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Source: United Nations News Service (See also > DPI)
17 September 2007

Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


“There is no black and white” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Robi Damlin, an Israeli mother, whose son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper one and a half year ago, told correspondents this afternoon a a Headquarters press conference.

Speaking on behalf of “The Parents’ Circle -- Families Forum”, a group of some 500 Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families supporting peace, reconciliation and tolerance, she said that the sniper who killed her son had not killed him because he was David, but because he was serving the occupying Power.  It was, therefore, important to know the personal narrative of the people, as that starts empathy.

The press conference was hosted by the Swedish Mission on the occasion of an unprecedented art exhibition at the visitor’s entrance of the United Nations, entitled “Offering Reconciliation”, featuring the work of 135 leading Israeli and Palestinian artists who had had never previously worked together.  Painters, sculptors, designers and photographers had been given an identical ceramic bowl -- a blank palette to serve as the common denominator through which individual expressions of pain and hope would be depicted.  Originally showcased in Israel last May, the tour in the United States was made possibly by the Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts (AIDA) along with contributions from former World Bank President James Wolfensohn.

Ali Abu Awwad, who resists the Israeli occupation through non-violent means and whose brother had been killed by an Israeli soldier, said nobody was going to disappear:  not the 7 million Israelis; not the 1 million Palestinians living in the Palestinian Occupied Territory; not the 5 million Palestinian refugees.  The only way to live was with each other.  He had come to the conclusion that forgiveness did not mean giving up the right to justice.  It was just the first step in giving up being a victim.  He supported the intifada, but the people fighting the intifada were not facing the bereaved families of Israel on a daily basis.

Having paid the highest price, people from his group had chosen reconciliation, he said.  He was not optimistic, but he no longer wanted to be a part of the machine of hatred and killing.  Non-violence was the most effective way of resistance.  He thought that, although the Palestinians were right, they were bad lawyers.  Violence was the result of anger, but the majority of both sides wanted to live in peace.  Without a process of reconciliation, peace treaties could be signed, but there would be no peace.

Asked about the exhibition, Ms. Damelin said the collection was originally meant to be sold after the exhibition in Israel, in order to raise money for the group’s education projects.  James Wolfensohn, however, had provided the funds to keep the exhibition together, and AIDA had sponsored the trip to the United States and the exhibition.  The bowls would be auctioned on 2 November in the SOFA in Chicago.

She said more information was given at the group’s website:  The group had an education project, supported by the European Union, in which some 50 Palestinians and Israelis visit Israeli and Palestinian schools together and through which some 40,000 students had been reached.  There was also an adult education programme.  Relationships between Israeli and Palestinian students were being forged through blogs on the Internet.  A television series called “Opening Hearts” had been developed, which was based on true-life stories.  Preparations for the exhibition had been going on since February 2005.

The exhibition had been a catalyst, she continued, in response to questions.  Because of the event, the group had had contact with Al-Jazeera and Al Arabiya.  Based on her experience in South Africa, her country of origin, she said that a miracle in the Middle East could happen.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa had been such a miracle.  The exhibition had had a lot of support from the Israeli and Palestinian press.  There were many peace groups, but the participants in The Parents Circle all shared the same pain.  It was also the pain of the seemingly proud Palestinian mother of a suicide bomber or of the right-wing Israeli mother of a settler who had been killed.  The only way for reconciliation was trust, and for trust it was necessary to know someone’s history.

Asked how optimistic he was that he could bring people together, Mr. Awwad said the process was not easy.  He recalled that once he had had to wait at a check point for four hours.  It was raining.  The Israeli soldier had asked him if the wait had been terrible.  He had answered that it must have been much worse for the soldier, since he had been outside in the rain, and had asked if that was the way he protected Israel.  A discussion had ensued, during which the Israeli soldier had admitted that it was the first time he had really talked to a Palestinian.

Answering questions about Hamas, he said he was not against a Palestinian organization.  Since Hamas had been voted into Parliament, there had been no Hamas suicide bombers, because that was the worst possible thing Hamas could do.  Neither Hamas nor the Israeli army would erase the other side.  The biggest supporter of Hamas was the Israeli occupation, while the suicide bomber was the biggest supporter of the Israeli settlers.  Religion had been created to let people live within laws, not to make them criminals.  90 per cent of the Palestinian people had nothing to do with the violence.  Non-violence was, therefore, the most effective way to address the situation.

Asked about contacts in Gaza, both answered that there could only be contacts when Palestinians from the West Bank received permission to go to Gaza.  Ms. Damelin added that The Parents Circle had a chat line that had enabled 1 million calls between Israelis and Palestinians since 2002.  She suggested that, since Israeli politicians complained about a lack of Palestinians with whom they could talk, they should try that chat line.

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For information media • not an official record

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