Earlier this week I sat down with Ikhlas Ishtaya and Tal Kfir Schurr, two members of the Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF), a joint Israeli-Palestinian community of some 600 families who’ve lost immediate loved ones to the ongoing conflict. This is one of the organizations that we support, amplify, and learn from through our Boston Partners for Peace initiative.
Ikhlas lives in the Nablus district. In the early 2000’s, she lost her father, a cab driver who was shot by a Jewish resident of the West Bank. Tal lives in Jerusalem. In the same period, she lost her younger sister, who was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber at a bus stop. Each of these women shared their families’ experience of loss and trauma with us. They also shared how they’ve made the choice to not go down the path of wanting revenge. Ikhlas tells us that “revenge leads to more losses.”
In the years since, they have shared their loss time and again with both Israelis and Palestinians who will listen.
While we scheduled our conversation some time ago, all of us came to the table mindful of the violence that has claimed so many innocents in recent weeks (some of whose deaths have been global media stories, while many others of whose deaths haven’t generated such outcries). I asked them how they are absorbing and responding to recent events. They reminded our audience that PCFF is an organization that doesn’t want any new members – new members represent the tragic impact of continued violence; Tal talked about how everyone there lives in a continuous state of PTSD. They worry about their own children. But they don’t see violence as the answer. “What we can do is that we do what we can.”
What is it that they do?
They listen, authentically, to each other’s experiences. As Ikhlas said: “Even though we don’t love it, we respect it. We learn to respect each other’s narratives.” At the PCFF, the message is “I invite you to listen.” And what comes from listening? Tal tells us that she came to see that “the details were different. But the pain was the same.”
I asked them what their message is to us as Americans, and to American Jews.
Ikhlas urges us to take care not to be caught up in media coverage that doesn’t give an accurate narrative. She asks us to support programs that encourage exchanges between Palestinians and Israelis; to contribute to joint initiatives. Tal asks us – and encourages Israelis as well – to not give up on the promise of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel in 1948; the intention to be a state built on principles of liberty, justice, and peace, as taught by the Hebrew prophets.
It was such a rich and powerful conversation with two incredibly strong women. You can watch the full program here.
This is the heart of our Boston Partners for Peace approach (and in a broader way, all of JCRC). That relationships are transformational, that listening to other’s truths can be uncomfortable, but by doing so we can create bonds across differences that lead us to mutual accountability and collaboration toward a shared and more hopeful future.
It is also the essence of JCRC’s commitment to the promise of Israel’s declaration of statehood. That we remain committed to the Tikvah, the hope within. That we do not despair but, rather, we invest in the bridgebuilders and the peace weavers.
I take hope from Ikhlas’s challenge to us. To keep believing in the power of dialogue and exchanges; to not be co-opted by those who seek to keep these communities from engaging with each other, and us with them. We will continue to support these joint initiatives, to offer an alternative to the extremists, the dividers and to those who reject hope.
I hope that you will continue to join us in this work.