Parents’ Circle sponsored a display of 1050 symbolic coffins at the United Nations that represented Palestinians and Israelis killed in the current conflict.Not long after the day in 1994 when Yitzhak Frankenthal was told his 19-year-old son’s body had been found on an Israeli road following his kidnapping and murder by Hamas, Frankenthal began bringing a message to anyone who’d listen: Dialogue can be a road to peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Peace needs to be based on reconciliation and reconciliation requires dialogue,” Frankenthal said. “If we who have lost children to the other side can sit down and talk with each other, then Sharon and Arafat can too.”
Frankenthal’s organization, Parents’ Circle, is made up of a group of 330 Israeli and Palestinian parents who have had children who were killed in the conflict and are committed to talking out their differences. Communication between the two sides in the group has not always been easy, but the parents agree that it’s the only way.
The group was founded not to look backward and provide healing or closure, but to look forward to shape a better world in the future, Frankenthal said. Parents’ Circle billboards became ubiquitous in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza beginning in October and November of last year with the message in English and Arabic “Better the pain of peace than the agony of war.”
In pursuit of his mission, Frankenthal has made six visits to the United States already in 2002, speaking to Jewish and Palestinian groups and anyone else who will listen about his views on how to end the conflict and about “Hello Shalom, Hello Salaam,” a toll-free number he plans to set up to match individual Israelis with individual Palestinians of good will so they can talk about reconciliation. The name comes from the words for “hello” in Hebrew and Arabic.
“The language we’re talking is emotional and pain language,” he said. “Talking through translation we understand one another. I’ve sat with so many Palestinians who are suffering from what’s going on, suffering from being occupied and losing their children.”
In broadcasting its message in the United States, Parents’ Circle put together a display of more than 1,000 mock coffins bearing Israeli and Palestinian flags in front of the United Nations building in New York on March 13. Each coffin stood for a Palestinian or Israeli killed in the cycle of violence that began in Sept. 2000.
The touring party of eight Israeli and six Palestinian parents held a series of workshops and discussions, which have now become impossible in Israel and the Palestinian Authority due to travel restrictions.
At a New York ceremony, Frankenthal stood with Palestinian Khaled Abdel Khadir, whose son died in a battle with Israeli soldiers on Feb. 23. All the parents signed a petition addressed to world leaders to help pressure Sharon and Arafat to resume negotiations and end the fighting. The group favors a political settlement of the conflict along the lines of the one proposed by Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the one that formed the basis for discussions between Arafat and Ehud Barak at Camp David.
Frankenthal admits the group’s message isn’t popular among many circles in Israel now, which is in part why he thinks action by the United States is so essential.
“It’s not popular to talk about peace in Israel, since many people think we need to teach the Palestinians a lesson,” he said. “The more you attack the Palestinian people, the more suicide bombers you will have. I condemn every use of power. I condemn killing. I don’t think this is right way to go for either side.”
The visits to the United States have been organized to spread the message and to raise funds for the continuing campaign that includes the hotline for peace. Parents’ Circle is specifically appealing to American Jews to put pressure on the U.S. government to take a more active role in settling the conflict.
“I think American Jews need to do more,” Frankenthal said. “Because they appreciate the Israelis, they need to try harder to force America to do what needs to be done, to be more and more involved in the situation.”
Parents’ Circle received $1.5 million in donations last year, including $500,000 from the U.S. State Department and $500,000 from private donors, mostly in the United States.
The goal of Frankenthal’s most recent visit that ended May 2 was to raise $460,000 for the first three months of “Hello Shalom, Hello Salaam,” most of which will go to fund billboards and other promotional advertising for the hotline.