Bloody start to dialogue with bereaved mothers

By Jessica Elgot, March 29, 2012
Dig it: Elinor Tamir

Dig it: Elinor Tamir

Working with bereaved Palestinian and Israeli mothers was always going to be challenging for New Israel Fund fellow Elinor Tamir.

But the 25-year-old ex-JFS pupil, who was previously with the Three Faiths Forum, did not realise her first task at the Parents Circle Family Forum would be to give blood. "To mark the launch of the Israeli Palestinian Blood Donation project, members of the forum were invited to donate their blood. Could you hurt someone who had your blood running through their veins?"

Ms Tamir said this unusual introduction made her appreciate "the sheer mental strength and courage of the members. Palestinians and Israelis who have lost someone to the conflict but are prepared to join together despite all their suffering and pain and send the wider message that there is a way of reconciling. These members confront each other. They are prepared to dispute, hear each other's sides, look at the difficult questions and search for possible answers."

Ms Tamir has spent nine months with the NIF as part of its scheme sending young leaders on a scholarship to work in Israeli civil society. She has organised "youth encounters" in East and West Jerusalem between young Israelis and Palestinians and has been "amazed" by participants' honesty.

She recalled a particularly tense exchange over why a meeting had not been hosted at Beit Hanina School in East Jerusalem. The Parents Circle facilitators explained that the Education Ministry required Israeli students visiting the school to be accompanied by a security guard. Angry Palestinian students responded "that if the ministry is so worried about the Israelis, why are they not worried about the Palestinians"?

In contrast, "a heartening moment was when a Palestinian girl took out her citizenship textbook. Some of the Israelis identified the cover of the book, although the caption was in Arabic and said happily: 'Hey, it's like our own'. Finding a sense of shared belonging is one of the objectives of the encounters."

Last updated: 6:50pm, March 29 2012