For this week, a corridor of the United Nations is filled with bright hope for peace in the Middle East.
A large mural featuring swirling, shining colors and words like peace, life and love in Hebrew and Arabic, layered between faces, homes and trees with deep roots and wide branches, is displayed along the Curved Wall in the U.N. Conference Building. “It Won’t Stop Until We Talk,” is the creative work of Israeli and Palestinians who are members of the Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF).
Members and supporters of PCCF like to say that theirs is an organization that doesn’t want any more members. Each of the more than 600 families who belong has lost an immediate family member to the conflict.
At a reception last week, Jan Eliasson, U.N. deputy secretary general compared the mural to the paintings of Chagall, and was especially taken with the words “One sky for all.”
“That’s diplomatic poetry,” he said. Near the center, a young boy holds a dove.
Last summer, during the Gaza war, Palestinians in Beit Jallah, a West Bank town near Bethlehem, painted half of the mural, and it was then transported to Tel Aviv, where Israeli families painted the rest at the Peace Square they set up in the center of the city to hold nightly vigils.
Robi Damelin, who serves as an international spokesperson for the group (along with Bassam Aramin) went to Beit Jallah with Max Levi Frieder of Artolution, who spearheaded the project. She told The Jewish Week that at first the Palestinian mothers were angry and sad about what was going on in Gaza. Damelin, whose son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2002, listened, and then urged them all into a room to paint, where, soon the headscarves came off, music was played, and laughter was heard. “They felt free,” she said. She painted alongside about 25 Palestinian mothers and four fathers, adding the word “compassion.” In Tel Aviv, she joined the Israeli families.
Aramin, whose daughter Abir was killed by Israeli border police in 2007, comments that you can’t tell which side was painted by the Palestinians and which by the Israelis. “We need to put an end to this conflict,” he said. “Our biggest enemy is Israeli fear, which goes back 3,000 years.”
The PCFF is a grassroots group established in 1995. Promoting dialogue and mutual understanding, their hope is to create a framework for a reconciliation process — which they model — to be an integral part of any peace agreement.
As they say in their most recent annual report, “We know that we, Palestinians and Israelis, who have paid the highest price, can act as an example to others by speaking in the same voice for reconciliation. This is our answer to all of those who have given up.”
When Damelin is asked about the hopeful message of the mural, she said, “I think that we can’t afford to give up hope. When I look into the eyes of my grandchildren, I know we have no choice.”
“Our lives are so intertwined, now more than ever. We have to support all the work for reconciliation on the ground. That’s what we need from American Jewry. It’s not a question of politics. We need to support a peace process. We can’t go on killing each other.”
When it is suggested that the U.N. is not the most neutral of places these days, she replies, “Isn’t it amazing that we could give them an example of something from the outside of not taking sides?”