Over 200 members of the forum for Israelis and Palestinians arrived in Natanya on the weekend of the 26-28 of March 2009. The meeting took place at the Blue Bay Hotel.
The last war in Gaza strengthened the need to be together and to share the common feelings that is felt by all members. The seminar was so organized to allow all members to find some activity that would answer to their personal needs. The variety of activities included discussion groups talking of the pain in the aftermath of the war and different workshops for both adults and children.
On Thursday evening we were witness to a very special theatre group called "kartoshkas". This is a group of 5 professional actors who improvise stories told by the audience. One of the members told the story of how a taxi driver swore at him when he recognized him as being an Arab. In response he opened the window and asked the driver if he had finished swearing and drove off. His wife, in the car, was witness to this ugly encounter. A few weeks later he met the driver again but this time the driver spoke to him of how he had not forgiven himself for swearing at him. This story was then acted out by the group with song and dance. It was an exciting event.
The next morning there was a meditation group led by Helen Kerrem for all those interested followed by meetings in small groups where members spoke of their personal stories and sad loss of their beloved ones and of the dilemmas of the war, As is always the case there was a feeling of closeness among all members in exchanging such intimate and difficult feelings, a feeling of a common destiny and the importance of having a place to be able to talk openly to people who understand and care. One of the Palestinians wasn't sure at first if it was possible at all for a dialogue about the war – but after the discussion changed his mind.
Prof. Kaufman, a veteran member of the Forum, facilitated a discussion on conflict resolution. He managed to just touch some of the important skills needed in conflict situations and one of them is called "breaking the ice". In order to demonstrate this each member in the group was asked to
Explain to us the source of his/her name and family name or any other name he/she had been called during his life.
A film called "Confronting the Truth" was shown which deals with reconciliation. This short documentary shows the evils of prejudice such as in Peru and East Timor, South Africa and Morocco. The film depicts the idea of reconciliation and how each one of these country dealt with it through a process of forgiveness with all that it implies.
A healthy stormy discussion took place in the group facilitated by Aaron Barnea and Khaled Abu Awwad – the subject was "The Forum – to where?"
Robi Damelin and Osama Abu Ayash led a discussion with the new members on their personal stories and about the activities of the Forum.
Asi Sorek, a clinical psychologist, is a member of the Forum. He specializes in "therapy and nature". A group braved the windy weather and "made contact" with the sea and shells! One exercise was to work in couples where one leads the other whose eyes are closed. This implies relying on the other who is leading. Being at the sea and walking among the stones was an interesting exercise in the question of responsibility and reliability.
Ihab Balha a dear friend of the Forum and one of the directors of "Sulcha" facilitated 2 workshops in soul searching exercises where many heavy issues were touched and spoken about.
One of the exercises was for each member to tell of 3 things he would never give up! They were then asked to give up one and eventually each member was left with only one thing – the love of our children and families. It was clear that no matter who we are, Palestinian or Israeli, we all need to love and to be loved.
Guy Elhanan, a young veteran of the Forum, and a theatre facilitator organized 2 workshops, which included working with a variety of objects that aroused within each member a memory or thought of significance. This was then opened up to the whole group causing members to tell often emotional stories around a simple object – such as a pine or box.
Merav Yaron Bar-Niv and Anat Marnin Shaham, are both members of the Forum who specialize in "Movement Therapy". This time they facilitated a creative workshop where members were asked to express themselves by creating a collage of pictures and newspapers. Each creation portrayed some of their feelings and thoughts.
Saturday morning started with Chi Kong led by Jonathan Misheiker.
Later there was a wonderful "circus" workshop for all the many Israeli and Palestinian children who had real fun. The Roth family (Yael,Yuval and son Uri who is a world champion of juggling)
brought to these kids a variety of circus experience! Juggling – balloon making – walking on crutches and taught them many balancing tricks!
One of the very important aspects of this seminar was the meeting of many new members, both Israeli and Palestinian. This is always a very emotional and moving experience for all, especially those members who have lost their beloved ones recently. The empathy and the love shown to them is a unique experience that can only take place in the Forum.
The contrast of the conflict going on around us yet the dialogue and warm interaction within is always an amazement to us all. The war and the occupation is always apparent yet we sit together 2 peoples with a common destiny and a common feeling of togetherness.
The Palestinians arrived from the West Bank with 2 buses (unfortunately not everyone got the necessary exit permit) One of the buses was help up at the Kalandia checkpoint for 4 hours compared to 40 minutes it took them to return to Nablus!
Three young Palestinian girls wanted to go to the mall in Natanya but were refused entry being Arabs. They got lost when trying to return to the hotel and as can be imagined returned stressful and humiliated.
Yet, the most encouraging sight was to see all the children playing together – no language – yet playing and enjoying each other. The youth played cards together- "War" game, and drew together the Palestinian flag and the Israeli flag. This is where reconciliation starts!
The adults, as always, were so happy to see each other after a 2 year break. There is a binding partnership between the 2 peoples and this is felt immediately when we meet in the lobby as they get off the buses.
The bereaved families, Israeli and Palestinian, of the Forum have proved again and again that coexistence is possible. The trust that has built up between us should be a model to all. We can only that our voice will be heard!
We thank Ariella Shainok and Vered Weinberger who built the whole conference. We thank Mazen Faraj who organized the Palestinian side, Adi from Amsalem Tours, Khaled Abu Awwad and Nir Oren the PCFF's General Managers, Tamara Alawi, Roni Hirshenzon, Carmi Eshborn, Nir Yesod, Robi Damelin, Aaron Barnea, Sharon Kalimi Misheiker, Ihab Balaha, Asi Sorek, Guy Elhanan, Merav Yaron Bar-Niv, Anat Marnin Shaham, Edi Kaufman, Helene Kerem, Jonathan Misheiker, Yuval, Yael, Ori Roth and their friends, Siham Suliman Abu Awwad, Boaz Kitain, Osama Abu Ayash, Sarik Burger, Jalal Khudiari, Daniella Kitain, Aesha Aqtam, Jameel Kassas, Yael Misheiker, Aesha Ashur.
This seminar was supported by The Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs and The Kahanoff Foundation.
Sharon Kalimi Misheiker
Translation: Tamara Rabinowitz
Photography: Mashka Litvak and Jalal Khudiari
Helped in preparing this article: Osama Abu Ayash, Oshrat Rosental, Yuval Roth, Yael Misheiker, Mazen Faraj, Mashka Litvak, Muhammad el Bau, Nir Oren, Aesha Ashur, Tamara Rabinowitz.
More pictures from the conference.