Although Israeli-Palestinian relations are best known for conflict, a group of parents from both sides has spent 20 years working for reconciliation, inspired and united by the common experience of bereavement. More than 600 families belong to the Parents’ Circle—Families Forum (PCFF)—brought together by the pain they share of losing a close family member in the ongoing conflict. The grassroots group was initiated in 1995 by Yitzhak Frankental, a Jew, whose firstborn son Arik was abducted and murdered by Hamas militants while he was serving in the Israeli army. “After Arik was murdered, I understood that I had failed as a father,” he recalled. “I had brought a son into the world but he did not live—not because he was sick, but because there was no peace. Because I didn’t do anything to promote peace.”

Mr. Frankental said eyebrows were raised over his conciliatory activity in his religious congregation in Jerusalem, but he never wavered in his religious faith. Prominent members of the PCFF include Bassam Aramin, a one-time Palestinian militant who spent seven years in an Israeli prison for attacking an army jeep. When his 10-year-old daughter Abir was shot by an Israeli border-police officer on her way home from school in 2007—a killing described as “totally unjustifiable” by an Israeli court—he was adamant he did not want retribution. Another member, Rami Elhanan, a secular Jew, also lost a daughter, 14-year-old Smadar. On the first day of school in 1997, Smadar went with girlfriends to the Ben Yehuda mall in downtown Jerusalem to buy school supplies and was killed when 3 Palestinian terrorists blew themselves up.

“When someone murders your 14-year-old child, you experience unlimited anger and an urge for revenge,” said Mr. Elhanan. “This is a natural feeling, it’s only human.” Then—when “the first madness of anger” passed—he began to ask himself penetrating questions. “If I kill someone in revenge, will that bring my baby back to me? And if I cause someone pain, will that ease my own pain? And the answer is absolutely ‘No’.” But when Mr. Elhanan was invited to a meeting of the PCFF, he viewed them as a “group of crazy people”. Arriving at the meeting both reluctant and cynical, he saw a spectacle that was both new to him and amazing. Along with Israeli members, he saw Arabs getting off the bus—”bereaved Palestinian families, men, women and children, coming towards me, greeting me for peace, hugging me and crying with me”.

From that day on, he said, “I had a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Since that day on I have dedicated my life to one thing only: to tell everyone who will listen “This is not our destiny!” It is not something that cannot be changed! Nowhere is it written that we must continue dying and sacrificing our children forever in this difficult horrible land. “We can, and must, stop this crazy, vicious circle of violence, murder and retaliation, revenge and punishment, with no purpose.” In October 2014, a 20th anniversary article in Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, Haaretz, described the PCFF as unique among the country’s peace organizations. “Its members hold a kind of joker card, which, when pulled, trumps all other cards. It’s bereavement.

Bereavement is a major element in the collective national identity of both Israelis and Palestinians. Usually it’s a springboard to an aggressive approach. Yet for the past 20 years, the forum has invoked the sacred experience of loss and bereavement to achieve the opposite goal.” In its many actions and projects, the PCFF is imaginative and courageous. During Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in July-August 2014, it set up a “dialogue tent” in the plaza outside a cinema complex in Tel Aviv to facilitate conversations between Israelis and Palestinians on the principle that “It won’t stop until we talk”. Also, in an International Peace Day observance, Israelis and Palestinians donated blood under the slogan “Could you hurt someone who has your blood running through their veins?”

In 2002 the PCFF established a phone line on which an Israeli could talk to a Palestinian, and vice versa. The phone line received more than a million calls. Then the PCFF launched the “Crack in the Wall” Facebook page, using social media to humanize the daily affairs of the conflict by increasing connections between Israelis and Palestinians. In 2001 the PCFF sent a delegation of bereaved parents to New York where they placed more than 1000 coffins wrapped in Israeli and Palestinian flags in front of the United Nations building. The PCFF has no stated position on the political solution of the conflict, but most of its members agree that the solution must be based on free negotiations between both sides to ensure basic human rights, the establishment of two states for two peoples, and the signing of a peace treaty.

