A combination of profoundly sobering and oxymoronically encouraging remarks came directly from their heavy hearts: Amiram Goldin, project manager for a joint Arab-Israeli industrial park in the Galilee lost his 20-year-old son in a suicide bus bombing in August 2002. Dr. Rahib Essawi, a Palestinian academic who teaches at Al Quds University (Jerusalem) lost her mother, a brother, and 17-year-old nephew in the conflict. Yitzhak Frankenthal is an Orthodox Jew whose 19-year old son, an Israeli soldier, was killed by Hamas militants in 1995. They shared their personal stories at a Manhattan synagogue in October, as part of the Bereaved Parents Circle (www.theparentscircle.com), a group of Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost children or other relatives in the Middle East conflict, yet are working together to keep communication open between the two sides. Their goal is to give peace a chance.
Frankenthal, a father of four, founded the group in 1995 a year after he lost his soldier son. With help from a student, he contacted similarly bereaved people. Their group now consists of 200 Jewish families and 190 Palestinian families. The circle, sadly, has grown exponentially in the last two years, as has the pool of spilled blood.
Among their activities are workshops and seminars for the bereaved families and a billboard and media advertising campaign, “Shalom Salaam Hello,” inviting the general public to make a phone call to speak to someone from “the other side.” Seventy-five thousand phone calls came in, resulting in 22,000 actual phone conversations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Terror means, said Frankenthal at the October meeting, not only that you could be blown apart on a bus, or in a cafe or at a bar mitzvah party, but also that you live your daily life blockaded from access to health care, to school, or to visiting your family.
During the program one man in the audience hollered at the speakers and the crowd, “Haven’t any of you read the Palestinian Charter? You are all a bunch of idiots!” He then stomped out.
“You know, we could be proved wrong, it could be that with a two-state solution there would not be an end to war. But we have never given it a chance, and we have to give it that chance,” said Frankenthal, humbly and patiently.
The speaking tour to 15 U.S. cities by the Bereaved Parents Circle was organized by the recently formed Brit Zedek Veshalom (www.btvshalom.org), Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, a membership organization of American Jews who describe themselves as “deeply committed to Israel’s well-being and opposed to its decades-long occupation of land acquired following the 1967 war.”