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November 2006 Olive Harvest Delegation

Interfaith Peace-Builders & American Friends Service Committee



Report Six: Actions for Reconciliation

Wednesday, November 15

Olives of Peace

Of the 35 events or speakers we experienced or listened to, the voice that stands out in my mind was that of Rami Elhanan.

After a day of hearing about various projects sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and the Quaker Meeting of Ramallah, it was fitting that we ended our day by meeting with a member of the Parents Circle, Rami Elhanan. For us, his words of both pain and agony were also those of reconciliation.

Rami is a seventh generation Israeli Jew and father of four children. Thirty-four years ago he served as a tank commander in the army and fought in the deserts of Egypt during the 1967 war. He knew pain and suffering, but nothing like what he would experience in 1997 when he would lose his 14-year old daughter to a suicide bomber just 200 meters from the Center where we are staying in East Jerusalem.

After several months of pain and anger, he was faced with two choices: either to seek revenge or to work for reconciliation. He chose reconciliation. He joined a group of parents, both Palestinian and Israeli, who had lost relatives to violence and would gather regularly to seek peace. Rami began his conversation with a Palestinian parent whom he met quite incidentally and discovered that, "If you can listen to others in pain, you will be listened to.”

Since that fateful year, over two hundred Israeli and Palestinian parents have gathered together to support, forgive, and reach out not only to one another but to other audiences in Israel and Palestine, and in the United States and Europe. They have given over 1,000 lectures to high school students, and sponsored summer camps for Palestinian and Israelis to meet and understand one another. They also opened up two hotlines called "Hello" for people to call, one for Palestinians and the other for Israelis. Each caller gets to speak to a member of the other group. Since the project's inception over 850,000 calls have been made.

Further acts of healing came from this new Circle of friends. Rami and others in the group initiated actions to give blood to soldiers wounded in times of conflict. In such a case, Palestinians traveled to Israeli hospitals to give blood for the wounded, and in turn, Rami , who in spite of breaking the law by entering Ramallah as an Israeli, snuck into Palestinian hospitals to give blood to their wounded. When Rami's friends heard about what he had done, they challenged his actions. He replied, "It is much better to give blood to others then to shed blood for nothing".

The tragic story lives on for Rami and others in this historic land Not only has he lost his daughter to violence, it also greatly affected him that two brothers of his Palestinian speaking partner, Ghazi Brigeith, were killed as young men. That seemed more than anyone could handle until a few years ago when tragedy struck again. While one of the joint Israeli-Palestinian summer camps was underway, a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing three Palestinian teenagers, and injuring many others. The pain continues. On the violence occurring recently in these holy lands, Rami added, "The cycle of violence continues, and the civilized world does nothing."

But still he and his new friends continue with conversations with other bereaved parents and with others in the expanding circle of the wounded, for there is no other choice. Rami said, “If you succeed in making one crack in this conflict, it’s a miracle." No one in our delegation could speak after his sharing with us that evening. He has a powerful voice as a wounded healer, made even more penetrating when coupled with a voice from a Palestinian.

We had met Rami's youngest son earlier in the delegation tour. With Palestinian partners, Elik, himself a former Israeli soldier, began a group called Combatants for Peace. The group, consisting of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters, joined together for meaningful conversations. They appear on panels here and abroad as they "listen to each other, share their pain, and are heard". The olives don't fall far from the tree.

--Bill Plitt

Thursday, November 16

Being Present in Hebron—an Act of Nonviolence for Internationals and Palestinians

We spent the day today with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), first in the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani and then in the nearby city of Hebron. Four CPT volunteers live in At-Tuwani and spend much of their time accompanying Palestinian children to and from school. Some children come from neighboring villages to attend school in At-Tuwani. It would be an easy walk for the children except that it passes nearby Israeli settlements. The Israeli settlers sometimes throw stones, chase and otherwise purposely harm the children. CPT accompanies them hoping that if Israeli settlers and soldiers see foreigners with the children, they will be less likely to hurt them.

Next we went to Hebron, a Palestinian city in the southern West Bank which has been separated into several types of administrative zones to protect Israeli settlers who moved into the heart of the Old City. Many Palestinians have been forced out to make room for them. We met with Donna at the CPT house and office. CPT lives on the border that separates the Israeli and Palestinian zones in Hebron.
Israeli settlements are developing in the old city of Hebron, evicting and harassing Palestinians. The settlers here are considered “ideological settlers," who believe they have a God-given right to all of the land. Many of the settlements are houses overlooking the Palestinian market. Settlers have been known to throw bricks, stones, bottles and other refuse down on the shop keepers working below. Palestinians have covered the street with a "roof" of wire which stops the rocks. As we walked down the street, we saw that these wire roofs were littered with bricks, large rocks, smaller stones, bottles, debris.

After meeting with the CPT staff, Donna took us up to the rooftop of their building to see the wonderful view of Hebron. The first thing we were told was to take no pictures facing the Israeli areas; indeed there were a half dozen military posts in our view, two of them directly below the rooftop where we were staying. She was pointing out the various sites.

After we boarded the bus we stopped at the home of a wonderful Palestinian family, the Natshes. A mother with four sons and one daughter. Her husband was in an Israeli jail for five years after the 1967 war and he died a few years ago. She baked cakes, cookies, and served grapes from their own yard. One of her sons has a PhD; one is third-year civil engineer; the youngest is a daughter who is in high school. All are determined to live lives of non violence and get an education. They are determined to stay in Palestine; it's their home. They want to live in peace.

--Judy Lee

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