Bereaved Israeli, Palestinian Parents Use ‘argument of Coffins’ to Urge Peace
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Bereaved Israeli, Palestinian Parents Use ‘argument of Coffins’ to Urge Peace

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A flutter of news cameras captured a Palestinian woman weeping over the news of another dead relative.

But this time, she was seated next to an observant Israeli Jew who looked nearly as wounded as she did, and he rested his hand lovingly on her shoulder.

They were part of a group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents who had gathered across from the United Nations in New York on Tuesday to beg world leaders to help end the violence.

Before more than a thousand faux coffins draped in the flags of the victims’ countries, parents ascended the stage to offer the story of their personal collision with the conflict, to raise a picture of their lost loved one and to sign a letter to President Bush, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Gunter Burghard, the president of the European Union, that urges: “Please do everything in your power to bring our leaders to the negotiating table.”

The bereaved parents stood alongside each other underneath a banner that read, “Better the Pains of Peace than the Agonies of War,” words of the slain former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The organization, called Parents Circle, was originally founded as an Israeli peace and support group by Yitzhak Frankenthal, after his son Arik was kidnapped and shot by Hamas terrorists five years ago.

But it has since expanded to include Palestinians. Now there are more than 150 Palestinians and 200 Israelis involved in the organization.

Funding comes from the European Union, the United States, and the United Nations along with private donors. The event in New York, alone, cost about $200,000.

Maneuvering the Palestinians out of the West Bank was an “improbable” feat, Frankenthal said.

But both the Israeli and Palestinian governments helped ensure the mission.

After the New York event, the group headed to Washington for a breakfast forum, which was cosponsored by the Arab American Institute and the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center.

Though the group would meet regularly before the intifada broke out in late 2000, the conflict keeps current conversations confined to the phone.

Frankenthal said both Israel and the Palestinians will have to “make compromises” of their dreams, but the group talks emotion, not politics.

They’ll leave that to their leaders whom they call on to return to the negotiating table. Their philosophy is: If they can do it, their leaders can.

“We are not diplomats, politicians or experts on the Middle East with Ph.D.s. We are experts on the price paid by relatives of more than 1400 Palestinians and Israelis killed in this conflict since the intifada began in September, 2000.

“But we understand that our leaders are offering no solutions, no paths out of the current darkness and back to the negotiating table,” group members Frankenthal and Gazi Brigit wrote in an op-ed piece in USA Today last Friday.

“Because no other argument for peace and sanity seems to be working, we will make the argument of the coffins,” they wrote.

After the presentation, kaffiyahs sidled up against kipot as Israelis and Palestinians held onto each other long and tight as if to embrace both empathy and apology.

The swarm of reporters could hardly keep their questions and cameras ahead of their amazement.

But both parties replied with plain profundity: human is human, they echoed, we’re all the same. And they described immeasurable therapy they’ve found in this support group-cum-peace organization.

“I don’t want to lose another son,” said Khalid Alban, whose son, Fras, a student at the University of Hebron, was killed less than three weeks ago.

Weak and despondent from the fresh loss, Alban traveled here from the West Bank, where he teaches Arabic, to join the effort of Parents Circle.

“We hope for all the leadership to wake up and finish the situation between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said, and to establish “two states — one for Palestinians, and one for Israelis, and for peace in our area.”

“The situation is very hard, but if the leaders” want peace, he said with conviction, “peace will fall.”

Ayelet Shahak lost her daughter Bat-Chen, literally, “daughter of a flower” in Hebrew, in a terrorist attack on Diezengoff Street in Tel Aviv six years ago.

She brought a book filled with her daughter’s poetry — one of which was unfinished — and covered with her picture, which was taken the night before her death.

Parents Circle keeps her pro-active and, at least, out of the house, where the TV only blasts more war, she said.

She couldn’t quite find the precise word in English, but she settled on “change” to describe the prospect the group offers.

Tuesday would have marked Bat-Chen’s 21st birthday.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian woman, who was not identified, huddled and struggled among Israeli and Palestinian friends as she took in the news of a slain relative.

Her eyes, burned bright and bleary, and she shouted in Arabic, with only the words Arafat, Sharon, Israeli and Palestinian, intelligible in any language.

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