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Shabbat 36th in Kaplan: The Dialogue Meetings

Seven years ago, I participated in the Narrative project of the Parents Circle, an organization founded by bereaved Jewish and Palestinian families whose relatives were killed as a result of the conflict. The purpose of this organization has always been to promote understanding and sensitivity to the pain and suffering of the other side, and to find a way not only to grieve together but to support each other and grow as human beings.

The Narrative Project is part of the outreach programs of the organization. It brings together Jewish and Palestinian participants who spend meaningful time together and learn about each other. For me, it was an eye-opening experience; it was the first time I got to spend time with Palestinians and hear firsthand about their lives under occupation. Following the project, I became an enthusiastic supporter of the forum and have taken part in their community activities.

One of the most important educational activities is the Dialogue Meetings, which mainly take place  in schools. In these meetings, two members of the forum, one Jewish and one Palestinian, speak about the loss of their loved ones due to the conflict and how it affected them, and changed the course of their lives. In many cases, after several years of deep mourning, it helped them appreciate the importance of living peacefully with their neighbors. Recognizing the pain of the other, or empathy, is one of the most important qualities we can teach our youth. But this is exactly what the government of the Judicial Overhaul doesn’t want our children to learn. So this program is no longer allowed in schools. Fortunately brave principals still continue to invite the forum to talk to the children.

However, the forum has decided it was time to expose the general public to Dialogue meetings, and started having them in Kaplan just before the main demonstration. Last night, I took part in a powerful dialogue meeting. The first speaker was Itay, who lost his father to the conflict. Itay told us a personal story  that was not connected to the Israeli army, or to the wars, yet the tragedy happened because of the conflict. Itay’s father was a businessman who had a Jordanian friend that later became a partner. Following the peace treaty with Jordan, the two friends opened a factory in Jordan. In order to be closer to his work, the father rented an apartment in Amman and stayed there during the week. One night in the summer of 2001, he returned to the apartment building after work and was shot in the back and he died. In spite of the pain, Itay and his family have always known that their father did the right thing following his heart and working with his Jordanian friend/partner. Itay, who was already a graduate student at the time of his father’s death, found the Parents Circle and became a very involved member. It was a big help for him but also his way to honor his father’s wishes and memory.

The story of the second speaker, Ahmed, is an epic story inseparable from the history of the Palestinian nation. It started before he was even born when, because of Nakba, his family lost its land and its home, and then because of the 1967 war, he lost his two uncles. Ahmed, who is 53 was born in Dheisheh, a refugee camp near Bethlehem. I met Ahmed seven years ago when he was the gifted translator in my Narrative Group. At the time, we were told that Palestinian men who spoke Hebrew most likely spent time in jail. And indeed, Ahmed told us yesterday that as a young boy of 15, he and other boys used to throw stones at the Israeli soldiers, and a group of them was sent to prison for 4 years. Ahmed used the time for education, learned Hebrew, and read a lot. Thus, from a rebellious young man who threw stones to protest against occupation, he grew up to be a serious leader who works to promote peace in our region.

 The format of Dialogue Meetings is an effective way to learn more  about issues which we try to avoid. When you hear a fellow human being tell you a personal story, it is much harder to run away. It is fortunate that thanks to the protest against the Judicial Overhaul, we learn more about the ills of our society.

About the Author
I hold a PhD in English Literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, specializing in writing about issues related to women, literature, culture, and society. Having lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994), I bring a diverse perspective to my work. As a widow, in March 2016, I initiated a support and growth-oriented Facebook group for widows named "Widows Move On." The group has now grown to over 2000 members, providing a valuable space for mutual support and understanding.
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