By Rami Elhanan and Mazen Faraj, who both lost loved ones in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Every evening for the past month, Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones in the Middle East’s most intractable conflict have held a peace vigil in Tel Aviv.
Members of the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum, they have all lost close family members but decided to engage in a process of reconciliation. In doing so, they’ve become their own big family, and now invite members of the public to listen and share their views under the banner: ‘It Will not Stop Until We Talk.’
Here, two members on different sides of the conflict share their stories.
I am a graphic designer, and a seventh generation Jerusalemite. Sixteen years ago my life was shattered. My 14 year old daughter Smadar was walking in Ben Yehudah Street in Jerusalem with her friends to buy books for the new school year. There they met their death, killed by two Palestinian suicide bombers blinded by anger and despair.
After the shivah, you are left by yourself, and you have to gather your strength and decide what’s next. Where do you go from here and where do you direct your new and excruciating pain?
There are only two options to choose from: the obvious one, the automatic and immediate urge for revenge. It is only human. However, we are not animals, and after the first madness of anger passes you ask yourself: if I kill someone in revenge, will that bring my baby back to me? And if I cause someone pain, will that ease my own pain? And the answer is absolutely “no”. So what can I, personally, do to prevent this intolerable suffering for others.
On my journey, I met Palestinians who are looking for reconciliation and an end to the conflict. I regard the Palestinian members of the Forum as my brothers, my brothers in pain. Beyond my being a Jew, a Zionist, a human being, today I see the dividing line as between those who want peace and are willing to pay the price for it, and all the rest. They can be Jews, Arabs, right-wingers, left-wingers – whoever.
I don’t know what the solution will be. But I know this: we must understand that Israelis will not have security while the Palestinians are not free, and there will be no freedom for Palestinians while Israelis are not secure.
Our blood is the same colour, our suffering is identical, and all of us shed exactly the same bitter tears. We must be prepared to listen to “the other”. Because if we do not know how to listen to the other’s story we won’t be able to understand the source of his/her pain, and how could we expect the other to understand our own pain?
I live in Deheysha refugee camp. My father Ali was killed in 2002 when he went out to buy food for the family. The situation at the time was extremely violent everywhere. On the way home, he was killed by an Israeli soldier.
It is hard to know what to say or do at this time. There is so much to do, and now, especially now, is the time! We must all take part, each one of us. Instead of piling more anger on top of past anger, we should start something new. Whoever you are, when you watch the news, think about the other side, what happened to people on the other side. How are they coping? But we have to take responsibility.
Coming from a place of pain and bereavement, whether we are Israeli or Palestinian, we made a very difficult decision, which is to transform hatred and revenge, use the power of our feelings and our pain, and respect ourselves and our partners across the divide.
We want to say loudly and clearly that we are against killing or violence towards any human being in this world. We deeply want to see a process of reconciliation between our two nations. Both nations must be part of the peace process, of the solution, of the future.
It is not easy for a Palestinian to come to Tel Aviv and speak, but we want to raise our voice as Palestinians and say that there is a partner for peace and reconciliation on the Palestinian side. There are people with whom you can talk and work, and more than that, plan together for the future of all our children. Together we can listen to each other’s pain, narrative and fear, and together we can overcome these stumbling blocks. If we, who have lost our loved ones, can talk and work together for peace, surely everyone else can.
For further information see: www.familiesforum.co.uk