The Families Forum / Parents Circle is an organisation consisting of several hundreds of bereaved families, half Palestinian and half Israeli. The Families Forum has played a crucial role since its inception in 1995, in spearheading a reconciliation process between Israelis and Palestinians. The Forum members have all lost immediate family members due to the violence in the region. They campaign - very effectively - for peace and reconciliation and to promote the cessation of acts of hostility and the achievement of a political agreement
In 2006, two members of this organisation (Robi Damelin and Abu Ali Awwad) undertook a speaking tour of the UK, including two talks in Nottingham. BFTF was lucky enough to attend, record (and later transcribe) one of these events.
This is the second of four related posts. The others can be accessed via the links below:
Families Forum : Part 1 - An Israeli Story (2006)
Families Forum : Part 3 - The Project (2006)
Families Forum : Part 4 - Q&A (2006)
If you only read two posts on this blog, please make it Parts 1 and 2 of this series.
More Information on the Families Forum - Parents Circle can be found here:
UK Friends of the Bereaved Families Forum
Main Families Forum - Parents Circle Website
A Palestinian story
Good evening. I would like to thank you for coming here because I think we are all involved in this conflict and this conflict has touched everybody, not just Israel and Palestine, but the whole world around.
My name is Ali Abu Awwad and I am from near Hebron. I came from a refugee family. I grew up in a very political house. My mother used to be very active in Fatah and she has been arrested four times. She was in prison for five years.
During the first intifada and I grew up and opened my eyes. I was 16 so I joined the intifada. It was my reaction against the Israeli occupation. I threw tonnes of stones and have done many things and have been in a prison for four years. My brother also and my other brother. Actually we have been very active.
After the Oslo agreement came we supposed that this agreement will give us peace and that it will also bring security for Israel but the Palestinian independent state has not been established through the agreement. Also the Israeli security was not perfect, so this agreement fell down and it took with it the whole hope of the people.
So people get to be involved and the second intifada was more violent, more hatred, more anger and today we have reached a number of five thousand families who are bereaved from both sides. Most of them are children and women.
One of them was my brother. He was killed by an Israeli soldier and he left a son and daughter. He was 31 years old. We were very close to each other. He used to take care of us. While we were in prison he left his school and he tried to help my father but even with the prison, even with being under occupation, it's different to losing somebody. So when I lost Yusuf, I lost the place of hope in myself. I came to be full of anger and hatred. I was angry with myself. I was angry with the Israelis, with the Jews, with the Arabs, with the peace - because all of those couldn't save Yusuf, including me. Yusuf was killed in an inhuman way. He was shot 70cm away from his head. I was in Saudi Arabia at the time because I had been shot by an Israeli settler in my knee. I still have 12 pieces in my leg reminding me of that, carrying them wherever I am going.
I couldn't imagine being allowed to go back to the same place where they kidnapped my brother, and for what? To cross the checkpoints again? To see the settlers again? Or to join Hamas or Fatah?
What to do?
I came back after 3 months and I realised, after 1 year, why I couldn't kill somebody. Today I know that very well - costing somebody else the same pain that I have is not easing my pain. Killing 1 or 2 or 10 Israelis is not leading my people to independence.
The other thing is that anything that I do will not lead to a psychological solution for myself, so I closed myself until I met the Israeli families and when I saw the religious Israeli father whose son had been kidnapped and killed by Hamas, I realised that if this man can, with all the price that he has paid, understand the rights of the Palestinian and if he can deal with this heavy pain of losing a son then everybody can.
Buy it depends, what is the way that we should follow, as Palestinians, to allow the Israelis to understand like this man, and what should the Israelis should do to understand our case.
So I found myself in this organisation, the Bereaved Families Forum, and day-by-day I became more understanding and open. I realised what is on the back of the soldier, what he is carrying when he comes to be an occupier. I think that before he becomes and occupying soldier he is carrying all the history of his people. He is carrying a fear, the holocaust and everything.
On the other hand, what is making somebody blow himself up in a bus, a restaurant? How can someone not care about his life or that of others? Is he a human or not. I think he is a human, but his guy has reached a point where, for him, life and death are the same. He doesn't care about his life - how can he care about others?
On the other hand, for all the things that we are talking about - to stop the suicide bomber or to remove the soldier from the checkpoint - we need to convince the soldier that occupying the Palestinians is not getting the Israelis security or to convince the suicide bomber that blowing yourself up is not leading to independence.
How to do this?
I think that all the people there, most of them, they want peace but the problem is that part of those people is smiling when there is a suicide bomber or giving an excuse for the occupying soldier.
Both behaviours are illegal, so why are we doing this?
I realised that is because we cannot deal with the pain because we don't know where to put the anger. The easiest way is to throw it to the other side. And the problem is that everybody is right. This side is right and that side is right.
So where is the wrong?
I think that because of this argument between the two sides who are right, the truth disappears.
I think that before forgiveness, being in a reconciliation process is so complicated because the life of both sides is not the same. It doesn't matter who is suffering more because pain is pain, tears do not have different colours, blood is the same colour. So losing somebody is the same from here or from there.
But because we do not know how to connect to this identity, we don't know how to be involved in our nationality, we are giving our behaviours the right to do whatever they want to do to each other, to do the most terrible things to each other.
But in the end, the end of life, nobody is taking Israel with him and nobody is taking Palestine with him. We are going the same way we were born, we aren't even taking our clothes with us.
So why. Life has more worth than death.
But to convince the people of that, people have to live and we will never live so long as we are not allowed to understand each other. It is not that the army will be able to stop the suicide bomber or the violence. It is not that the violence will lead to an independent state.
It is a decision for both sides. It is both sides understanding of the narrratives of each other, of the pain of each other.
If people are not even allowed to say hello for peace, peace will never happen. Even to sit together. I mean you can be angry, you can argue, you can fight, through your mouth - it's legal, because nobody dies in this war.
But being silent is costing us death. So why, why are we not allowed? Sometimes we are ashamed to even be in a peace movement in front of our people. It seems like we are performing a crime, like the peace movement became a crime - because we cannot deal with this hatred and anger.
And I think this is the time to finish and this is the time to have our responsibility because at the end, nobody will disappear. We have more than 12 million people there. I don't care which kind of political solution there is. If it is one state then there has to be a condition - you cannot decide for the other side and ask him to be convinced. The solution needs to come from both nations. If the Palestinians and Israelis agree to leave the area, that is okay!
Thank you very much.