Shortly before his release from prison, Ali led a hunger strike lasting 17 days, demanding better conditions. It worked, and it taught him the strength of non-violent opposition.
But a few years later his adored older brother, Yussef, 32, was shot and killed during an argument with Israeli soldiers. Yussef had been trying to stop kids from throwing stones. “Yussef was the angel of our family. He gave up his own school studies to support our family when my mother was in prison. He worked for an Israeli charity. He was like a mother to me, making sure I always had sandwiches and didn’t go hungry at school.”
What stopped Ali seeking retribution for his brother’s death was a phone call his mother received from an Orthodox Jew, Yitzhak Frankenthal, asking to visit. Frankenthal had recently established Parents Circle-Families Forum (PCFF) after his son Arik, 19, was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas activists.
The forum aimed to help families who had lost loved ones in the conflict to work together towards reconciliation. Frankenthal was determined from the outset that Palestinians must be equally represented at every level. Even a cheque from the charity requires both an Israeli and a Palestinian signature.
Ali recalls: “I was shocked that my mother agreed to invite Frankenthal and his family to our home as well as several other Palestinian bereaved families that we knew. I don’t want to give the impression that that first meeting was all peace and light. We still have our differences. But after 30 minutes everyone was crying. It was the first time I had seen Israelis cry, the first time that I had encountered Israelis other than in uniform ordering me about. We realised then that the other side can feel your pain and can even help work for your future. Revenge? What for? It does not bring anyone back.”
Robi too heard about the parents circle from Frankenthal after her son David, an officer in the reserves, was killed by a Palestinian sniper, Taer Hamad. David, 28, studying for a master’s degree in philosophy of education at Tel Aviv University, was part of the peace movement and did not want to serve in the occupied territories.
Ali describes himself as following a dream.“I’m not naive; I know there must be a political solution to resolve the situation. But I am not sure that we can live in one state. Perhaps we have to divorce first and then if we get married again it will be by agreement — it’s like a couple arguing over whether or not they have children before they decide to get married. The first condition is to want peace. Peace is to empower the pain for a good future, not for damage.”
Remember: it is precisely these sorts of initiatives that threaten the murderers and fanatics most deeply. We must do everything we can to support them.