Bereaved families urge peace at conference

By Simon Rocker, December 30, 2008

A group of Israelis and Palestinians brought their joint call for peace to the Limmud conference.

Ayelet and Zvika Shahak’s daughter Bat-Chen was killed on her 15th birthday on Purim by a suicide bomber in Tel Aviv in 1994.

Ali Abu Awwad (also pictured above) and his brother, Khaled, from Beit Ommer in the West Bank, lost their other brother, Yousef, who was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier after an argument broke out at a checkpoint four years ago, leaving two young children.

The two families, who have become close through their involvement in the Bereaved Families Forum, were concluding a British tour promoting their work for dialogue, sponsored by the New Routes Trust.

Mr Shahak, a reserve lieutenant-colonel in the Israeli navy, said of the events in Gaza: “I think what’s happened yesterday shows how important it is to talk…and say no more violence, no more bloodshed. We have to end it.”

He and his wife, a teacher, have come to launch the newly published English edition of The Bat-Chen Diaries, their daughter’s writings: already one local authority in the UK, Havering, has agreed to use it in schools.

Two years ago the Awwad brothers founded Al-Tariq, a Palestinian peace movement committed to non-violence — a message they are spreading through education, summer camps and even in projects with the militant Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade in Jenin.

Life had seemed impossible after his brother’s death, said Ali Abu Awwad, a charismatic speaker who clearly impressed his large audience. “For me, Yousef was the reason for my existence.”

But the former youthful revolutionary, who himself spent four years in an Israeli jail, realised: “Killing somebody will not bring him back. Causing the same pain to another will not ease my pain. Bombing Tel Aviv will not free Palestine.”

A single pilot could destroy a house with a missile but it took many people to build peace, he said.

“To come to Limmud and sit here, when yesterday about 300 Palestinian people became bereaved, and to keep going, just keep going, that’s what I learn [to do],” he said. “This madness will not decide for us.”

Mr Shahak recalled: “After I lost my daughter, I asked myself what should I do. Should I go to the army, take a gun and kill some girls in Gaza?

“I decided the best revenge would be to try to make peace. The next day I rang [then] Prime Minister Shimon Peres and said: ‘Please do me a favour, do not stop the peace process.’”

Last updated: 5:21pm, December 30 2008