“When you have in your own group divided views it’s painful…Because those on both sides feel very strongly, and you have sort of a gut feeling that they need to come together.”
1977 – 2005
America-Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace
World Without War Council
April 4, 2015
Mary Appelman suffered from Alzheimer’s disease; her husband, Evan, and daughter, Hilary, joined her for the interview to share their recollections of her work. Hilary also brought along correspondence to help jog her mother’s memories. Mary Appelman passed away on February 25, 2016, ten months after our interview.
Appelman cut her teeth working for the World Without War Council in Chicago, concentrating on Middle East peace. In 1982, she founded the American Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (AICIPP), a sister group to the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (ICIPP). Their mission was to call attention to Israelis and Palestinians who were speaking out for mutual recognition and a peace agreement. Mary stated, “I care about Israel a lot, and…I want Israel to be at peace with everybody.”
The manifesto of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace states, in part: “We affirm: That this land is the homeland of its two peoples — the people of Israel and the Palestinian-Arab people. That the heart of the conflict between the Jews and the Arabs is the historical confrontation between the two peoples of this land, which is dear to both. That the only path to peace is through co-existence between two sovereign states, each with its distinct national identity — the state of Israel for the Jewish people and a state for the Palestinian Arab people, which will exercise its right of self-determination in the political framework of its choosing.”
AICIPP put out a newsletter called Voices for Peace. When ICIPP came out with their own newsletter, The Other Israel: “We deferred to them and let ours close up,” according to Evan.
“Sometime during the…early 1980s, like manna from heaven, I begin receiving in the mail a newsletter on the Middle East conflict that was put out by AICIPP — possibly the clumsiest name for an organization imaginable,” Rachelle Marshall wrote in a note of appreciation. “It came, unaccountably, from Downers Grove, Illinois, which as an old New Yorker I thought somewhere in the corn belt. The newsletter was by all odds one of the most helpful publications I’ve ever received. The information it contained, especially about peace efforts made by both Arabs and Israelis, did not appear in the mainstream press. … It was readable as well as attractive. But for me perhaps the newsletter’s main value was in reassuring me that my own thoughts were not beyond the pale, that I was not alone despite the fact that some of my relatives had stopped talking to me. This was at a time when a two-state solution was condemned on all sides except for the very brave people like Mary and the Israelis and Palestinians she worked with.”
Mary organized numerous U.S. tours of Israeli speakers, including ICIPP co-founders Matityahu (Matti) Peled, a retired IDF general, and writer Uri Avnery.
Hilary commented, “You had these Israelis who were willing to close the gap and the Americans were so much more afraid, and they weren’t the ones living with it. You were trying to show them — Look, these are people living in Israel willing to take the risk and step forward, talk to the Palestinians — but the American Jews were so afraid.”
According to Evan, her efforts were not welcomed by her own congregation, and many members reacted angrily to AICIPP’s message. Mary recounted, “When you have in your own group divided views it’s painful…Because those on both sides feel very strongly, and you have sort of a gut feeling that they need to come together…”
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In 1987, Mary organized a delegation to Tunis that included Hilda Silverman, representing New Jewish Agenda, Jerome Segal from Washington Area Jews for Israeli- Palestinian Peace, and Harvard professor Sara Roy. She wrote about the trip in a letter to the Chicago Tribune. “In June 1987 I was one of four Jewish peace activists who spent a week in Tunis talking to high-level Palestinian Liberation Organization leaders, including Chairman Yasir Arafat, Farouk Khadoumi, Abu Mazen, Dr. Sami Masalam, and Bassam Abu-Sharif.”
In a letter, Allan Solomonow, a retired Middle East peace staffer at the American Friends Service Committee, remembered “Mary’s inquisitiveness and unending exploration of … options for changing American attitudes on the Middle East. Nothing was ever taken for granted in the years we collaborated on Middle East activities. Mary would just not understand closed or irrational thinking. Whatever the challenges, there was always a prodigious effort to seek out a way that would make the problematic the possible. I can recall visiting the Middle East in the early 80s and being asked, name long forgotten, ‘What has happened to that woman who loves to ask all of the questions?’”
Hilary reflects on her mother’s work: “I was probably always proud of her Middle East work. I think I just didn’t realize in the larger context how important or how groundbreaking it was. I didn’t realize that lots of kids didn’t have mothers who were running Middle East organizations. So I think it just took some perspective to realize how important it was.”
Mary Goold Appelman devoted much of her life to working for peace and social justice. She was born in 1926 in London and died in 2016 at age 90.
Appelman was tenacious in her pursuit of truth and justice. She was active in the Fair Housing movement, as well as anti-Vietnam war protests and Democratic Party politics, both local and national. Deeply affected by the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the Lebanese Civil War, she began working on Middle East peace issues as a volunteer for the World Without War Council in Chicago. In 1982 she founded the America-Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, or AICIPP, sister group of the Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. Its members were Israelis who supported dialogue with the PLO and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a time when official U.S. policy was not to negotiate with the Palestinians directly. The group closed shop in 2009; Appelman ran it for 27 years.
As chair of AICIPP, Appelman worked indefatigably to encourage the U.S. to end its ban on direct talks with the PLO, which it eventually did in 1988. She organized speaking tours for Israeli and Palestinian speakers and published a newsletter from home with the help of her husband.
Appelman, whose father was in the American foreign service, first set foot in the United States at age 10. She attended Vassar College, graduating with a B.A. in history in 1945 at age 19. After graduation she worked at the National Science Foundation in Washington. She later attended graduate school — first in social work, then switching to political science after her field work supervisors said she empathized too much with her clients — at the University of California, Berkeley, where she met Evan H. Appelman. After their marriage, the couple moved to the Chicago area, where Evan Appelman was employed as a research chemist at Argonne National Laboratory. Appelman and her husband lived in Downers Grove from 1960 to 1996 before retiring to Kensington, California.
Appelman has two children: Harry Appelman, a jazz pianist and Middle East peace activist in Silver Spring, Maryland and Hilary Appelman, a writer in State College, Pennsylvania.