The start of 2009 did not bode well for the work of the PCFF. War in Gaza threatened to hinder our work and of course created fear for the lives of friends and members on both sides. If ever there was proof that the situation on the ground did not affect our attitudes or work, it was this time. In fact the Palestinian and Israeli members of the PCFF continued to participate in the classroom dialogues, despite the sometimes cruel and nasty remarks by the students. It was so heartwarming to note how the attitudes changed after a dialog and proved once again the necessity for these meetings.
The Classroom dialogs and adult meetings remain the main thrust of our activities. Many new schools have now opened their doors to us and are interested to continue the relationship. In fact schools which were not previously interested in meeting with our Palestinian members are now allowing Joint Israeli and Palestinian meetings. One example is the David Yellin Teachers College, who teach many students from the Israeli settlements, they agreed to a meeting in December 2009 and were open to listen to a message of reconciliation from Palestinian and Israeli members of the group. Twenty new Palestinian and twenty Israeli Forum members have now joined the classroom and adult dialog lecture team and this increases our capacity to spread our message. The PCFF now has 60 well trained, active facilitators.
Dialogue Encounters - West Bank
Our Palestinian facilitators met with women‟s groups in the West Bank, as well as students from Hebron University. Both created a good foundation for bi-national dialogue.
AL-ATAA (giving) WOMEN'S NGO GROUP, HEBRON
More than 500 Palestinian women met for a two day workshop, run by the Palestinian members of the PCFF. They learned about non-violent action and have shown interest in meeting women from Israel. Such a meeting is planned for 2010.
Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade
Palestinian member of the PCFF, Ali Abu-Awwad met with more than 60 members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, Palestinian fighters most of whom are on Israel's most wanted list. He spoke about non-violent resistance and the work of the PCFF and gave them an alternative framework to function. After six hours these hardened fighters wanted to know more and there will be ongoing meetings. Many in the mean time gave up their arms and are looking for another way.
Messengers of Reconciliation
The Messengers of Reconciliation project with Sapir College in Sderot, Israel (bordering Gaza) and students from the West Bank is going from strength to strength. It is clear that this partnership with academia provides an arena for the sharing of knowledge and ideas and can promote a culture of understanding which can inculcate in these potential leaders a willingness to reconcile. After the initial workshop and several meetings, students have grown to trust and understand each other, they have established an ongoing relationship with a desire to expand their experience and include additional students. This project has been made possible with the support of World Vision, and wisdom of Dr. Meirav Moshe of Sapir College.
A screening of the film Encounter Point which features members of the PCFF was held at the Retno Hotel, Ramallah. Approximately 100 Palestinians attended and Khaled Abu Awwad, the PCFF's Palestinian Director, spoke to a rather difficult audience after the screening. Once again our message worked and people were moved by Khaled's words and understood how important it is to look for a non-violent solution.
Experts from the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy- Strauss Institute taught a three days workshop to PCFF members. Under their guidance we learned how to approach religious sectors, a new aspect of our work.
Our thanks to the ICRD, to Brian Cox and his compassionate team for showing us their way to reconciliation.
Dialouge to the Future
Eight Palestinian students from Ramallah and eight Israeli students from Leo Beck High School in Haifa, Israel joined 16 year old students from Austria and Hungary for a two week intensive workshop. They were accompanied by their teachers and two members of the PCFF. After the usual rocky start, wonderful firm friendships were formed and the Israeli and Palestinian students are keeping in constant touch.
Our grateful thanks to Dagmar Lassman, Austrian Diakonie and Dani Stein, Principal of Leo Beck School for their support.
Post war Seminar
All the members of the group felt a need to meet up after the war, to share their experiences, their pain and their anger, and so with the generous support of the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs and the Kahanoff Foundation more than 240 members both Israeli and Palestinian, and all of their children, were able to gather for a three day event at the Blue Bay Hotel in Netanya, Israel. There were many new members, some who had lost family members as a result of the recent war. These three days cemented the relationships of the group and gave us all courage to continue with the work.
A mother from Ashdod shared one of the saddest moments of the day when she told us how her daughter had watched the news on television and had cried when she saw a Palestinian mother fleeing from a bomb, that same night the daughter was killed by a Qassam rocket.
2009 was the year that the women's group opened up their work to the general public with "Neighbors- Bereaved Women creating reconciliation ", a two- day event held at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque in December. Many months of meetings and preparations went into this successful, unique event. Any meeting between the Palestinian and Israeli members of the group has an element of miracle. If we, who have paid the highest price in the conflict, can work together and create an atmosphere of understanding and love, then surely others could use this as an example. Hundreds of people took part in the intimate sharing sessions, some for the first time being exposed to a Palestinian narrative, or indeed to a Palestinian person. Discussions on the role of religion in reconciliation and many other topics were held with such sensitivity and dignity, that people felt free to share their innermost thoughts. This work acts as a catalyst to empower other women in the PCFF and gives them an opportunity to contribute and share their narratives. The wonderful handicraft made by the Palestinian and Israeli members of our group sold like hot cakes and one would hope that the people who bought them will share their feelings and experiences of the PCFF message. Jams, preserves and biscuits made according to "granny‟ recipes disappeared from the shelves. Fifty Palestinian women were hosted by Israeli families for the night; this in itself is another miracle and can only bring a deeper understanding of the other.
