Over the last decade, I have participated in several Israeli-Palestinian activities. The most meaningful project was initiated by the Parents’ Circle, an organization of bereaved Israelis and Palestinians who lost a family member due to the conflict. As part of their outreach programs, they offer The Narratives Project, a three-month workshop for 15 Israelis and 15 Palestinians. True to its name, the purpose of this program is to understand the narratives of both Palestinians and Israelis. To facilitate effective dialogue, these meetings were conducted with two trained moderators, one Palestinian and one Israeli from among bereaved families themselves, along with translators. In these gatherings, the emphasis was on active listening and learning about each other’s realities. Nevertheless, it was one of the most difficult experiences I’ve had in my life and still one of the most significant.
The Palestinians talked about life under occupation, their fears of Israeli soldiers and settlers. They also shared their hopes and dreams. The Israelis discussed their fears of terrorism and bombings, along with their hope for a peaceful coexistence. As part of the workshop, we visited Lifta, a Palestinian village near Jerusalem that the Palestinians were forced to leave during the Nakba and our War of Independence. There, an Arab Israeli expert shared its history. Then we visited the Yad Vashem museum and learn about The Holocaust from an Israeli expert who spoke in Arabic. However, the latter visit was quite disappointing for the Israelis. Similar to our hopes for the world now, following the tragedy on October 7th, we wished our Palestinian counterparts would empathize with our pain, but it didn’t happen. One Palestinian member wanted to know how we could be sure that six million Jews were murdered in The Holocaust. At the end of the tour, when we entered a beautiful balcony overlooking Ein Karem, a young Palestinian woman sighed and murmured, “It’s sad that you chose to commemorate your tragedy on land that used to be a Palestinian village.” I shared in her sadness.
Recalling these emotionally charged encounters with Palestinians, I contemplate the day after the war and wonder whether it’s possible for the Palestinian members from our Narrative Project to condemn the Hamas slaughter on October 7th, and if we, the Israelis, could acknowledge the tragic price borne by the civilian population in Gaza.
I hope that as individuals who have suffered so much, we could develop the skill of listening and exercise more empathy. Acknowledging the suffering of the other side doesn’t diminish our tragedy. We were disappointed and upset when the Palestinians didn’t acknowledge our tragic history and the Holocaust. Perhaps if they are assured that they are being heard, they won’t be afraid to show empathy. It takes away nothing from you; quite the contrary, it makes you a better human being and could bring solace all of us .