If there is one aspect of Yehudit Oppenheimer’s 56 years of life that has led her to fight for equal rights for all residents of Jerusalem it was the first hints of Nazism and the influence it had on her parents.
“They actually experienced the rise of fascism,” the executive director of Ir Amim told NIF about her parents who immigrated to Israel from Germany. “They taught me how to identify it from a distance, just the smell of it… And even though I grew up in a religious home. . . I knew that we can’t just totally cancel the existence of others on this land.”
Oppenheimer has worked for the NIF grantee Ir Amim since 2008. She oversees Ir Amim‘s legal advocacy, promotional and educational work for Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem. The organization was behind efforts on Wednesday, as in past years, to try to get the police to curtail the racism and intimidation of Jewish ultra-nationalists who march through Muslim areas of the city on Jerusalem Day.
This woman was a devoutly religious, six-year-old in Jerusalem at the time of the Six-Day War. Now she is deeply invested in Palestinian rights, believing they too should be able to form their capital in the holy city.
She believes Israelis and Palestinians must find a way to live together in Jerusalem.
“Even if there will be a separation, we will still live side by side,” Oppenheimer said last week. “We need to accept that Jerusalem is really the home of two peoples and in any diplomatic constellation it will remain the home of two peoples.”
Oppenheimer has degrees in Jewish Thought and Third World Studies. She credits her work as a feminist and her time living in post-apartheid South Africa as motivational and influential for her work.
“It stirs me to be in a place in which women are together and look on the world with a different perspective in which we connect the existence of everyone and we say ‘Something’s not working,'” she explained.
Watching South Africa recover from conflict gave her the resilience she needs in her work today, gathering the strength to believe in a different reality for Israelis and Palestinians.
“Many times I muster great satisfaction from the fact that all the powers that opposed apartheid were considered very strange in a certain period.” she said. She quotes former U.S. President Barack Obama who commented that it is always those who propose an alternative to war who are considered naive.
But, if it can happen in South Africa, it can happen here, Oppenheimer said.
“Always peace is thought of as a fantasy but in many places around the world it has come to be a fact. It can happen here as well.”