It is not every day that a high school class gets to meet a delegation of the PCFF, particularly not a delegation that includes Israelis and Palestinians. The brother of Issam was killed by a soldier, the mother of Nir was killed by a terrorist.
Israel is a state that is used to wars, and hence also a state only too familiar with bereavement and loss. We who grew up here are unfortunately accustomed to get up in the morning and read about Israeli soldiers clashing with terrorists, about shooting attacks, about stones being thrown, and many more of the same sad and violent stories which remind us that we live every day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During this long conflict, there were periods of calm and quiet, and periods of violence or even war. The latter claimed many victims, and bereavement struck almost every house. In order to help the bereaved families deal with the terrible loss, many organizations were founded, which bring bereaved families together and offer them a place where they can talk to people who are going through the same difficult time, to help each other deal with the situation and move on. One of these organizations is the PCFF.
The PCFF is a forum for all those who lost a family member in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The particularity of the PCFF lies in the fact that its members are Jews and Palestinians. The PCFF members act out of the understanding that the loss of a family member is an extremely painful experience, and that pain does not distinguish between Israelis and Palestinians. Therefore, the members work actively for an end to violence and hostility, and for reconciliation, mutual consideration and dialogue, in the hope of preventing future bloodshed and more families joining the ranks of the bereaved.
For the PCFF, it all started in 1994, when 19-year-old Arik Frankenthal was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas. After the murder, Arik's father, Yitzhak Frankenthal, founded the PCFF, a forum for bereaved families, and called for an end to the violence between the two sides. Given the content of this appeal, which called for an end to confrontation and conflict, and for dialogue and mutual understanding, it was only natural that the forum also welcomed members from bereaved Palestinian families. Today, the PCFF counts a few hundred Israeli and Palestinian members.
The PCFF organizes many activities, on the one hand to bring members within the Forum together, and on the other hand to explain and spread the message of the Forum in Israel and worldwide. First of all, the members of the Forum meet regularly in the PCFF's committees, in meetings and in seminars, in order to get to know each other and to exchange ideas about how to transmit the message. Second, the members of the PCFF work actively to spread the message and to achieve their goals, in many different ways -- for example through publications that explain their objectives, through presentations, dialogue tents and stickers. Another way is the participation in conferences organized by international bodies, in Israel and abroad, where they spread their message and speak about the PCFF in order to achieve a collaboration with international organizations that pursue similar goals. The PCFF also uses workshops, seminars and private circles for youth and adults to present its vision. One such encounter between representatives of the PCFF and high school students took place on Wednesday, 20.1.2010, in the Mor High School.
Each class met with two representatives of the PCFF -- one Israeli and one Palestinian -- who, during a 90 minutes conversation, told them their stories, explained the activities of the Forum and answered questions.
Both sides began their story in the days before the Intifada, days which they described as calm and quiet days in which there even was coexistence. The Israeli speaker, Nir, talked about the hikes and the shopping tours he used to do in the Territories and the villages. The Palestinian representative, Issam, spoke about the abundant work he found in Israel. Unfortunately, those days ended with the beginning of the Intifada. On the Israeli side, violence broke out with heavy terrorist attacks, mostly suicide attacks in restaurants, buses, shopping malls and other public places, while on the Palestinian side, the Israeli Army strengthened its presence in the Territories, set up additional road blocks within the Territories and on the borders with Israel, and had anybody who entered Israeli territory undergo a particularly strict security check.
The difficult reality and the growing violence did not spare Nir and Issam. Nir's mother, a young pensioner, was on her way home from visiting a friend when she was killed in a suicide attack on the bus that she was riding. Issam's brother went to visit friends on a holiday's eve and died in hospital after a soldier shot him at the road block close to their village. Both Nir and Issam got to the PCFF through their families. Issam arrived through his father, and Nir came through his sister. The latter found out about the Forum by accident, after she heard a representative speak on Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv (a representative who later traveled to New York and presented the Forum at the UN), entered the dialogue tent and became an active member of the Forum.
After the two representatives had told their stories, the floor was opened for questions and a conversation with the students, who showed great interest and asked many questions. Amongst other things, the students wanted to know how the relatives and friends of the representatives reacted to their work with the PCFF. They also were very interested to hear about the personal situation and the daily life of the Palestinian representative, and he answered them willingly and told them about his life, and about how things were from his point of view.
Afterwards, it was clear that the conversation with the representatives had left a big impression on the students and was of great importance to them. One of the students said: "In my opinion, this encounter was very important, because on Israeli TV, you see the lives of the other side from a very specific angle, but until somebody actually comes and explains and talks about his life, you don't really understand. This encounter made me want to become more engaged, not like earlier in my life when I was totally passive. It was a great meeting, and it clearly made me see things from a different angle." Another student added: "For me, it was very interesting to see the relationship between the Israeli and the Palestinian, precisely in front of that background, where each side had been hurt by the other side."
Towards the end of the meeting, the representatives invited us to participate in a project that was set to take off soon, called "A crack in the wall". The project was meant to send messages from the Israeli to the Palestinian side and vice versa, through popular social networks on the Internet and similar channels. There is no doubt that this was a fascinating and interesting encounter, which clearly provided food for thought, and now all that is left to do is to participate and to wish the members of the PCFF success.