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“The Parents’ Circle”, Israeli and Palestinian families beyond bereavement

Arab and Yigal are respectively Palestinian and Israeli. They belong to two peoples that have been battling each other for decades. They both lost a sister, Abir and Smadar; both were killed by “the enemy.” They don’t hate each other as one might expect: is not revenge that they seek but reconciliation. They want the bloodshed to stop. All they want is peace. Together they support the “Parents Circle-Families Forum” that brings together over 600 Israeli and Palestinian families, all of whom have lost a close family member as a result of the prolonged conflict and have decided to promote dialogue and reconciliation between the two peoples. They shared their personal stories

Il palestinese Arab e l'israeliano Ygal

(from Jerusalem) Arab and Yigal are respectively Palestinian and Israeli. They belong to two peoples that have been battling each other for decades. They both lost a sister, Abir and Smadar; both were killed by “the enemy.” They don’t hate each other as one might expect: is not revenge that they seek but reconciliation. They want the bloodshed to stop. All they want is peace. Together they support the “Parents Circle-Families Forum” (www.theparentscircle.com), created in 1995. It brings together over 600 Palestinian and Israeli families of different faiths, all of whom have lost a close family member as a result of the prolonged conflict and have decided to promote dialogue and reconciliation between the two peoples. The days of mourning surrounded by the love of family and friends, pass quickly. After then they are left alone to decide what to do wit their bereavement, whether to transform it into revenge and hatred or use it as a tool for reconcilation. Arab and Ygal decided to transform their mourning into an instrument of peace and share the suffering of those “on the opposite side.”

“Our suffering is our strength”

the two said before an audience of approximately twenty bishops from USA, EU, Canada and South Africa, members of the Holy Land Coordination that past January convened in Jerusalem for the traditional solidarity visit. Arab and Ygal met them and shared their personal stories.

Arab Aramin is young. He comes from Jerusalem. As often happens when he speaks about his story in schools, associations, assemblies and other events promoted by the Forum, he remembers when, on January 17 2007, “my sister Abir was killed by an Israeli soldier in front of her school, in Anata, East Jerusalem. She was only 10. She was killed for no reason. Or maybe just for one reason: she was Palestinian.”

Arab stops speaking for a moment. Those memories are painful but it’s important to move on, “to look beyond.” He mentions a “thirst for revenge” unquenched by stone –throwing against “soldiers patrolling the checkpoint outside my house.” The feelings of hatred extend much further. He remembers his father, a peace activist who “sought to stop me from responding with violence.”

His words are as heavy as stones: “Revenge brings revenge, bloodshed brings more bloodshed and I am not willing to lose another son. Those words – Arab recalls – touched my heart. I thus decided that my family would no longer suffer for this conflict.

I was reconciled with myself. Today, 11 years later, I believe that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is possible if we seek hope on both sides. In the certainty that if Palestinians have no freedom Israel will never be safe.”

Yigal Elhanan, is seated next to Arab. He listens in silence. The story of the death of Abir is similar to that of his sister Smadar, exactly 10 years earlier, in September 1997. The same tragic story on the other side of the barricade. “My sister Smadar was killed in a suicide-bombing attack while she was buying schoolbooks with her friends, Yael Botwin, Sivan Zarka and Daniel Birman. Two years of suffering and pain in the awareness that nothing would bring Smadar back.” Then the family decided to become active members of the “Parents Circle Families Forum” to “promote reconciliation and eradicate the culture of prejudice and mistrust harboured throughout both the Palestinian and Israeli societies.

Our organization testifies to the fact that if we, who lost our dear ones, can work together, then anyone can. Even our political leaders. There are no limitations.

Arab and Ygal look at each other. They are aware that “the reconciliation process is not under way. It’s impossible until one side occupies the other. Mutual respect constitutes the grounds for reconciliation – underlines the young Israeli -. Revenge can never be a solution. We must not extend our gaze elsewhere – is their joint appeal –we must not turn a blind eye to suffering. It’s a wake-up call for peace and it is necessary

To act quickly to prevent other people from suffering like us.”

Arab and Ygal have a long, difficult path ahead of them, where suffering unfolds in a ‘wise’ manner because it teaches dialogue and peace. The conflict that was previously ‘unmanageable’ can slowly be ‘managed’ by all the families of the Parents’ Circle that don’t intend to resign themselves to violence and war. The question is not to establish who suffered or is suffering the most, “it’s not a competition.”

“There is suffering on both sides.”

It’s a question of making peace at all costs. It’s the best way to honour the memory of those whose lives were taken by the conflict.

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