We cannot thank the Samuel Sebba Foundation, Aisha and Tzurit and all their PCFF team for “Neighbors”.
The Leonard Cohen Concert
This concert was one of the highlights of the year. Two hundred Palestinian and Israeli members of our group were invited by Leonard Cohen to the event held in Ramat-Gan, Israel. Leonard Cohen spoke several times about the work of the PCFF during the concert and of how moved he was when he learned about the organization and its work. More than 50,000 people in the audience heard this message. We were so proud to be sitting together and to know that this wonderful and generous man understood what we are trying to do and that he wanted to share with us some of the proceeds from the concert. He has established a fund to support a process of reconciliation in the region, headed by Itzhak Frankental, founder of the PCFF. We feel blessed to be one of the recipients of his grants in the future.
Here under a quote by Leonard Cohen from the concert:
"When I first heard of the work of the bereaved parents and that there was this coalition of Palestinian and Israeli families who had lost so much in the conflict and whose depth of suffering had compelled them to reach across the border into the houses of the enemy to locate those who had suffered as much as they had and then to stand with them to make witness to an under-standing which is beyond peace, that is beyond confrontation. This is not about forgiving and forgetting, this is not about laying down one's arms. This is not even about peace although God willing it could be a beginning. This is about a response to human grief, a radical unique and holy, holy response to human suffering. In the name of God, I bow my head in respect to the nobility of this enterprise… "Ring the Bells”
Cartooning in Conflict
The PCFF together with Israel's most famous cartoonist Michel Kichka as curator, and the Israel Cartoon Museum, created an exhibition of cartoons with a reflection on the conflict. This Exhibit serves as a catalyst to bring its message to an audience which might otherwise never have been exposed. Some of the world's most famous cartoonists, many of whom have won the "Pulitzer" and other prestigious awards have contributed their works to this exhibition which includes approximately 60 cartoons. Our calendar for 2010 portrayed these wonderful cartoons, as well as the Christian, Moslem, Jewish and Druze holidays. The Exhibit opened in Holon, at the Israel Cartoon Museum to a large crowd of Palestinians and Israelis. It also acted as a platform for groups from schools to come and discuss. We are so grateful to both Kichka and to the Museum for their support and love. The Exhibition has been shown in Spain, Rome, and New York. We discovered once again how important it is to use art as a media for bringing our message. The press coverage was remarkable and we are so grateful to Federico Zukierman in Spain, Nicoletta Gaida in Rome and to Mannon Sloame in New York.
This is the fourth year that the PCFF marks the International Peace Day.
This year, the event took place in Jerusalem, under the motto "Renewing the Hope". More than 500 Israelis, Palestinians and human rights activists from Italy and France participated. The event was sponsored by Frammartino Foundation the Italian Coordination of Local Authorities for Peace and Human Rights, the Italian network for NGOs - Middle East, the Italian Round Table Organization and regional councils from around Italy.
The event began with Dialogue Encounters, in which the hundreds of guests participated. The evening was moderated (trilingual) by actors of the TV series "Good Intentions", Orna Fitusi and Lutuf Nouasser. A service in memory of the victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was held, with a special thought for Angelo Frammartino and through their performance Mira Awwad, Ahinoam Nini and Gil Dor touched us all.
Medal of Reconciliation
The Reconciliation Medal, for meaningful and unique contribution to mutual understanding and reconciliation, was awarded to Issam Amin El Dibee and Arik Yellin. Issam founded the Popular Youth Committee in the OPT, the "Union for Development and Democracy in Palestinian Society", the Gazili Center for the Study of Islam as a Religion of Peace, and the Palestinian Youth Parliament. In the midst of one of the most difficult periods for the city of Sderot, Arik opened, together with a Palestinian from Gaza, an Internet blog, on which the two shared their experiences. At the same time, Arik initiated the Group "Other Voice", whose goal is to call for a non-violent solution to the conflict. The recipients were chosen by a committee headed by the playwright and writer Yehoshua Sobol and the priest of the Latin Congregation, Father Ibrahim Faltas.
There is no doubt that the PCFF has been well received all over the world. We continue to be invited to tell our stories and to contribute to conferences. We do not travel unless we are invited by a host as all the funds we have are used for our work on the ground. Some of the countries visited over the past year include:
Spain - To speak in the Parliament and to receive the 3 Cultures Prize and to launch the Cartooning in Conflict Exhibit.
England - To the Jewish Film Festival Screening of "Good Intentions" Documentary and two chapters of the fiction drama initiated by the Forum, as well as important lectures, and the Fund Raising Dinner
Japan- For a visit with of Palestinian and Israeli youth to meet Japanese Teenagers and have a cultural exchange.
