By Nurit Peled-Elhanan, The Forum of Israeli and Palestinian bereaved parents for peace, 2001 Laureate of the Sakharov prize for the freedom of thought awarded by the European Parliament.
Mrs. Primat’s malicious article does not deserve any serious consideration. Nevertheless, since she attacks me personally and most viciously, I would like to seize this opportunity in order to tell the readers who I am and what I do.
I belong to a group of bereaved parents, both Israeli and Palestinian. This group, The Families Forum, does not represent anyone except for its members who strongly believe that we have been made to pay the highest price for a war that should have ended long ago, by letting careless, not to say ruthless and cynical politicians use the lives of our children as chips in their deadly games, and turn our children’s blood into the cheapest merchandise in the political market.
That is why we wish to strengthen the voice of parents . We believe that Motherhood, fatherhood and the wish to save the children who are still alive are only the common denominators that overcome nationality and race and religion. Some of us are indeed religious. Yitzhak Frankental, the founder of this forum, is an orthodox Jew, but his Judaism, unlike the Judaism of some of his friends, who refuse to pray with him when he says Kaddish for his murdered son, is a source of hope, of peace, of respect for the other and therefore of dialogue.
The main activity of our Forum is talk. We talk to each other, we talk to the world and we talk to young people who are about to join the army.
We know that conversation is always about differences: It is the site where differences of power, of knowledge and of beliefs are constantly negotiated. People who do not accept differences and are not ready to make room in themselves for different kinds of knowledge and values, cannot speak to each other. They can trick and deceive and humiliate each other, but they cannot converse. People who cannot, or who would not accept differences and who don’t see heterogeneity as a blessing, have a monolithic approach to talk, namely, they want to impose their ideologies on others and to dominate their thinking. Their speech is intolerant and offensive; this is the kind of approach we have been witnessing in most of the peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Having a dialogic approach to conversation means being willing to detain your ideologies or your truth or your personal and national narrative, and make room in yourself for the truth and the narrative of the other. Dialogic people do not believe in fixed personalities, in consolidated thought or in eternal realities. In fact in Hebrew the terms finding, reality and invention have all the same root. And that means that reality is what we invent, reality is the means that we find to give meaning to what is going on around us, and therefore it can be changed.
Fortunately there are people, even in Israel and Palestine, who are willing to talk to each other. Unfortunately they are not many. Consequently the discourse that prevails in this country is extremely monologic, racist and aggressive. And the annihilation, the demonization of the other has never been a very promising basis for dialogue.
Our children kill other children because they are brought up on concepts of discrimination between blood and blood and on the belief that we are more deserving than others.
Our children die because the voice of mothers and fathers has been suffocated and underrated for centuries, and because it is always replaced by the voices of corrupt politicians and blood-thirsty generals, of greedy businessmen and unscrupulous so-called leaders who are, most of them, men but who never speak as parents.
After my daughter, Smadari, was murdered for being an Israeli girl, by a young man desperate and distorted by humiliation and hopelessness to the point of killing himself and others, just because he was a Palestinian I was asked by a reporter how I could accept condolences from the other side. My very spontaneous response was that I did not accept condolences from the other side, and when the mayor of Jerusalem came to offer his condolences I shut myself in my room. Because the people I count as “my side” are not defined by any religious or national criteria. When I say ‘we’, I do not necessarily mean the Jews or the Israelis. I mean the people who see life as I see it. When I say ‘we’, I mean my Israeli friends who swore before the open graves of their sons that although they had lost their children they would never lose their heads.
I mean Prof. Gazawi from from Bir Zeit university, my co-laureate of the Sakharov award who, after being confined in a solitary cell for his wish to be a free and dignified man in his homeland, after seeing his 15 year old son shot in his schoolyard while helping a wounded friend, still refuses to think of man as evil, and says we must create the myth of hope for those who have none.
I mean the young Palestinian mother, Najakh, who travelled with me to New York in order to speak of peace after watching her 10 year old son being shot and who had nothing but affection for my 10 year old son.
I mean Haled, a Palestinian school principal, who found his eldest son with 50 bullets in his body without ever being told why or how, and who 20 days after that called his wife and told her to stop crying for her child and to start crying for mine.
I mean all the parents in the world who would not dream to avenge the death of their children by killing the children of others.
Today, when ‘terror’ is the term coined to define the murderous deeds of the poor and the weak, and ‘war against terror’ is the term coined to define the murderous deeds of the strong and the rich, when the greatest democracies commit the most terrible crimes against humanity using terms such as ‘freedom’, ‘justice’ and ‘the clash of civilisations’ to justify their crimes, we the bereaved, the victims of either terror or anti-terror terrorism, are the only ones left to tell the world that there is no civilized killing of the innocent or barbaric killing of the innocent, there is only criminal killing of the innocent. We are the ones to tell the world there is no clash of civilizations, that in the ever-growing underground kingdom of dead children there is no clash of civilisations. On the contrary: true multiculturalism prevails there, true equality and true justice. And maybe we are the ones who should remind the world that the golden age of both Islam and Judaism was when they lived side by side, nurturing each other and flourishing together.
We are the ones who travel from one country to another in order to remind the world that the death of a child, any child, in Palestine or Israel, in Afghanistan or Chechnya, is the death of the whole world, that after the death of a child, any child, there is no other, that no one can avenge the blood of a child because the child takes into her small grave, with her small bones, the past and the future, the reasons for the war and its consequences.
We are the ones who keep telling the world that the only way for humanity to prevail is to join us in raising this ancient voice, that has always been there, the voice of motherhood and fatherhood, raise it until it deafens all the other voices.
We demand that the world redefines its values and priorities, redefines crime, guilt, the rights of children and the duties of adults and therefore redefines education and justice, and make it very clear that anyone who kills a child will never be able to live in peace in this world. Not even as Cain. We are the ones who know that if we don’t raise this voice very soon there will be nothing left to say or write or hear except for the perpetual cry of mourning and the muted voices of dead children.
Therefore we are the ones who would end the war, because we know that it doesn’t matter what flag is put on what mountain, it doesn’t matter who looks where when they pray, and that nothing is more important than to secure a young girl’s way to her dance class.
That is because we are the ones who realize every hour of every day that as parents and as grown ups, we have betrayed our children by not being alert, by not fighting for their lives as vigorously as we should have done, and by having promised them a good life and a better world. We are the ones who cried like the Russian Poet Anna Akhmatova, when we saw our little girl or little boy for the last time, before turning our back and leaving them in the hands of strangers:
Why does that streak of blood rip the petal of your cheek?