Source: Israel Today

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It recent days it has become clear that the Jewish state was standing in determined solidarity with France, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a united war on Islamic terror. Rallies, political statements, and the lighting up of the Knesset and Jerusalem’s Old City in red, white and blue (the colours of the French flag) demonstrated that Israel not only felt France’s pain after the horrific terrorist assault in Paris, but that it was ready to work together to end the terrorist threat. That was the message Netanyahu delivered at the weekly cabinet meeting this week. “It’s time that the world wake up and unite to beat terror,” said the prime minister.

Netanyahu continued by demanding that the international community stop treating terrorism against Israeli differently than attacks elsewhere, such as in Paris. “It’s time that countries around the world condemn the terror against us in the same way they condemn terror elsewhere in the world,” he insisted. “We are not responsible for the terror that is turned against us, just like the French aren’t responsible for the terror turned against them. …In Israel, like in France, terror is terror, and what stands behind it is extremist Islam and its desire to destroy its victims.” Netanyahu singled out Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas “who has condemned the terror attack in France” and should now be called upon to “condemn the cruel terror against innocents in Israel and the incitement that drives it.”

Source: Israel Today

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Christian gathering in Nazareth that they and the Jews are brothers, and that Israel will never cease to defend Christians against those that seek to harm and destroy them. The gathering was organized by the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum, whose leader, Father Gabriel Naddaf, was singled out repeatedly by Netanyahu for his untiring efforts to encourage young Christians to join the Israeli army and fully integrate with Israeli society. “We are brothers!” the prime minister said. “We are partners! Christians and Jews, Druze and Muslims who together defend the State of Israel.” Turning to a group of Christian soldiers attending the event, Netanyahu said, “We are brothers in arms. I commend you on wanting to be full partners in contributing to and defending this nation.”

Netanyahu noted it was not always easy for Arabic-speaking Christians to fully join themselves to Israel, but vowed his support for them against those that would harass them. Echoing what Father Naddaf has been instilling in local Christians and Western leaders, Netanyahu pointed out that Israel is the only place in the region where Christians find safe haven. “Christians are suffering in the Middle East,” said the Israeli leader, recalling the recent “shrinkage and disappearance of entire Christian communities that were there thousands of years, since the birth of Christianity.” Netanyahu insisted that those who criticize Israel and work toward the birth of a Palestinian state that would most likely fall to Hamas must “compare this situation to Israel, the only nation in the region where the Christian population is growing.”

Source: Religion News Service

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Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, Founder and President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) said: “The Fellowship will continue to ensure that any Jew who is in danger or who faces hardship in the Ukraine will receive shelter and a home in Israel. The first Fellowship flights have opened a new chapter in our already vital and significant contribution to immigration and absorption in Israel. We thank our partners in this effort and we promise to help the immigrants in their swift and successful absorption in Israel.” As an effort to support the embattled Jewish community of eastern Ukraine, The Fellowship has organized flights to Israel for  thousands of Jews in conjunction with Israel’s Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the global Ezra movement and Nativ.

Since many of the new olim are refugees from Ukraine and have suffered difficulties in the country, The Fellowship is also giving grants of $1,000 to every adult and $500 to every child in addition to funding their immigration. The Fellowship support has led to a greater than expected demand to come to Israel. Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Mr. Natan Sharansky, said, “We shall continue to help any Jew who needs our assistance. The important work of promoting aliyah is done thanks to the generosity of important donors, chief among them The Fellowship, headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, which has placed aliyah at the top of its priorities, and is acting in cooperation with the Jewish Agency to enable us to bring the immigrants to Israel in a timely manner.”

Source: Jewish News

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Most people flying to Israel fly into Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel-Aviv. But officials are highlighting the importance of the new Ramon Airport near the desert town of Timna—set to replace the current Eliat airport located 12 miles away on the Red Sea. The new airport is named after Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut killed in the Columbia space shuttle crash in 2003, and his son Asuf, who was killed in an Israel Air Force training accident in 2009. The new airport is expected to spark a 300% increase in tourism to southern Israel. It is expected to be in operation by 2016. Said an Israeli Transportation Ministry official, the new Ramon Airport is important “as an emergency, full-scale alternate airport and we need to complete its establishment as quickly as possible.”

Source: Airport World

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