I have recently returned from Israel/Palestine, where I participated in the last session of the Narrative Project run by the PCFF. 16 Palestinian and 16 Israeli grandmothers took part. The grandmothers’ group was created in recognition that they are the carriers of their families’ histories over a number of generations and have a unique position of influence within their families.
The grannies spent four days together learning about each other’s personal histories through telling their stories; they had discussions with Palestinian and Israeli historians about the two parallel collective narratives, each with its own perspective. They visited together "Yad Va-shem", the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem and a Palestinian village abandoned in 1948 – Ein Karem – where the family of one of the Palestinian participants came from and this was the first time she was able to visit the place. For many in the group this was the first encounter with the pain and traumas of the other side of the conflict.
Ein Karem - Aziz Abu Sarah and the grannies
After learning about the history of Ein Karem, we travelled to Beit Jala, where we exchanged photographs of our grandchildren and painted together, in small mixed groups, a home for them, expressing the joint aspirations for a safe and peaceful place where creativity and the love of life can be nurtured. Nasra trusted into my hands a photo of Hamad, her grandson. I will be thinking about him and his life as I look into his brown eyes. There was much laughing and singing, as well as shared tears. At the closing event, all the participants talked about the strong bonds and friendships forged in such a short time, and the new understanding of and empathy for the other side. The two groups of women, who, for security reasons, are barred from meeting without special permits, were moved by each other. They want to keep meeting.
The Forum is now leading this project, which started some years ago with the Forum’s own bereaved members, with other organisations that bring together Palestinians and Israelis, such as the Arava Institute and One Voice. This is just one of the many projects currently running, in addition to their ‘bread and butter’ series of workshops in schools (over 1,000 a year, addressing about 30,000 Israeli and Palestinian youngsters).
Chani Smith, January 10th, 2011
Photography by Bella Rubin