Italy - For lectures and for The Ara-Pacis project, for the ACLI peace events in Bergamo and for the Asian Film Festival in Rome.
Brazil - Invited by the United Nations for the U.N. international media seminar on peace in the Middle East.
Korea - For the 3rd Seoul, International NGO Conference on History and Peace
Germany - For Lectures and important meetings with German public figures and media.
Austria - For SAVE Conference and Screening of Encounter Point, featuring members of our group.
U.S.A.- For "Yes We Can" Middle East Peace, in Washington. For Cartooning in Conflict Exhibition in New York and Boston for Lectures.
Many foreign groups also visit Israel/Palestine, and we were very pleased to address them as well.
The Three Cultures Foundation of the Mediterranean Sea gave its first award to celebrate its 10th Anniversary to the Parents Circle-Families Forum at a ceremony in Seville, Spain. Greetings were sent by the King of Morocco, Mohamed V1 and the King of Spain, Don Juan Carlos the First. The PCFF would like to give a special thanks to Mr. Andre Azoulay for his warm and encouraging words at the ceremony, and for his constant support.
The Arab House and the Sefarad-Israel House jointly forwarded the candidacy of the PCFF for the Prince of Asturias Concord Award. Regardless of the fact that the PCFF did no win in 2009 the importance of the joint action can not be exaggerated.
The PCFF was awarded the prestigious "Wolf of Gubbio " award for its contribution to reconciliation between nations at a special ceremony in Gubbio, Italy.
The Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem invites the PCFF to a Meeting With H.H. Pope Benedict XVI
In May of 2009, The Pope ad-dressed the audience gathered at the Pontifical Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem and mentioned specifically the presence of representatives of bereaved families among the groups gathered around the spiritual dialog.
Friends of Bereaved Families Dinner in London
We would like to thank our loyal and wonderful friends in London for creating an unforgettable evening with the talented chefs, the Israeli Yotam Ottolenghi and his Palestinian partner Sami Tamimi. The food was delicious and it was so heartwarming to see the hall filled with old and new friends. Members of the Forum, Ali Abu-Awwad and Robi Damelin, spoke to the guests and were so moved when they felt how much support there was for our message of reconciliation. One of the highlights of this trip was the visit to the Islamic Regents Park Mosque with a crowd of round 150 people. Many of the congregation expressed their desire to be in touch with the Forum. There has been a subsequent meeting in the Mosque with an audience of nearly 300 people. One of the most moving aspects of this particular meeting was the fact that members of the Jewish Orthodox Synagogue in South Hampstead also attended the evening at the Mosque after a meeting was held in their Synagogue in the morning.
We have had extensive coverage in the media both local and international. New York Times, Time Out, Al–Jazeera, CNN International, The Observer, The Times, London, Hamburger Abendblatt BBC, American Public Radio, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and German TV, and newspapers Maarive, Haaretz, Yedioth Ahronoth, and all the local T.V. stations. We have discussed the Prisoner exchange, the War In Gaza and have tried wherever we could to spread a message of reconciliation.
The PCFF would like to especially thank:
Chani Smith, and the British Board, for always supporting our work in England.
Federico Zukierman for never giving up on us and for creating the Forum's presence in Spain.
Hanna Lehming for her ceaseless effort to support and encourage the PCFF friends in Germany.
Margaret and Paul Harris for their generous support.
Vicky Franzinetti, from Italy, for her friendship and readiness to cooperate with the PCFF.
Dagmar Lassman, Austrian Diakonie, devoted friend of the PCFF.
Edith Schlaffer for opening doors in Austria and for keys to Mosques.
Anne Glauber for being the most constant friend in the United States.
Hella Rottenberg and Ellen Turksma from SIVMO, our very dedicated friends in the Netherlands.
To our special friends at Georgetown University for the extraordinary support of our work and especially to Prof. Craig Zelizer who never gives up.
We thank the following organizations for supporting major projects in the following two years:
The European Union for their support and grant for the project "A Crack in the Wall"
USAID, West Bank/Gaza Mission for Cross Boarder Application for their support and grant for "History Through the Human Eye" - The Israeli-Palestinian Narrative Project.
Swiss Government -"Working With Policymakers"
These innovative large scale and important projects will help us to spread our message of reconciliation on the ground in Israel and Palestine and to the World.
Our grateful thanks to: (Alphabetical Order):
Anna Lindh Foundation
Austrian Development Agency
Beate Oestreicher Foundation
Bread for the Hungry
Friends of Parents Circle UK
Kerk In Aktie/Icco
Mothers and Women for Peace (Israel)
Nordelbian Mission Center
Norwegian Church Aid
Rosenzweig Coopersmith Foundation
Samuel Sebba Foundation
Spanish Foreign Office
Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs
You can also become an important part of the Parents Circle by supporting our efforts to end the bloodshed, violence and cycle of hate. To ensure the continuation of our projects your generous support is needed. The Parents Circle – Families Forum is a U.S.A. registered 501c3 not-for-profit organization.
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