By RUTH EGLASH
It might seem like an anomaly when set against the backdrop of currently stalled peace talks and rising tension in the region, but on Tuesday evening a small group of Israelis and Palestinians, all families who have lost loved ones in this conflict, met in Beit Jala near Jerusalem to mark the International Day of Peace 2010.
“Our forum has been active for 15 years and we have gone through much harder periods than this,” Aaron Barnea, head of International Relations for the non-profit organization Parents Circle-Family Forum, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday ahead of the annual event. “We’ve met during wars and during the Intifada; nothing has made us stop our work even for a minute.”
He added, “We have one basic belief, and that is appeasement between both nations – all of us must stand together and not let the extremists win.”
“If we give up because of what is happening today it means that we will all just end up staying home and forgetting about what is happening. We will forget that we have to create a brighter future for our children and give them better opportunities in life,” added Mazen Faraj, who joined the organization five years ago and today serves as its Project Manager and an educator in the Palestinian community. “I don’t want my children to go through what I have gone through.”
Both Faraj and Barnea have lost close relatives in this conflict; Barnea lost his son, Noam, who was killed five days before his release from the army during Israel’s pullout from Lebanon. The book Beaufort by Ron Leshem is based on Noam’s story.
Faraj’s father was shot dead in the streets of Bethlehem by Israeli forces in 2002.
“After a big tragedy happens to any human being, there is always a reaction and you have to do something to soothe yourself,” said Faraj, explaining why more than 600 bereaved families, half Israeli and half Palestinian, have chosen to become members of the Parents Circle-Family Forum.
“I believe in our case for Palestine, but it is not just about seeking revenge or killing or violence – living under occupation is against international law and this is how we chose to fight it,” continued Faraj. “We want to create a new process and teach people how to talk with the other side, with the enemy. On the Palestinian side, most people only meet Israelis through the checkpoints or the media; they do not see them as human beings. It’s the same on the other side, but the minute we sit together and talk about the human side of the conflict it all changes.”
While International Day of Peace was commemorated worldwide on September 21, the Parents Circle-Family Forum decided to hold its event a few weeks later due to the recent Jewish and Muslim holidays.
Marking it for the fifth year in a row, the organization used the event to honor two journalists, Israeli Shlomi Eldar and Palestinian Nasser Lahem, for their work in presenting facts and not deepening the conflict on either side, said Barnea.
Referring to the stalled peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, Faraj said, “We are against what is going on right now, and we are saying in a loud and clear voice to leaders on both sides to stop making preconditions to the negotiations and to have open dialog.”
Barnea added, “A historical chance is being wasted right now because of small reasons like building in the settlements. I think it’s completely absurd that Israel is throwing away the chance for peace because of this.”
The Parents Circle-Family Forum has been awarded three international peace prizes in recent months, including The Ganhi Foundation International Peace Award, to be given out on November 3 in London; The International Society of Human Rights (Swiss Section) 2010 Human Rights Award and the Seventh International Festival of Social Cinema (Toledo) Solidarity prize.