Victims of Mideast violence urge Americans to call special telephone number and work for peace

JONATHAN D. SALANT, Associated Press Writer

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

WASHINGTON (AP) – By calling a special telephone number, Americans can speak to relatives of those who have died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and learn firsthand why such violence should be stopped, some of those family members said Tuesday.

Organizers hope that Americans will be motivated to call their lawmakers and the White House and urge them to try harder to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“Only America can really move things in the Middle East,” said Robi Damelin, an Israeli whose 29-year-old son, David, was killed last year by a Palestinian sniper.

The Parents’ Circle, an association of families who have lost relatives in Mideast violence, has set up a phone number where callers can speak to victims of the ongoing fighting to hear what it’s like to live with violence.

By dialing 1-900-ATPEACE, a caller can talk to Damelin — or to Ghazi Brighith, a Palestinian whose brother was killed by Israeli soldiers as he approached a checkpoint on his way home from work, or other Palestinians and Israelis who can tell their personal stories of loss.

“We have to be ready to say, ‘We made mistakes against each other,”‘ Brighith said. “Let’s start anew with a new page instead of keep seeking revenge.”

The calls cost $1 a minute and the revenue collected, which is tax-deductible, goes to operate a similar telephone line in Israel run by The Parents’ Circle. The group said more than 300,000 Israelis and Palestinians have made calls since the phone line began operating in October 2002.

“Very rarely do you get the person whose son died or a suicide bomber’s mother,” Damelin said. “You never know what comes out of a telephone call.”

The organizers are supporters of a two-state solution in the Middle East. Their effort tracks one begun last month by Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy to use speeches from the pulpit, church bulletins and a march on Washington to push President Bush and Congress to mobilize their constituents to press for a greater American role in trying to solve the 56-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict.

The United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia have drafted a peace plan, known as the road map, which calls on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to take a series of steps that will culminate in two states — a Jewish Israel and an Arab Palestine.
Damelin and Brighith are in Washington and New York this week to tell their stories and to urge Americans to start calling.

“Revenge so often destroys the person who is the avenger,” Damelin said. “I would rather spend my time looking for a way to reconcile and prevent more people from joining this terrible club of bereavement.”