Earlier this month (November 2010), I went to the House of Lords to support the UK Friends of the PCFF. Its patrons include the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Imam Usama Hasan. The PCFF has been awarded the prestigious Gandhi International Peace Award, which was presented by Lord Parekh to Robi Damelin, an Israeli, and to Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian.
Lord Parekh said that the PCFF exemplified the highest Gandhian ideals – that of dialogue as a way of understanding the adversary’s point of view, and of looking for common ground on which to base a solution. Above all the PCFF looks for ways of peace and reconciliation rather than violence and revenge. Real peace is more than a political cease-fire, although that would be welcome. Real peace depends on seeing each other’s humanity rather than demonising the other.
The PCFF is composed of 500 Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families (with a slight majority of Palestinian families) who have joined together to spread a message of tolerance, dialogue and non-violence. This organisation is active in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories, promoting peace and reconciliation. Members of this group support bereaved families on both sides, are involved in education, and create opportunities for dialogue between the two communities. They share their moving stories.
Robi Damelin remembers the moment she first heard that her son, David, had been shot by a Palestinian sniper who had no idea what a lovely young man he had killed. David was 28 years old, an Israeli army reserve officer and also a peace activist. He was studying for a master’s degree in the Philosophy of Education at Tel Aviv University. He strongly believed that through education, he could make a difference in Israel.
Robi said: “So what do you do with this pain? Do you take it and look for revenge and keep the whole cycle of violence going, or do you choose another path to prevent further death and further pain to other parents.”
Ali Abu Awwad had been shot in the leg by a settler, and his brother Yusef had been killed by an Israeli soldier. Ali spent four years in Israeli prisons for actions in the Intifada such as demonstrating, throwing stones and belonging to a banned political party. He missed out on going to university, but received an education in classes organised by fellow prisoners. He read widely and reflected, and then came to a new thinking. Ali joined the PCFF to work with Palestinians and Israelis who advocate non-violence and reconciliation.
In his own community Ali is often faced by questions such as, “How can you do this after all you've been through? You have the right to hate."
He answers, “We do not have to love the Israelis to make peace with them, but we have to make peace with them. And hate does not help or heal”.
Robi and Ali stress the value of dialogue and believe in building bridges rather than in building walls or organising boycotts. They believe that a great majority on both sides want peace and believe it will come. Ali said, “To build a bridge, you don't need millions of people. You just need enough people to build a bridge, then a million can pass across".
In the last couple of weeks, Ali and Robi have visited mosques and synagogues, and then made a university campus tour in order to promote dialogue and understanding. They visited Sussex, Birmingham and Manchester. In one troubled university, their presentation brought together for the first time members of the Palestinian and the Jewish Society.
I believe that dialogue is a religious duty. We have been given the vision of a time when nation shall not war against nation, and the wolf shall lie down peacefully with the lamb, and this means we have to work towards peace and understanding even with those who are our enemies. I am no pacifist and I know that we have a right to self-defence, but I also know that violence will only end when we learn to live together in mutual respect.
Rabbi Daniel Smith