Israeli who was a military officer before becoming a leading peace activist and proponent of dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization and of Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. Peled died in 1994.
Mattityahu (Matti) Peled evolved from being a Major General in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to a leading peace activist and proponent of both dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and a complete withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories.
Peled was born in 1923 in Haifa. Active against British rule in the 1940s, he became part of the group of military officers who led the newly-founded IDF in 1948. During the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip following the 1956 Israeli-Egyptian War, Peled served as the military commander of Gaza. This became a crucial turning point in his life as, in his own words, he was “lord and master” over hundreds of thousands of Palestinians without knowing their language or culture. This led him to a life-long interest in the study of Arabic.
Peled retired from the military in 1969. In 1975, he became a co-founder of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (ICIPP) and its chief coordinator. The ICIPP charter called for Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and the creation of an independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both Israel and Palestine. He took a leading role in establishing secret meetings between Israelis and PLO leaders.
With the outbreak of the First Lebanon War in 1982, Peled supported the reserve officers who refused to take part in the war. In 1986 he was elected to the Knesset on behalf of the Progressive List for Peace, an Arab-Jewish party. In 1993, he helped form Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc. From this platform he criticized Israeli human rights violations in the Occupied Territories and expressed opposition to the growing settlement activity.
His final years were spent advancing mutual recognition and respect between Israelis and Palestinians. He was the first Israeli professor of Arabic literature to introduce studies of Palestinian literature into the academic curriculum. His translation of Saleem Barakat’s The Sages of Darkness won him the Translators’ Association prize. In 1994, he died of liver cancer, struggling until the end to continue to write—including Requiem for Oslo, his last article, in which he expressed his disappointment with the Oslo Accords.
"He was a soldier in the service of peace, one of those who run first and lay themselves down on the barbed wire, to let others pass over their backs," said Aryeh Lova Eliav, an educator and veteran peace activist, upon Peled’s death.
Two and a half years later, in September 1997, Peled’s 14-year-old granddaughter, Smadar Elhanan, was among the victims of a Palestinian suicide bomber. Peled’s daughter and son-in-law, Nurit Peled-Elhanan and Rami Elhanan, became founders and organizers of the Parents’ Circle/Families’ Forum. This organization brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost love ones in order to support each other and to oppose further bloodshed.
His son-in-law said, "I am sure that this is what Smadar’s grandfather would have wanted me to do."