Robi is an Israeli Jew. Her only son, David, an Israeli soldier, was killed in 2002 by a Palestinian sniper at a military checkpoint.
Aisha is a Palestinian Muslim. Her brother was killed by Israeli gunfire in an invasion of their community more than a decade ago.
Hearing Robi and Aisha share their stories and witnessing the deep friendship that binds them, was one of the most vivid signs of hope for 13 Mennonite church leaders from Canada who recently visited Palestine-Israel as part of a two-week MCC-sponsored learning tour, Apr. 20–May 2.
The two women are members of the Parents Circle – Family Forum. The organization, which consists of 400 families, brings together people on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict who have experienced violence and loss.
Pairs of individuals, one Israeli and one Palestinian, do presentations in schools, community centres, and other public forums. Their goal is to build compassion and understanding for “the other.”
“Our loss is the same,” says Aisha simply. “We must understand each other’s pain.”
Robi concurs. “Israelis travel the world, but we don’t know our Palestinian neighbours. What we know about are the extremists, the ones portrayed in the media. But the truth is very different.” Robi insists that seeking out the truth about their neighbours is necessary for healing and reconciliation.
Ralph Gliege, Saskatchewan MB conference minister, said the encounter with Robi and Aisha was “profoundly gospel.” Although Robi had indicated she was not a religious person, Gliege felt that her life demonstrated a “knowledge of the Lord” which was deeply humbling.
Garry Janzen, executive minister for Mennonite Church B.C., concurred, “Ultimately, relationships are what matter. Peace is more about behaviour than words.”
The 13-member delegation included representatives from the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, the Evangelical Mennonite Conference, and Mennonite Church Canada. Several MCC staff and board members were also part of the group.
The main goals for the delegation were to learn about the context and to hear how Mennonites in Canada can support a just peace in this troubled part of the world.
The group heard from Israelis and Palestinians of varying perspectives: a Palestinian family whose home has been demolished by Israeli forces four times, a Jewish settler whose vehicle has been stoned numerous times, a Jewish rabbi who believes Zionism is a Jewish liberation movement, and a Palestinian pastor and teacher who says that Christian Zionism, by supporting the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, is killing Palestinians.
At the conclusion of the trip, the delegation agreed to send a message to their respective congregations and denominational offices with suggestions for prayer and action for peace in Palestine-Israel (mcc.org/news/files/Letter–2008–05–22.pdf).
They also sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper who attended the 60th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the State of Israel. The letter urged Prime Minister Harper to use every means at his disposal to work with Israelis and Palestinians for peace, justice, and security for all.