An American Prize worth $10,000 to Aziz Abu Sarah and Lili Yaffe of the Bereaved Family Forum
The American Center in Jerusalem organized a ceremony yesterday honoring members of the Bereaved Israeli/ Palestinian Family Forum, Aziz Abu Sarah and Lily Yaffe with the $10,000 Victor. J. Goldberg IIE Prize for Peace in the Middle East for 2008.
U.S. Deputy Consul General, Thomas Duffy, the U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission, Luis J. Moreno, and Director of the American Center in Jerusalem, Alex Daniels, in addition to a large number of Palestinians and Israelis from the Bereaved Family Forum and some invitees, participated in the event.
Aziz Abu Sarah and Lily Yaffe received the Goldberg IIE Prize for their work with the Parents Circle Family Forum, conducting educational activities that draw on their own very moving personal stories and the experiences of hundreds of bereaved families, half Palestinian and half Israeli, who have lost immediate family members due to the violence in the region.
Luis Moreno praised the peace efforts of the Forum members saying, "you work at the grassroots level to end the conflict and achieve reconciliation. This work seeks to make a change in the two sides and compliments our work as diplomats. I believe that individuals can create a change. We are confident that the Forum will achieve such change since it has already succeeded in overcoming many obstacles and dispelling many misconceptions and much pessimism, thanks to its members' courage and trust."
Moreno confirmed that the U.S. Consulate and U.S. Embassy will continue their work with parties that seek to better the situation and improve the security environment for both sides.
Abu Sarah, whose brother Tayseer was killed in 1991 and who is currently the head of the Palestinian Bereaved Family Forum side, said that the Forum aims to create gradual change in the views of young Palestinians and Israelis by reaching out to them at schools or through open town hall meetings. This is accomplished by sharing the personal, tragic experience of losing a relative and not seeking revenge.
Abu Sarah added that, "talking to the youth about these experiences has a great impact. During the meetings they exchange ideas and affirm the importance of mutual respect and of promoting reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.
As for the Israeli, Yaffe who lost her son in the 1983 war with Lebanon, she does not view peace as impossible, pointing out that she has worked with Palestinian bereaved families for more than 10 years and what she has seen achieved during this period confirms to her that reconciliation is possible.
Yaffe, who worked in the field of education for 15 years, expressed her satisfaction over the truce between Israel and Hamas and said that this is a positive step that brings new hope. She added that she lived in a Kibbutz near Gaza before rocket attacks began. She feels it is possible to imagine the situation after the truce period. The silence will encourage both sides to continue talks on reaching an agreement that recognizes the rights of each party.
The Forum, established in 1996, includes 500 Palestinian and Israeli bereaved families who lost members of their families in clashes between the two parties.
The Goldberg award is presented each year by the Institute of International Education (IIE), a New York-based non-profit organization. The prize recognizes outstanding work being conducted jointly by two individuals, one Arab and one Israeli, working together to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East.
The initiator of the award, Mr. Victor J. Goldberg, who was also in attendance, explained its significance further, "the intent of this award is to recognize innovation and reward those who are courageous and committed enough to work together to overcome the religious, cultural, ethnic, and political issues which divide the Middle East."