In recent months, when each day we lament the loss of yet another victim of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, it is hard to find the energy to think about the possibility of peace, let alone keep working to make it happen.
However, this is exactly what the Parents Circle-Families Forum (PCFF), an Israeli/Palestinian group of bereaved family members of those who died as a result of the conflict, is doing. Although a membership in this organization means the loss of the person/s closest and dearest to you, the Forum has been working, tirelessly and for years, on promoting understanding between Israelis and Palestinians in order to bring about peace.
For the last 5 months I participated in one of the Forum’s activities, and over the weekend we marked the end of the first part of the Narratives Project, an initiative organized by PCFF. The Narratives Project brings together two groups of Israelis and Palestinians for a series of meetings. The two groups spend one weekend together in Beit Jala where they get to know each other, and in addition, there are 6 more day meetings. At the end of the process the two groups are supposed to find common projects to work on them together.
Normally the groups in the Project are classified according to some common denominator (there are groups of teachers, lawyers, artists, students, members of bereaved families, etc). But in our group there was no prerequisite, we were just a group of Israelis and Palestinians who wanted to meet and get to know one another.
But perhaps the Forum had some implicit expectations from us since we were given the ambitious and promising name: “Leaders of Change.”
We started the project in late August, at first we were 15 members in each group. But after the first weekend in Beit Jala 6 members apparently found the experience too difficult and left the project.
We learnt about the narratives and the traumas of the Israelis and Palestinians, and conducted two field trips.
As a symbol of the Nakba we visited together the Palestinian Village of Lifta on a hillside on the western entrance to Jerusalem. lifta has remained deserted since late 1947 when the 2500 residents of the village were banished.
In the following meeting we shared with our Palestinian counterparts the biggest trauma of the Jewish people, as we visited together the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem museum.
Learning about past traumas was supposed to promote understanding between the two groups, but the present ruled. The Intifada, which started in October, put a stop to our meetings, and we did not see the Palestinian group again for three months.
When we finally met in mid December, we had high hopes. Unfortunately after the first hugs and smiles, we became estranged. It was a giant step backward, our Palestinian friends did not relate to us the entire meeting, and the warmth and trust, which we started to build, was replaced with suspicion and ill-will.
After three months of intifada it seemed that the Palestinians whom we met in our activities felt that it was almost a betrayal to speak to us as individuals. In one voice they blamed us for the plight of the Palestinian people.
I felt as though our group was reduced into being the whipping boy for the actions and choices of the Israeli government. In theory I understood it, but somehow it felt unjust.
Moreover, the incessant accusations of the members of the Palestinian group alienated me and made it impossible to remember that these were the same people who still got up very early that morning, braved the barriers and the check points, and travelled for hours just to see us, and to tell us, the Israelis, about their impossible life.
It felt hopeless, I was certain that the relationship with the Palestinian friends would not be restored before the end of occupation. Suddenly I despaired and did not look forward to continue with the Narratives Project, I could not bear another, similar, meeting like the one we had.
But luckily, our facilitators from the Forum did not lose faith, they reassured us that it was up to us, that we could change the reality, at least within our own combined group.
And they were right, when we met again for the last time on Friday, the two groups came with a different energy and determination to lead a change. For the duration of the weekend we were able to relate to one other personally, as individuals, and to start thinking about the future in which we will work together on projects.
I feel privileged to have taken part in one of the activities of the Parents Circle-Families Forum. When Peace finally comes it will be largely thanks to the work of groups like the Parents Circle. I can imagine Israeli and Palestinian children playing under the trees which were planted in honor of our Righteous among the Nations — the Parents Circle-Families Forum
This post has been edited to be more relevant to the current Intifada, and to include the link pasted below:
P.S A link to my essay about Israel Conference On Peace, which did not include the Parents Circle