Regional Programs > Israel
& Palestine > Next Story
We have betrayed our children
Nurit Peled-Elnahan, Israel
November 28, 2002
I belong to a group of bereaved parents, both Israeli and
Palestinian. This group, The Parents Circle—Family Forum,
does not represent anyone except its members, who strongly
believe that we have been made to pay the highest price for
a war that should have ended long ago, by letting careless,
ruthless and cynical politicians use the lives of our
children as chips in their deadly games, turning our
childrenís blood into the cheapest merchandise in the
That is why we wish to strengthen the voice of parents. We
believe that motherhood, fatherhood and the wish to save
the children who are still alive are only the common
denominators that overcome nationality, race and religion.
Some of us are, indeed, religious. Yitzhak Frankenthal, the
founder of this forum, is an Orthodox Jew, but his Judaism,
unlike the Judaism of some of his friends, who refuse to
pray with him when he says Kaddish for his murdered son, is
a source of hope, of peace, of respect for the other, and
therefore of dialogue.
The main activity of our forum is talk. We talk to each
other, we talk to the world, and we talk to young people
who are about to join the army.
We know that conversation is always about differences: It
is the site where differences of power, of knowledge and of
beliefs are constantly negotiated.
People who do not accept differences and are not ready to
make room in themselves for different kinds of knowledge
and values cannot speak to each other. They can trick and
deceive and humiliate each other, but they cannot converse.
People who cannot, or will not, accept differences and who
don’t see heterogeneity as a blessing, have a monolithic
approach to talking: namely, they want to impose their
ideologies on others and dominate their thinking.
Their speech is intolerant and offensive; it is the kind of
approach we have been witnessing in most of the peace
negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Having a dialogic approach to conversation means being
willing to hold back your ideologies, or your truth, or
your personal and national narrative, and make room in
yourself for the truth and the narrative of the other.
Dialogic people do not believe in fixed personalities,
consolidated thought or eternal realities. In fact, in
Hebrew the terms finding, reality and invention all have
the same root. It means that reality is what we invent;
reality is the means we find to give meaning to what is
going on around us, and therefore it can be changed.
Fortunately there are people, even in Israel and Palestine,
who are willing to talk to each other. Unfortunately, they
are not many. Consequently the discourse that prevails in
this country is extremely monologic, racist and aggressive,
as evidenced by Frimet Roth’s article.
The annihilation, the demonization of the other has never
been a very promising basis for dialogue.
Our children kill other children because they are brought
up on concepts of discrimination between blood and blood
and on the belief that we are more deserving than others.
Our children die because the voice of mothers and fathers
has been suffocated and underrated for centuries, and
because it is always replaced by the voices of corrupt
politicians and bloodthirsty generals, of greedy
businessmen and unscrupulous, so-called leaders who are,
most of them, men, but who never speak as parents.
AFTER MY daughter, Smadari, was murdered for being an
Israeli girl by a young man desperate and distorted by
humiliation and hopelessness to the point of killing
himself and others, just because he was a Palestinian, I
was asked by a reporter how I could accept condolences from
the other side.
My very spontaneous response was that I did not accept
condolences from the other side, and when the mayor of
Jerusalem came to offer his condolences I shut myself in my
Because the people I count as "my side" are not defined by
any religious or national criteria. When I say "we," I do
not necessarily mean the Jews or the Israelis. I mean the
people who see life as I see it. When I say "we," I mean my
Israeli friends who swore before the open graves of their
sons that although they had lost their children, they would
never lose their heads.
I mean Prof. Gazawi from from Bir Zeit University, my co-
laureate of the Sakharov award who, after being confined in
a solitary cell for his wish to be a free and dignified man
in his homeland, after seeing his 15-year-old son shot in
his schoolyard while helping a wounded friend, still
refuses to think of man as evil, and says we must create
the myth of hope for those who have none.
I mean the young Palestinian mother, Najakh, who traveled
with me to New York in order to speak of peace after
watching her 10-year- old son being shot, and who had
nothing but affection for my 10- year-old son.
I mean Khaled, a Palestinian school principal who found his
eldest son with 50 bullets in his body without ever being
told why or how, and who, 20 days after that, called his
wife and told her to stop crying for her child and start
crying for mine.
I mean all the parents in the world who would not dream of
avenging the death of their children by killing the children of others.
TODAY, WHEN "terror" is the term coined to define the
murderous deeds of the poor and the weak and "war against
terror" is the term coined to define the murderous deeds of
the strong and the rich, when the greatest democracies
commit the most terrible crimes against humanity using
terms such as "freedom," "justice" and "the clash of
civilizations" to justify their crimes, we the bereaved,
the victims of either terror or anti-terror terrorism, are
the only ones left to tell the world that there is no
civilized killing of the innocent or barbaric killing of
the innocent, there is only criminal killing of the
We are the ones to tell the world there is no clash of
civilizations, that in the ever-growing underground kingdom
of dead children there is no clash of civilizations. On the
contrary: True multiculturalism prevails there, true
equality and true justice. And maybe we are the ones who
should remind the world that the golden age of both Islam
and Judaism was when the two lived side by side, nurturing
each other and flourishing together.
We are the ones who travel from one country to another to
remind the world that the death of a child, any child, in
Palestine or Israel, in Afghanistan or Chechnya, is the
death of the whole world; that after the death of a child,
any child, there is no other, that no one can avenge the
blood of a child because the child takes into her small
grave, with her small bones, the past and the future, the
reasons for the war and its consequences.
We are the ones who keep telling the world that the only
way for humanity to prevail is to join us in raising this
ancient voice, that has always been there, the voice of
motherhood and fatherhood, raise it until it deafens all
the other voices.
We demand that the world redefine its values and
priorities, redefine crime, guilt, the rights of children
and the duties of adults and therefore redefine education
and justice, and make it very clear that anyone who kills a
child will never be able to live in peace in this world.
Not even as Cain.
We are the ones who know that if we don’t raise this voice
very soon there will be nothing left to say or write or
hear except for the perpetual cry of mourning and the
silenced voices of dead children.
Therefore we are the ones who would end the war, because we
know that it doesn’t matter what flag is put on what
mountain, it doesn’t matter who looks where when they pray,
and that nothing is more important than to secure a young
girl’s way to her dance class.
That is because we are the ones who realize, every hour of
every day, that as parents and as adults we have betrayed
our children by not being alert, by not fighting for their
lives as vigorously as we should have done, by having
promised them a good life and a better world.
We are the ones who cried, like the Russian poet Anna
Akhmatova, when we saw our little girl or little boy for
the last time before turning our backs and leaving them in
the hands of strangers: "Why does that streak of blood rip
the petal of your cheek?"
Nurit Peled-Elnahan is a member of the Parents Circle, which represents a group of bereaved parents who have lost loved ones as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
From the Jerusalem Post, November 28, 2002.
Copyright 2002 The Jerusalem Post.