“Our Organization Doesn’t Want New Members”

24 July 2014

A powerful new video (below) by the Parents Circle Families Forum has been watched by hundreds of thousands of people. The Forum is a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization of over 600 families, all of whom have lost a close family member as a result of the prolonged conflict. Sharon Kalimi Misheiker, a member of the forum, spoke with NIF about the organization, the film, and about the NIF-supported “Peace Square” project which is taking place in Tel Aviv.

This isn’t a simple message to promote in Israel during a war. “We have always been against violence, even more so during times like these. We are basically the only organization that doesn’t want new members. The clip itself is meant to be confusing. We see pictures of Palestinians who say ‘We don’t want you here’ and we think it’s another hate clip. There are some people who watched the film for that very reason, in order to share more inflammatory material, and then they suddenly get that the message is the reverse. This is how we’ve reached far beyond our traditional audience.”

In addition to the film, you’ve also organized the “Peace Square” – where Parents Circle members engage passers-by in dialogue circles – which is taking place every day at Tel Aviv Cinematheque. “It’s not only meetings with members of the Forum. Each day there is a speaker who comes to talk about a specific topic. For example, today Rubik Rosenthal, whose brother died in the Yom Kippur War, will be speaking, and we also invite members of the audience to speak. We invite everyone to come, to listen, and to speak. The tent is open every day between 7:30 and 10:00pm.”

Do you feel a change in the atmosphere throughout the war? “Definitely. At the start there was enormous tension and things felt terrible. The people who came were very inflammatory. With time the atmosphere has softened and now it’s pleasant. New people come all the time, including residents of the settlements and people who don’t agree with us, but everyone is respectful. It’s not noisy. The Forum has created a special atmosphere, a different kind of conversation. It’s because of people’s respect that we’re bereaved, but also because there’s a genuine spirit of reconciliation and dialogue.”

As members of bereaved families, do you think that you have a special role in Israeli society? “Yes – definitely. After all, strictly between ourselves, the Jews and Palestinians in the organization, it’s difficult to have a dialogue at this time, but we’re doing it regardless – with courage and commitment. We’ve checked and to the best of our knowledge there is no other example of bereaved families working together to end the conflict. There are meetings like this in Ireland and South Africa, but they only began once the conflict finished.

We understand where the inflammatory feelings come from. I myself lost my brother, and everyone at the Parents Circle lost someone dear to them. We understand that revenge is a natural feeling. But revenge won’t lead to anything apart from more revenge, and we have to stop the mutual spilling of blood and the cycle of violence. Nobody wants to belong to a bereaved family. We know that it’s a terrible place to be.”