Gaza City (Ansa-Dpa/Mohammed Talatene)

Israel: The possible path of unity

Nadine, Rami and Yuval, from the Israeli-Palestinian Parents Circle-Families Forum: "We are in the dark, but together we do not stop calling for dialogue as the only way". Fr. Ibrahim Faltas: "Jerusalem is the key to peace."
Maria Acqua Simi

Phones ring off the hook, the offices are deserted. It is not easy to pick up a phone line in these hours with those living between Israel and Gaza. Someone, however, occasionally manages to answer. And to tell them that there is a third way - the longest and most difficult one - to face so much pain. Among them are some representatives of The Parents Circle-Families Forum, which brings together Palestinian and Israeli families affected by bereavement but who have been working together for years for peace.

Rami Elhanan, the association's Israeli president until 2020, lost his 14-year-old daughter Smadar in 1997, who was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem: “I was filled with anger but also with questions, just as I am in these hours of intolerable grief. ‘Will there be an after? And how does one deal with evil?’ Every person has a choice: to take the path of revenge or to begin to wonder if there is another way to continue living, a way that is not to hate.” "Revenge will not give us back our murdered children," Elhanan adds. "Over the years I have met so many Palestinian families, whose suffering has become mine. There is a Jewish saying that you cannot clap your hands with one hand. We must be together. Because war is not our destiny. Nowhere has it been written that we must continue to die and sacrifice our children forever in this difficult Holy Land of ours. We all, Israelis and Palestinians, are brothers in suffering.”

His tone becomes unambiguous when he explains that the tears of both sides are the same, and that if these families, who have paid the highest price, can dialogue today, then everyone can. Even those who now spread hate. "We must be ready to listen to 'the other'. Because if we do not know how to listen to the other's story, we will not be able to understand the origin of their pain and we should not expect the other to understand ours.” During these complicated days, he tells Traces, “we must swallow our tears, put aside our anger and understand that in the end there will be no winners but only losers. This horror will not stop until we speak out. We are in the middle of an earthquake, we do not know how long it will last, but what is certain is something has to change. I know it is not easy to forgive the evil, the killing and abduction of women and children, but it is necessary to start a process of reconciliation and to take responsibility for the crimes of the past. It is a long and bumpy road. There are no shortcuts. If we do not learn to share this land, then we will have to share our graves beneath it. Reconciliation is the only possible path because the other leads to nowhere.”

Ahmed Al-Jafri, a Palestinian member of the association, repeats the same words: “We are all in shock and deeply confused. We Palestinians in the Families Forum share the grief of the Israeli people for all the injured, the kidnapped and the dead. We are afraid of what is happening, we live locked in our settlements. All of us, Israelis and Palestinians, pray that this cursed war will end quickly and that the killing of innocents on both sides will stop. From the depths of grief, let us find the strength to act together, even when the guns are firing, to show that it is possible to be friends in diversity. If we, the people whose loved ones have been taken away by the conflict, can say 'enough' together and work for peace, so can all of you in the rest of the world.”

Nadine and Yuval, respectively the Palestinian and Israeli presidents of the Parents Circle, agree that “we are in the dark, and there are thousands of victims but also wounds and traumas, perhaps less visible, that will mark the next generations for a long time. It is an undeniable truth that the time has come to change the situation. This region has endured too much, we must reflect on the meaninglessness of this ongoing conflict and recognise the humanity that binds us all. We all desire justice and peace, but these will only be possible through peaceful dialogue, diplomacy and a commitment to finding common ground. We wish to say these words together, so that we know that it is not impossible to walk together.”

The contingencies, of course, are dramatic. Fr. Ibrahim Faltas, vicar and director of the schools of the Custody of the Holy Land and director of Casa Nova in Jerusalem, offers a powerful testimony: "On Saturday, when the war began, I was in the courtyard of one of our schools as every morning we recite the prayer of Saint Francis with the children, Christians and Muslims, which says: ‘Make me an instrument of your peace.’ While we were praying, a first missile arrived. The children ran into the classroom, then the sirens sounded and it was chaos. Since then the schools have been closed. Now we try to keep our pupils company, at least online when we can, so that they do not feel scared. We are also trying to find solutions for the many pilgrims who are staying at the Casa Nova and have not been able to evacuate. The checkpoints are closed and our operators are unable to come to work.” No one, he adds, could have imagined such brutal violence. "My thoughts are constantly with the murdered children, the families wiped out, but also with Gaza, caught in an inhuman siege. I know what it is like to be without escape, without water, electricity and food, because for 39 days I was stuck in the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, in 2002, when it was stormed. There were 300 of us locked in there and I tried to mediate. Today we have two million people besieged. Two million. Gaza is destroyed and the victims cannot be counted, but even here things are no better. Yesterday, for example, a missile hit a house nearby and a friend of mine is now in hospital in a serious condition. We have all lost someone. But I never stop repeating it: only with dialogue, only with dialogue can everything be resolved. These are not empty words! What misery to think so.”

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Fr. Ibrahim calls for an intervention by the international community, and reiterates that the 'two-state’ solution, repeatedly called for by the Vatican as well, will only be feasible when there is peace in Jerusalem: “Only if it is a city open to all and of all, will we have peace. We must work on the status of Jerusalem: it is the key to war but it is also the key to peace. We ask the international community to work for mediation between the parties and for an effective diplomatic solution. We ask all of you to pray; prayer is strong and does not make us feel alone. Pray for us.”