Israeli citizens who long for peace

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Wednesday, 26 August, 2009

Mary Robinson writes about meeting the courageous members of civil society organisations who are working for peace and justice.

It is very moving to return to Jerusalem as part of the group of the Elders. I saw the excitement in the eyes of the wonderful representatives of Israeli civil society we met at lunchtime. They reflected groups that work on human rights, social-economic justice, women's issues and peace.

In sharing their stories and insights with us – how they fight for the rights of Palestinians on land and settlement issues, the status of Israeli Arabs, Palestinian and Israeli women reaching out to each other, and the partnering for peace – they spoke of the encouragement they felt by our recognition. How vital it is to have a committed range of civil society groups believing in and working for a diverse and just society in Israel, and peace and justice for the Palestinian people. We, for our part, felt humbled to listen to such examples of courage and generosity of spirit, working for better societies for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Immediately afterwards we met with a number of individuals who gave us a real sense of the pain, suffering and resilience of Israeli citizens over the past decades. We benefited initially from an expert analysis of trauma by a clinical psychologist, then listened to the stories of trauma from a combat soldier. This man described himself as a "warrior," but stressed the damage to him of serving in the occupied territories. We heard from a young husband and father badly injured by several Qassam rocket attacks in Sderot. We learned of the world of Combatants for Peace, bringing together Israeli and Palestinian former soldiers, policemen, and others, who had decided to educate the two communities and reduce the sense of fear and alienation.

It was inspiring to hear about the philosophy of Zaka, the humanitarian organisation which responds to incidents of terrorism, accidents or disasters, cares for the wounded and recovers human remains of each individual, Jewish or Palestinian, out of deep respect for human life. We were moved to tears by the courageous account of a member of the Parents' Circle, which represents the bereaved families – half Palestinian and half Israeli. We listened as a courageous mother described how her son, a student in a graduate university course, was killed – and how her first response was "you may not kill anyone in the name of my child." She then described the active world of Parents' Circle in Israeli and Palestinian schools, and also internationally.

My sense at the end of this first day is that we, as Elders, need to amplify the stories of these diverse, courageous, generous Israeli citizens who long for peace and are full of a sense of urgency to achieve it.

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