Palestinians are our cousins and neighbors but because we bear the responsibility for controlling every aspect of Palestinian life since 1967.
Ron was a man of action who initiated and led many projects through different institutions, aiming to safeguard Israel’s future in the region by promoting peace agreements, strengthening Palestinian society, encouraging understanding and bringing Israelis, Palestinians and people from the Middle East closer. His guiding hand stand behind a program to build Palestinian healthcare capacity by providing scholarships and a support system for Palestinian doctors to be trained in Israeli hospitals. He led a track two effort to bring together Israeli, Palestinian and international business and economic experts to work on removing obstacles to growth in both societies.
He helped lead an effort to create a blueprint for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians known today as The Geneva Accord. Based on a win-win approach he created various forums where professionals from sectors such as education, agriculture, foreign service, politics, and environment could meet and cooperate. When he led the Peres Center he made sure that each project had a Palestinian partner and then led the creation of the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum which was a hub for Palestinian and Israeli civil society actors working in cross-border cooperation. These efforts and others still prevail.
Ron was never left indifferent to the suffering of others, but did not show his own suffering. He was that rare combination of pragmatism and nobility; he walked the earth with a sense of history and purpose. He led the Israeli peace camp with hope and vision which inspires us to follow. No man was more committed to peace and no man was more committed to his family. Ron balanced both sides of his life so well.
In more than 20 years working for two states, the peace camp has known some very dark days. When it seemed that we could not work with our neighbors, or when the burden of the conflict seemed too heavy to bear or when extremism and ultra-nationalism threatened to overwhelm us, Ron always told us not to despair and assured us that but for our efforts, things would have been much worse.
Without Ron’s efforts, we would never have been so close to reaching a two-state solution. Without his tireless optimism, the world of Palestinian and Israeli peaceful cooperation would not have been the same. His passing is an enormous loss to Israel and Palestine and those around the world seeking peace for our region.
May his light and wisdom shine on us and lead us in our unwavering quest for peace for Israelis and Palestinians.