Four months ago Abu Ayyash's appearance at a high school in a Tel Aviv suburb stirred up protest from parents and right-wing figures against allowing a relative of Palestinian militants to speak to Israeli teens. The Education Ministry disqualified him from speaking at high schools.
Abu Ayyash denies his lecture is political. His appearances are part of a program by the Parents Circle Families Forum, an organization that brings together Israelis and Palestinians whose immediate family members have been killed in the conflict.
"We find the [Israeli] youths an important crowd, especially youths in high school prior to the army service," says Nir Oren, an Israeli and the director of the group, who lost his daughter in a Palestinian suicide attack in the 1990s.
"At this age, most have opinions. They grasp something [about the conflict] from school, at home, and the media. But it's not rigid. They still have the capacity to listen to the other side," he says.
Abu Ayyash tells how his wife's brother vowed to take revenge after waking up in a hospital – Israeli soldiers had beaten him unconscious. When he bought a gun and began searching for the soldiers, he became a wanted terrorist. After he was killed by soldiers, his brother began plotting revenge and he, too, was killed.
Abu Ayyash also tells how, in order to attend the funeral, he and Sara walked over mountains and navigated West Bank back roads to get around Israeli soldiers blocking Palestinian road traffic. Afterward, he watched over his wife so that she didn't try to take revenge.
He talks about an epiphany he had one day after noticing an Israeli car at the house of a neighbor who had lost a child. He accused the neighbor of hosting "murderers." But Abu Ayyash was persuaded to listen to the Israeli, who told of losing his 14-year-old daughter to a Palestinian attack. "I was crying inside…. How could they talk together? I started to think from the beginning" about the conflict, he says.
Right-wing critics say this dialogue confuses and softens up Israeli youths. Michael Ben Ari, from the right-wing National Union Party, says, "Identify with the families of murderers? That is insanity which is impossible to understand."