06/25/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

My TEDxTelAviv: Two Speakers, So Distant from One Another and Yet So Close

"I have two options - the path of darkness or the path of light. I choose the latter" these words were spoken by Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician who lost his three daughters during the war in Gaza, and who is today a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize because of his efforts to build peaceful relations between Jews and Arabs. On January 16, 2009, like every other Israeli diplomat residing abroad at that time, I was trying to convey the message which said 'Ten thousand Qassam rockets that have landed within Israel, in areas that are not even disputed territories, are a good enough reason for any sovereign state to take military action.' I believed in this message, and still believe it with all my heart. Three weeks after the war broke out, when I heard of the tragedy that befell Mr. Abuelaish, I stopped to think for a moment and observe the suffering of the other party to the conflict. True, the Palestinians are like captive hostages in the hands of a government that believes that terror is the only way to achieve its objectives; it is true that the Palestinians chose their government in democratic elections; and, it is true that by electing Hamas the Palestinians chose a path of non-dialogue and non-recognition of Israel. But suddenly the tragedy was given a face and names: Bessan (20), Mayar (15) and Aya (13). This was no longer about the "Palestinian people" - a generalization that allows us not to view the enemy as human. Suddenly reality became much more complicated: a Palestinian physician lost his three daughters from the artillery of an Israeli tank. The incident shook the Israeli public, which called for an investigation, and from within the pain, tragedy and shock that struck Israelis and Palestinians together, Izzadin emerged with a call to make peace.

I was born in Tel Aviv, I lived most of my life in this city, and today the city is my current home. For me Tel Aviv is a microcosm of Israel society. On September 1, 1970 I first set foot in the Bialik elementary school in Tel Aviv, the same school my mother had attended in the 1940s, before the establishment of the State of Israel. Most of my classmates were children of immigrants, and my class embodied the vision of the 'ingathering of the exiles'. The school was known as one of the city's finest, a status it went on to lose in subsequent years, until the educational level became so degraded that there was talk of closing it. Thirty years later, Karen Tal, the Principal of the 'Bialik-Rogozine' School, is one of the spekers on TEDxTelAviv. Challenges of education management and leadership take a new meaning and scale in this school, whose 800 students create a fascinating mosaic of Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis, and children of immigrants and refugees from forty different countries ranging from Sudan to Ukraine. Karen Tal, who immigrated to Israel from Morocco as a child, is navigating this school with remarkable academic success through the turbulent waters of social and political unrest.
Multiculturalism in Israel is not a concept one reads about on Wikipedia or hears about on TV programs. For us, as Israelis multiculturalism is a way of life, it is reality, it is an everyday challenge.
Israel is a small society. Only last week we marked the country's 62nd Independence Day, taking pride in our achievements and contribution to humanity, while the headlines proudly proclaimed the number of residents living in Israeli today: 7,587,000. This annual head count has the force of rite, a recitation of a measurable indicator of national resilience. Because we are so few, I can find a common which I shared with each of the speakers at the TEDxTelAviv conference, which will take place on Monday. The international TEDx conference, taking place in Israel for the first time, will bring together the most innovative minds in Israel in the fields of technology, entertainment and design. What the speakers at the conference have in common is their boundless creativity, their ability to think outside the box, and their intellectual leadership. But today, I have chosen to focus on Karen Tal and Izzeldin Abuelaish, an Israeli and a Palestinian, two speakers, two different worlds, two complex stories about Israeli society, so distant from one another and yet so close.