In its continued efforts to extend a hand of peace and reconciliation, the joint Israeli-Palestinian organization, Parents Circle-Families Forum (PCFF), on May 10 held a vigil against the violence which ignited in Jerusalem at the start of Ramadan and continues to escalate. The PCFF members are over 600 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost an immediate family member to the ongoing conflict in Israel.

By Jackie Abramian

“Depending on how this cycle of violence pans out, apart from the vigil, we are considering recreating our Peace Tent as we did in 2014 during the Gaza war. We will continue with our dialogue meetings via Zoom, and we will not stop any other ongoing projects either,” explains Robi Damelin, PCFF international relations spokesperson, whose son David, was killed by a Palestinian sniper. Since most of the demonstrators in the recent Jerusalem protests are 15-16-year-olds, PCFF has held special Zoom calls with a group of young members of the Parents Circle to plan various upcoming actions together.

In April tensions sparked in Jerusalem with the barricade of the Damascus Gate–leaving Palestinian youth with no place to gather at the start of the holy month of Ramadan. The clashes between the youth and the police escalated when anti-Arab “far-right protestors” marched in Jerusalem streets chanting slogans demanding ‘burning of Arabs’ and carrying signs in Hebrew reading Kahane was right, a reference to the late extremist rabbi. Israeli police stormed the al-Aqsa compound–inside thousands of worshippers defended themselves from encroachment by Israeli settlers who are determined to occupy Palestinians’ homes. Some 300 Palestinians and 21 Israeli officers were wounded. Hamas retaliated by firing 100s of rockets from Gaza into Israel, while IDF responded with 130 air strikes into Gaza–26 Palestinians, including nine children, and two Israelis were killed.

“Right-wing groups do of course object to our work and threaten in talk-backs,” says Damelin. “They also demonstrate against the Forum sometimes in pretty violent ways when we hold the joint memorial ceremony.”

Focusing On Personal Loss To Foster Change

Established in 1995 by Yitzhak Frankenthal and a few Israeli families, PCFF’s first meeting between bereaved Palestinians from Gaza and Israeli families was held in 1998. Believing that the process of reconciliation between nations is a “prerequisite to achieving a sustainable peace” through education, public meetings and media, PCFF spreads its healing message via various high-profile Israeli-Palestinian events and gatherings.

While PCFF has no political party affiliations Damelin believes “any reconciliation non-violent group could be classified as political” amidst Israel’s divided state.

“In the past, we have lobbied to create a framework for a reconciliation process to be a part of any future political peace agreement. That is our long-term vision. We have a certain standing in both communities. Almost all of our Palestinian male members have been to jail during the uprisings and have had personal losses. It would be difficult to doubt their motives for being members of PCFF,” says Damelin.

Over the years, PCFF has nurtured thousands of Alumni from its Parallel Narrative Project–congregating to share and learn personal and national narrative of the “other”–and from its lectures hosted in schools. PCFF has produced several documentaries screened worldwide of its members sharing their own personal narrative of loss to make an “emotional breakthrough.” Their Joint Memorial Ceremony, held on-line in 2020, was viewed by 250,000 people.

“Even the hardest of hearts would find it difficult to ignore our message,” Damelin says. Originally from South Africa, now living in Jaffa, she has dedicated her life to the message of reconciliation and non-violence at the PCFF.

A recipient of the Women’s Peace Maker award from the San Diego, Joan Kroc School of Peace Studies, Damelin is the protagonist of the award-winning documentary, “One Day After Peace” Directed by Erez Laufer. She travelled to South Africa to meet with perpetrators and victims and to explore the meaning of forgiving. Although there are many lessons to be learned from South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Damelin believes the Israeli-Palestinian case is different.

“We believe in a Two State Solution and that the Occupation must end. It is destroying any hope of a peaceful future and in many ways the occupation is ruining the moral fiber of Israel,” Damelin explains how all of PCFF’s activities on the ground are in preparation for a reconciliation process. “We believe that there must be a framework for a reconciliation process to be an integral part of any future political peace process. Otherwise at best we can expect a cease fire until the next time.”

Israeli-Palestinian Women Lead

Studies have proven that when women peace builders are involved and at the negotiation table, peace is more sustainable. With majority of PCFF staff being Israeli and Palestinian women, Damelin says the women in the “Parents Circle are taking the lead.” PCFF conducts many trainings for women leaders and Damelin believes it is “time for women to come to the table.”

During the 2014 Gaza War, PCFF held its first Peace Tent Square gatherings in Tel Aviv Cinematheque square, raising a “Dialogue tent for discussions.” In a 70-day vigil, PCFF members invited passersby, supporters and objectors to join in, share personal stories, offer their choice and ideas for “reconciliation rather than revenge.” Palestinian members also offered their own personal story, sharing war experiences.

PCFF gatherings are held both in Israel and Palestine. In the past years, during Ramadan, they’ve held a joint Iftar dinner–the customary dinner that breaks the daily Muslim fast at sunset during Ramadan.

During the pandemic, PCFF held hundreds of Zoom meetings for which the Palestinian members didn’t have to request permits to enter Israel. “No permits are required for Zoom” Damelin says.

Globalizing The Peace Message

During 2011 International Peace Day, PCFF launched “Blood Relations”– an Israeli-Palestinian blood drive at Tel Aviv Cinematheque in collaboration with global advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi and its Israeli representative, Baumann Ber Rivnay. The event posed a fundamental question: Would you hurt a person who has your blood running through their veins? With hundreds of Israeli and Palestinians participants, the event was part of “the impossible brief” global competition where creatives worldwide were asked to offer solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Another global campaign that amplified PCFF message of reconciliation was Taking Steps for Peace–displaying an embroidered bird motif on sneakers made by Palestinian ‘tatreez’ embroiders. In collaboration with Shenkar College and partners from the Royal British College, in a program entitled “Go Global” they used the bird motif for other products and celebrities such as Barbara Streisand, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett and others purchased the embroidered shoes. Saatchi & Saatchi captured the campaign’s global reach in a video documentation that screened in the European parliament, the German Bundestag and the U.S. Congress–and helped generate income for the Palestinian women embroiders.

With escalating tensions between Israeli and Palestinians, PCFF’s work and mission is ever more critical and could perhaps help to de-escalate the conflict.

“I wish we had influence on the Israeli army and police. We hold dialogue meetings from time to time with the army, and of course work in schools with kids, before they go off to the army,” says Damelin. “We can only hope for a future where Israelis and Palestinians will recognize humanity in each other and acknowledge the sanctity of human lives.”

The article by Jackie Abramian appeared on Forbes under the title “As Violence Escalates In Israel, Parents Circle Becomes A Catalyst For Change“.

We thank Jackie Abramian and Forbes for their permission to publish the article on Pressenza. This article may only be reproduced with the express permission of Forbes.

The original article can be found here