Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 103-110)

11 NOVEMBER 2003


  Q103  Chris McCafferty: Can I say it is nice to see you both again, and I am pleased that Dr Misk was allowed out of Palestine to come and give evidence here today. I know, because I have spoken with you before when we met in this room, that you are a non-political organisation and you are also one of the very few cross-community organisations that exist in Israel and the occupied territories. So from where I am looking you are a wonderful role model for other organisations, or other Israelis and Palestinians who may want to work for peace and reconciliation and for tolerance in the way that you do so well. I would like to ask you why is it, in your view, there are so few organisations like yours, so few cross-community organisations? Are there big obstacles put in the path of having an organisation such as yours? What can be done to help integrated civil society organisations to flourish in Israel and the occupied territories?

  Mrs Damelin: I think, to answer your question about other organisations, if you look at the world in general—in fact if you look at the parties in this very House that we are sitting in—there are pro-Palestinian lobbies, there are pro-Israel friend lobbies and that tends to be the way that people behave in the world in general. I do not think the Israelis or the Palestinians are very different. If you look at the Parents' Circle it is a very unusual organisation. It is made up of 500 families who have all lost a family member. I think it is the basis of being able to forgive and to looking at the future for other children, because parents who have lost children are, really, probably the only people who can understand what it means to send a child off to war. I think that the occupation is not only killing the Palestinians, because Israelis do not see the pain and suffering of the Palestinians, but we believe as an organisation that the occupation is ruining the morale and the morals of the Israelis. We must do whatever we can do to stop this occupation and whatever you can do to stop this occupation, if you are interested in Israel in surviving and if you are interested in the Palestinians getting out of the terrible, terrible conditions that they live in. We tend to talk about statistics, and I have listened to everybody here today, but I see the human beings behind the statistics: I see my son, who was a peace worker, I see Adel's father who was killed by the occupiers; I do not see just the statistic. Then when you begin to humanise things you will realise that the Israelis need you more than you even could vaguely understand. It is no good blaming because the Israelis are not going to disappear in a puff of smoke and nor are the Palestinians. So what can you really do except sit around and talk about statistics? It is to try and influence the Israelis to get out of the occupied territories. Our long-term goals are very much towards reconciliation, something like South Africa. We want to have a truth and reconciliation commission because we know that until the Palestinians and the Israelis get together as nations there will never be peace. They can talk about Oslo, they can talk about Geneva, they can do whatever they like, until we all tell the truth and we admit to the crimes from both sides. How can we ever forgive each other? So we work with our telephone line, which is "Hello Peace/Hello Shalom", which we have had over the past year. More than 500,000 people have spoken to each other and we are opening the line from America now because we feel that the media does not give the people enough opportunity to really speak to each other and we hope that we can do the same in Europe, depending on funds.

  Dr Misk: Thank you again for giving us this opportunity to talk to all of you about our unique experience. We are not a political organisation, we are a unique organisation. We have paid the high price in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. As Robi said, and all of us agree, the main problem for all of us is the occupation of the territory. When we start to work together as Palestinians and Israelis we believe strongly that we have the same blood and the same pain and the same future. In the last year a group of Palestinians went to a medical centre in the West of Jerusalem and donated blood to the Israeli parts as a symbolic issue. On the same day an Israeli group of Parents' Circle Forum Families went to Ramallah and donated blood to the Palestinian hospitals in Ramallah and met General Arafat on the same day. This example is to show to all of us that, Palestinian or Israeli, we have the same blood and the same pain and the same future for all of us. The peace issue and the security, what Israel is looking for, I think is the same thing for the Palestinian operation and for the Palestinian Authority. Since then we started to have another programme, like education. We believe strongly in education and to prepare the future generation, to prepare the future leaders; we did not succeed to convince our leaders to reach peace and to talk to each other. Robi and I, and tens and hundreds of persons like us, are succeeding in talking about our pain and about our suffering and about our future, but I am so sorry now we did not succeed in convincing our leaders to talk together and to sit down together to reach this peace. As we start to convince and to work hard with the next generation, the children and the teenagers, we start to do lectures in high schools, initially in Israeli high schools and then later on in the Palestinian high schools. We believe that young persons, between 16 and 17 years old, will be the problem in the next day. We talk to Israeli teenagers, 16 and 17, who are going into military service the next day and will be in contact with the Palestinian reality. We have made more than 1,400 lectures in Israeli high schools, and start in Palestinian high schools this year. During the last year we have made another project to prepare the children of both sides. We made it a summer camp between the Israeli and Palestinian children, at the age of 9 to 14 years. We give the possibility to these children, about 20 from both sides, to live together for more than a week. We succeed and we show how it is so important to prepare this generation for the future and for peace and reconciliation. Thank you.

