Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Families Forum : Part 3 - The Project (2006)

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 third of four related posts. The others can be accessed via the links below:
Families Forum : Part 1 - An Israeli Story (2006)
Families Forum : Part 2 - A Palestinian Story (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

Robi Damelin:
So, there has to be something practical to this as well. I'm going to tell you a little about the work of the Parents Circle so that you get the idea that we are not such a huge group but we make a big noise.

One of the big dreams that we had was to get to a wider audience of peopel who wouldn't give a damn actually about what happens to Israel or the Palestinians. They're interrested in football, or Eastenders or the equivalent in Israel.

So we went to quite a middle of the line advertising agency. We decided to not go to a left advertising agency because they would come up with the flowers and the bad poetry. The agency came up with an idea for a TV series which would be a fictional drama something like, I don't know if you can remember, they had a programme called "Roots" which was abour African Americans and it made a huge impact in America on opinions.

This was a very expensive project so we applied to the Americans, very much tongue in cheek, but they actually gave us the money - nobody was more surprised than us! The second channel in Israel agreed to give us the other amount, not because they are such nice guys but it's because they have to make quality programmes - it's part of the agreement for them to get the licence to run their channel. It's the most popular channel and it (the series) is going to be broadcast on prime time. It will be in Arabic and Hebrew, which is unheard of on Israeli television on prime time. It will have Palestinian and Israeli actors.

It's going through teething pains as it has to be approved by both sides, the Palestinians have to agree and that there are no cultural faux pas in it and the Israelis have to agree and, you know, if you put three Israelis together they each have a different opinion and if you put three Palestinians together the same thing happens. so you can imagine that my grey hair started getting bigger by the month - but it's a wonderful project !

They will interweave some of the stories of the Parents Circle into the drama without people knowing that we had anything to do with it and at the end of the series they will show 'the making of' and then people will see that actually a lot of the stories are true and that's a good way for us to go out into the community and start spreading the message to people who have not listened to us before.

Mainly, we work in schools with 17yr old kids - we choose 17yrs old because it's the year before they go into the army. Over the year 2005 we did more than 1000 classroom dialogues. Which is a lot of kids, you can multiply that by 35 which is the average class.

The thing that we discovered was that these kids had never met a Palestinian in their lives (the ones in the Israeli schools) and the ones in the Palestinian schools had never met an Israeli out of uniform or who isn't a settler. It's extraordinary, you go into a class with a Palesinian from Dehaisha refugee camp and you ask these kids "Hi, this is Rehad Faraj from Bethlehem. He lives in Dehaisha refugee camp. Do you know what Dehaisha is?". They havent the faintest idea. "Do you know what a refugee camp is?" They also don't know (that). So through his personal narrative, Rehad tells them where he came from in 1948; what his daily life is like in Dehaisha; what his children live through every day. When they say that children learn to hate Israelis - they don't need to learn, they just need to walk around the streets of Dehaisha a little bit. I don't think they wold be terribly fond of us.

These school classroom dialogues are very valuable because what happens is that the same thing happens in Palestine. These kids have never met an Israeli out of uniform, as I told you, and they might say something outrageous to me like 'your child deserved to die' but you see, when soneone says that you need to look and see why they said such a thing. You know, if you were to look into the eyes of people who have lost children or family members you will see a certain look about them. And when I asked this girl why she was so angry and who did she lose in her family and she told me and then I realised why. And I asked her 'how was your mother throughout this whole thing and how did your aunt behave?' and, you know, we all experience the same pain. She came to me afterwards to say sorry. Most of the kids ask to meet each other and that is the incredible thing. It's like I have come here tonight and you could all go home, like after a sad television programme and do nothing or your could take responsibility for your own lives to protect yourselves in the future. Very much of what happens in my country affects your lives - and very muchof what's hapening could become very sad. I'm not here to tell the British what to do but I can say that what happens here affects me and that the life of Palestine and Israel is very much in the hands of America.

So, these kids ask to meet each other and that's absolutely the most amazing thing that could happen. We have a team of close to 50 people working on the education project going into the schools. We have a pilot project now, of meeting and spending the weekend together from Palestine and Israel and we discovered, of course, that they weren't really happy with each other. But now they have started to write to each other and they have started to invite each other with nothing more to do with us and that is the main thing, that's the most important thing - if they let us go and get on with it themselves.

We have a similar project which is sponsored by the European Union for adult education, because they did a lot of research in Ireland and they found that you have to work with adults as well - it's not enough to just work with kids. And we have had meeting is the refugee camps and in the posh areas of Israel - and it works! Ali works works with me on occasion and nobody wants to let him go afterwards.

And the same thing happens with the film - I hope we will be able to bring it to England - it's a film called Encounter-Point. It is made by an Israeli/Palestinian/American production team. You can look up their website, it's called justvision.com. They interviewed 180 Israeli and Palestinian peaceworkers and chose three organisations which they followed around for two and a half years and we were one of them. Ali and I went to the premiere in New York. There were 800 cynical New Yorkers there but they still clapped for half an hour.

When there are two sides talking with one voice - it works.

I hope that you can see it at the University. They promised that they will get at least 50 Jews and 50 Muslims - that there would be an equal number from both sides for the screening of this film. I hope that you get to see this film because it's a sense of inspiration that you get to do something in your own community. It's terrible easy to sit back and do nothing and wait for the Messaih. But he isn't coming soon from what I can see and we can't wait for any leaders to help us. It has to be people to people.

Ali and I have been thinking a long time about what to do in the Palestinian side to make a really good impact and we came to the conclusion that one has to go and talk to the political prisoners- because they have a tremendous influence on their own people. I went to a wedding the Minister of the Interior was there and I don't have any shame any more, I just do what ever I need to do for the organisation. It's incredible how I don't have any fear. You can put me anywhere, it doesn't matter. I said 'you know we have this kind of a project that we are thinking about and we want to work in the jails' and he said 'yes, it's a wonderful idea'. I was amazed.

So we are going to show the film to all the heads of the police when we get back and I am hoping that we can start looking at jails pretty soon and I'm very happy about that.

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