Having lost loved ones in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Robi, an Israeli grandmother and Ali, a Palestinian relate how their unlikely friendship blossomed.
Although Ali and I have long been part of the Bereaved Families Forum (PCFF), an organisation which aims to create an on-the-ground framework for the establishment of peace in Palestine/Israel, our paths did not substantially cross until we partnered together for a Vatican Radio show a few years ago. It was the first time I heard his story and he mine, and by the end of it we were both awash with emotion. Our mutually understandable grief united us and sparked the beginning of an intimate partnership and friendship. Since then, we have travelled together across the globe, speaking at synagogues, mosques, parliaments and universities. What is immensely powerful is that Ali and I speak in a unified voice; I trust Ali completely and am comfortable letting him speak on my behalf. Whilst we will have a small impact separately, together we are more effective.
Ali and I have both experienced the violent loss of close family members. I lost my son David in 2002; he was shot, along with nine others in the Occupied Territories, where he was stationed.
It’s really difficult for me to say, but I know David was not killed for being David; he was killed because he was seen as a symbol of the enemy. While revenge is a very natural instinct for most humans, I did not want to let it consume me. I recall instructing the officer who informed me of David’s death not to kill any Palestinian in the name of my son. I did not want my son’s death to cause a perpetuation of the violence.
My friendship with Ali is based on this common perspective; we both feel sorrow when we suffer loss, but are looking to more constructive ways of resolving the conflict. Neither Ali nor any other innocent Palestinian killed my son, and I don’t want to be blinded from this crucial reality.
Ali is like my own son. When David died, there was one particular dinner jacket I could not bear to dispose of. Every time I saw it, it reminded me of how handsome David had looked when he had worn it. In the end, I decided to give it to Ali, and when I did I immediately knew it was the right thing to do.
When Robi and I first met at an annual conference of the PCFF, it was simply an encounter between an Israeli and a Palestinian. It was only after the Vatican Radio show that we connected as two humans, both suffering the loss of a loved one. Having understood each other’s deep-felt pain, we went on to make a documentary called Encounter Point which won numerous awards and received significant press coverage. Over time, our joint-desire for peaceful reconciliation and numerous ventures led to the blossoming of a strong friendship.
I come from a very political Palestinian family. Before joining the PCFF, I was part of the Palestinian resistance movement for many years. I joined during the first Intifada and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, but was released earlier than expected under the Oslo Peace Agreement. My mother was a leader of the PLO and imprisoned for five years because of her activities.
Of all my siblings, I was the most politically active, yet it was my brother Youssef who was killed at the hands of an Israeli soldier. He died brutally: he was shot in the head from a mere 70 cm distance.
His death left his wife widowed and his two children orphaned.
I still believe that as Palestinians we have a right to resist Israeli aggression, but I want to engage with the process that is most likely to secure freedom for the Palestinian people. And that is why I joined the PCFF. I can only describe what I feel for Robi as love. She knows me better than anyone else; she knows my likes and dislikes, when I’m angry or upset, and all my faults. Both my parents recently passed away, and so Robi has been like a parent to me. It is often difficult for us to meet; she lives in Israel and I in Palestine. There is a wall, checkpoints and Israeli soldiers that divide us. But our friendship is so established that no matter how many barriers we encounter, we will always find a way of keeping our friendship alive.