WASHINGTON—The two-state solution is considered by most experts to be the best hope for peace and stability in Israel. It would end the Israeli occupation, which many Israelis have never been comfortable with, and it would enable the Palestinians to get on with building a new state.
However, for successful peace talks at the highest levels, the groundwork needs to be laid in the lower ranks. Ordinary Israelis and Arabs cannot regard each other as enemies if real peace is to be achieved.
That is the concept behind the Parents Circle-Families Forum (PCFF), which is committed to reconciliation. PCFF consists of more than 600 families, all of whom have lost a close family member—a son, daughter, father, mother, spouse, brother, or sister—as a result of the conflict.
PCFF’s website says, “The process of reconciliation between nations is a prerequisite to achieving a sustainable peace.”
‘The Two-Sided Story’ Documentary
On Feb. 7, The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) hosted a special showing of the documentary, Two Sided Story, which follows a group of 27 bereaved Israelis and Palestinians who participated in the Narratives project.
The Israeli–Palestinian Narratives project is one of many projects headed by the PCFF. It brings together people of the most diverse backgrounds, such as Orthodox Jews and religious Muslims, whereas other projects bring together people with similar occupations or interests, such as artists or educators.
Emmy award-winning director Tor Ben Mayor follows a highly diverse group of Israelis and Palestinians, including Orthodox Jews, religious Muslims, settlers, ex-soldiers and ex-security prisoners, nonviolent activists, and more. The film was funded in part by USIP and USAID, although the contents are the sole responsibility of PCFF.
The film shows that the participants held strong opinions and feelings about the injustice of their losses—and about who was responsible for those losses.
“I came not to change my mind about anything. Because some things never change. I know what I believe,” said a participant with a view that was typical of many shown in the film.
But change, even for the most hardened, proved possible.
After the film was shown, Robi Damelin, an Israeli, and Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian, answered audience questions.
Palestinian and Israeli Mothers Share Sorrows
Damelin immigrated to Israel in 1967 and lost her son David in 2002 to a Palestinian sniper’s bullet. She made the decision to use her personal pain toward reconciliation. She promotes the message of reconciliation, of the PCFF, to whomever will listen. She devotes much of her time inviting new members to join the Parents Circle.
Damelin told the story of a Palestinian woman who had lost her son, and who came to the meeting “ready to scream.” Damelin asked about her loss and then shared with the lady a photo of her own son, David. That calmed the distraught mother.
“Now she’s changed. Now she’s given up being a victim,” Damelin said. She’s also very active in the group.
There’s no difference in the pain of my loss with the Palestinian mother’s loss of her son, Damelin said.
A Palestinian’s Story of Nonviolent Action
Aramin’s story is one of progress from the use of violence to the practice of nonviolence as the only way toward peace.
As a youth, he became involved in the Palestinian struggle. At age 12, he was at a demonstration where a boy was shot by a soldier. He watched the boy die in front of him. At that moment, Aramin developed a deep need for revenge. At age 17, he was caught planning an attack on Israeli soldiers, and spent seven years in prison.
While in prison, he spoke often with an Israeli prison guard and a friendship between the two evolved.
The guard began to treat the prisoners with more respect. Seeing that this transformation happened through dialogue without force, Aramin realized the only way to peace is through nonviolence. In 2005, he co-founded an organization of former Israeli and Palestinian combatants, leading a nonviolent struggle against the occupation.
In 2007, his 10-year-old daughter Abir was shot by an Israeli soldier while standing outside her school.
Although one Israeli soldier took the life of his daughter, 100 former Israeli soldiers built a garden in Abir’s name at the school where she died.
Aramin did not go down the path of hatred and vengeance. Instead, he became an active member of the Parents Circle. He said that, although one Israeli soldier took the life of his daughter, 100 former Israeli soldiers built a garden in Abir’s name at the school where she died.
The film captured the powerful dialogue between the opposing positions.
One rather frustrated Palestinian woman grew weary of the Palestinian terrorism charge. She said, “Being called a soldier is a license to shoot innocent people. … That’s what I am asking about. Why can’t I call him a terrorist?”
An Israeli woman gave another viewpoint: “An 18-year-old doesn’t wake up and decide he wants to carry a gun. Soldiers don’t like standing at checkpoints and hitting Arabs. You’re looking at it the wrong way.”
The Parents Circle does not take a political stance, but its members would favor a peace agreement and two-state solution.
Damelin said, “I want to live in a country that has a moral fiber, and I think the occupation is killing the moral fiber of Israel.”
Measuring Impact of Project
The Narratives project surveyed its participants to measure its effectiveness. Its research report states that 314 Palestinians and Israelis participated and were exposed to each others’ narratives between October 2010 and June 2012. The survey stated that for two-thirds of the participants “participation in the program increased their levels of knowledge and acknowledgment of the other narrative.”
More than three-quarters (77 percent) reported an “intensified belief in the possibility of reconciliation.”
The idea is that if these members of bereaved families can sit together and work toward peace, others can too. So, part of the project’s agenda is to educate the general public and leaders, to show them, according to the project website, that “reconciliation is possible and essential to stop the bloodshed and bereavement.”