By Orit Ramot
Peace-Building, how does one create real and sustainable peace?
In my opinion, the process of peace must start from the bottom, rather than being parachuted down from above by the leaders on each side. The correct peace process includes having cycles of dialogue in order to create internal discourse within the societies participating in the conflict and, simultaneously or afterwards, cycles of cross dialogue between the members of the two societies who take part in the conflict.
The Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF), which unites bereaved family members from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, holds these types of public gatherings. Every gathering is guided by a bereaved Palestinian and a bereaved Israeli. The main goals are to show that the pain on both sides is the same pain, the losses are the same losses, the blood is the same blood, to raise discourse about how to stop the cycle of bloodshed, and prevent others from joining the bereavement group.
It’s extremely hard to execute these kinds of gatherings in both the Israeli and Palestinian societies, but, since I am Israeli, I will observe the Israeli society.
In Israel there is an unusual objection to these gatherings. Especially in the past two years, a lot of these events have been canceled due to pressure from politicians and others alike.
The main reason for objecting these gatherings is that many Israelis believe there is no room to sympathize with the other side, with the enemy. These objectors believe that those who claim that the pain for a dead Israeli soldier or civilian is the same pain for a dead Palestinian terrorist are traitors and forbidden to be heard. Moreover, there is no reason to sit with the family of a terrorist in order to hear them and sympathize with their pain.
A lot of the Palestinian families who took part in the Forum lost their loved ones not due to executing a terrorist attack, but in everyday situations which occur during the conflict and occupation. It is difficult for us Israelis to visualize these common events. Nonetheless, I believe that even in cases when certain families of terrorists decide to sit with Israelis, to listen and have a dialogue with them, it’s meaningful, beneficial, and there should be room for this.
I think this is true for both sides, whether it is a Palestinian terrorist’s family or an Israeli terrorist’s family.
I believe we shouldn’t judge the family of a terrorist by the terrorist’s actions, but by the families own actions. If a family member of a terrorist chooses a path of dialogue and discussion, we need, as a society, to encourage that because this is the only way to find peace. To boycott this family member and to shut him out will not get us anywhere; it holds us in a place of mutual hate and on a road to more losses and pain.
I know I present a position which is difficult to digest. The Israeli society is full of pain and has been suffering for so many years, years filled with wars and terror attacks, filled with fear and losses. It’s incredibly hard to start seeing the people on the other side, who you are used to seeing as monsters, as humans with hopes, dreams, and aspirations just like yours. Suddenly, the belief in the righteousness of the way is shaken, and you start asking yourself the jarring questions you haven’t asked before. I know this is what happened to me when I first heard the story of a Palestinian member in the PCFF. This man’s 10-year-old daughter died when shot in her back by an Israeli soldier while she was walking home with her friends.
I think my message undermines the beliefs and narratives you were taught growing up. There is a greater truth to this conflict, and I believe the only way to change the perception of each side is to get each side to empathize and sympathize with the other.
I don’t have a complete answer to the questions of how to create a real and sustainable peace, but I think I know how we should start. We should listen to both sides, especially to those who have lost the most precious thing of all, their loved ones.