Tel Aviv - The recent violence in Israel and Gaza is threatening to spiral into yet another cycle of reprisals and counter-reprisals in this long and intractable conflict. This ceaseless reality of violence, which has engulfed Israelis and Palestinians for decades, has already caused terrible damage severely affecting the social and cultural fabric of both societies and substantially degrading the relationships between them.
I lost my beloved son David in this bloody conflict. He was pursuing a Master's degree in the Philosophy of Education. He was part of the peace movement and did not want to serve in the Occupied Territories when he was called in for reserve duty.
For me, dialoguing with students in schools about reconciliation has become the most meaningful way of commemorating his name.
I belong to a unique grassroots organisation called the Parents Circle - Families Forum (PCFF), comprised of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost immediate family members to the conflict. We come from all walks of life, with one thing in common: we share the same pain, and recognise that if we – Palestinians and Israelis who have paid the ultimate price – can understand the need for a non-violent solution to this conflict, then surely this belief can serve as an example for others.
Our long-term goal is to create a framework for a reconciliation process that would be incorporated into any future political peace agreement. Our power stems from the collaborative work of our members – now more than 600 families – half of which are Palestinian and the other half Israelis.
Our most important ongoing work on the ground is conducting dialogue meetings in schools. They allow us to reach more than 25,000 students every year. We speak to 16- and 17-year-old Palestinian and Israeli students who, for the most part, have not met anyone from the "other side". Coming into a classroom of Jewish-Israeli students with a Palestinian partner who tells his or her personal story and journey to reconciliation opens their eyes to the humanity and narrative of the other side.
For Jewish Israeli students, this may be the first opportunity to hear what the daily life of a Palestinian living under occupation is all about. For the Palestinians this may also be their first encounter with an Israeli not in an army uniform or who is not a settler.
Anyone attending a meeting with members of the Parents Circle cannot be immune to the deep sense of trust between us. They listen to Nasra from Nablus who lost two sons, together with Roni from Tel Aviv, who has also lost two sons in the conflict. Together they stand in front of hundreds, sharing their determination to prevent others from experiencing this loss. This joint, heartfelt plea must be an example to all.
One of the most important elements we feel is missing in the Arab-Israeli discourse is real human stories. For this reason we have recently introduced a programme that uses personal narratives to build trust, empathy and mutual understanding between Palestinians and Israelis, through a parallel narrative experience. The programme offers an opportunity for hundreds of Palestinians and Israelis to tell their stories, sharing the most difficult consequences of the conflict.
Our latest efforts focus on social media as a means to cross the forbidden border and create conversation between people on both sides of the conflict. Called "A crack in the wall”, this initiative allows Israelis and Palestinians to engage, tell their stories and get to know one another directly. One Palestinian speaks and 100,000 Israelis will listen; one Israeli speaks and 100,000 Palestinians will listen.
Our personal experiences have led us to a strong belief that any peace agreement achieved between the Israelis and Palestinians cannot be sustained without a substantial reconciliation process between the two peoples.
We have all watched politicians signing peace agreements on the lawn of the White House, but this has led only to a ceasefire. We understand that we must create the possibility for people to understand the needs of the “other”. We have studied many other countries and realised that without a people-to-people peace process and a framework for reconciliation that will suit the cultural needs of the two peoples, this conflict will go on forever.
In this period of uncertainty and change, we cannot afford to give up hope and wait for new leaders. We who best understand the consequences of violence will continue to work for the human dignity and freedom for all.
* Robi Damelin is a member of the Parents Circle - Families Forum, Bereaved Palestinian and Israeli Families for Reconciliation. This article is part of a series on the consequences of terrorism written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 29 March 2011, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.