  Q104  Chris McCafferty: You have half-answered my next question, which was: do you think that cross-community education is effective? Well, clearly, you do because you would not be doing it otherwise. I am sure everyone in this room would agree with you that hatred is the cause or, certainly, exacerbated by ignorance.

  Mrs Damelin: The opportunity that an Israeli child gets when he meets a Palestinian bereaved parent, he may never have met a Palestinian in his life. This cut-off of both populations creates fear, and the fear is what creates all this violence. I can tell you from a personal experience that I was in Italy and I went to talk at a peace conference and they did not want me to talk because I was an Israeli. Yes, it is quite difficult to be an Israeli in Europe now. A very wonderful woman from Ramallah got up and told them that they needed to let me talk. So think of the absurdity that a Palestinian from Ramallah has to tell the Europeans to let an Israeli talk. I am just giving you this as an example of judging without knowing, and that is what is happening in Israel and the Palestinian state.

  Q105  Chris McCafferty: Can I ask you what feedback you have had from the seminars that you have instigated, particularly the work in the schools? I am interested in the young people. What kind of feedback are you getting from what you are telling them, what you are talking about? What is the response to that education?

  Dr Misk: Usually we adopt a system. Initially we send an Israeli person to talk with the Israeli schools and later on we commit to make a lecture and come in, Israeli and Palestinian persons, to talk together, and to talk about ourselves, to talk about our pain and to talk about our history. Initially we have many reactions. Some of them refuse this kind of co-operation between Israelis and Palestinians. It is unbelievable to see people who have lost families, obviously hating each other, obviously wanting to kill each other, to then see each other, and to go together and talk in the same language about our pain and our history; we have many, many positive reactions. Many of them ask how they can help, how they can reach us, how they can work for us even. This is the reaction that we have.

  Q106  Chris McCafferty: So you feel that by, particularly, working with young people you can help create a better environment, better thinking and a better knowledge of each other's position and, hopefully, to combat incitement perhaps?

  Mrs Damelin: It is really to create a dialogue, and that is the telephone line. It is much more than that because it has to be very long-term, and we are negotiating working with the International Center for Transitional Justice, Dr Alex Boraine, who created the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa. It is obviously not the same situation because we are not talking about a government-backed organisation, but we want to prepare a framework, and I think that no other group could be more appropriate to spearhead something like this. We do not have the academic qualifications but we certainly do have the example to give. That is where we are heading.

  Q107  Chris McCafferty: I know you are non-politicos and my colleague has already asked our resident politico this question, so I want to ask it of you from the non-political perspective. We visited the wall, we have seen what it is doing, we know it is reducing the occupied territories into, really, several small homelands, if you like. Given that is the current situation, I would like to know your view as non-political people. What is your view of the two state solution? What is your perception of current Israeli-Palestinian thinking on the two state solution? The third point of that is, would the truth and reconciliation procedure that you envisage be before or after a two state solution? When do you see that happening?

  Mrs Damelin: That is our dream.

  Q108  Chris McCafferty: The two state solution is a dream?

  Mrs Damelin: No.

  Q109  Chris McCafferty: The truth and reconciliation?

  Mrs Damelin: I think the two state solution will happen soon, hopefully, because not Israel and not Palestine can sustain the situation as is. The human suffering of the Palestinians, I think, is very hard for anybody to conceive of. The more I meet Palestinians the more I realise how dreadful their daily life is. This gentlemen over here needs to get to a hospital in Ramallah and it can take him three hours. I can get from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 40 minutes. The difference in the little boy who cannot see his father because he lives in the West Bank and the father does not have permission to come to East Jerusalem. Those are little things, but those are the people behind the statistics. This cannot go on. The children of the settlers, of the occupiers, in my opinion, are abused children, and if I could do anything to help them get out of there I would so. Part of our organisation now, we are 13 mothers and we are working to have a dialogue with the mothers in the occupied territories to try to get them out, because they are the cause of the death of my children and many other children. My child did not die for Israel, my child died to protect a cause that he did not believe in.

  Q110  Chris McCafferty: That is very hard.

  Dr Misk: The two state solution may be a dream but if you are looking at what is happening on the ground, who is visiting the occupied territories and the continuity of return to Palestinian, it gives the idea that it is so impossible to create a Palestinian state on the ground. I believe that the security and the development of the Israeli state is important, but also the creation of a Palestinian state and the security and the development, even for a Palestinian population who was looking at fighting for many years—I am so sorry that the Palestinian Authority and Palestinians who were fighting and waiting to create a Palestinian state were, suddenly in 2000, transformed to terrorists. We do not like to be terrorists, this is a kind of stigma for the Palestinian movement for liberation to transform to a movement of terrorism. The Palestinian population, they are looking to freedom and to create a Palestinian state behind the Israeli state, and to live together. Later on we can make reconciliation and talk about this kind of reconciliation between two states.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for coming.

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