Holy Land

Forgiveness in the Holy Land

This week we spoke with two guests straight from the Holy Land – an Israeli and a Palestinian, who gave presentations around San Antonio about personal loss and their experience with forgiveness.

Ali Abu Awwad: Parents Circle – Families Forum, Project Manager

Ali Abu Awwad was born in 1972 in Hebron, Palestine.  The story of his family is like that of most Palestinian people, his father and all his family had to leave their village in 1948, since then they became refugees.

Ali’s mother was arrested in 1982 by the Israeli Army for a period of six months.  From then his family became active in the struggle for an independent democratic Palestinian State.  In the first ‘Intifada’ , his mother, brothers and he were arrested because of their activities in the struggle towards freedom.   Ali was in an Israeli prison for four years and was released after the Oslo agreement, which, he said gave them the hope for a peaceful solution with the Israeli people.  They believed in this agreement and started with others to build the Palestinian State and society which was interrupted by the second ‘Intifada’.

Ali joined the Parents Circle – Families Forum after his brother Yousef was killed by Israeli soldiers.  His brother Yousef Abu Awwad was 31 years old, married with two children and lived in Beith Ummar.  On November 16th, 2000 at a check point near the village he was interacting with an Israeli soldier, who subsequently ended this meeting with an un-armed Palestinian by shooting him in the head and killing him.  Ali received the terrible message of his death while he was hospitalized in Saudi Arabia after being shot in the knee by an Israeli settler.

Contrary to pressures from various groups and individuals who came to express their condolences, Ali decided that revenging his brothers’ death would not ease his pain or bring his brother back.  He thought the greatest tribute he could pay to his dead brother, his family and to his people would be to work to stop the cycle of violence and bloodshed.

Today Ali lives in Beit Ummar – Hebron, Palestine with his wife and two children.

Ali’s family and his brothers family joined the Parents Circle – Families Forum in 2001, and since then they have been working for peace and reconciliation between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.

Says Ali, “My duty as a Palestinian is to show the Israeli people that we have a just case and this can only take place when we stop the cycle of violence.  I believe that in order to have a just peace, Israelis and Palestinians should sit as equals at the negotiation table and work together to achieve a Peace agreement, free of violence from both sides.”

Yuval Rahamim: Parents Circle – Family Forum, Member

Yuval Rahamim was born in 1959 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Both his parents migrated to Israel as children and took part in establishing the state of Israel. The family moved in the 1960s to a small village in the Sharon area where they become farmers, specializing in growing strawberries and exporting the produce to Europe.

In spring 1967, Abraham, Yuval’s father was called for his reserve military unit due to the tension that was building up along the Israeli borders. Shortly after, on June 6th, the war broke. The war was over after only six days, thus its name “The Six Day War”. During the war Israel occupied the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, the Jordanian West Bank of the Jordan River and the Syrian Golan Heights. The swift victory put the young Israel in a state of euphoria but for Yuval’s family there was no joy since the father Abraham was killed on the second day of the war.

Yuval’s mother was not able to handle the disaster- taking care of the three kids, her expected new baby, the farm and her own grief was just too much. So at the age of eight Yuval was sent to a boarding school. As a teenager he decided a military career will be the best outlet for his feelings of revenge so he joined the military academy and became an officer in the Israel Defense Forces [IDF]. After six years in service Yuval left the army, got married, had three kids and pursued a career in communications and High Tech. Over time his views and motivation regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict transformed from his personal tragedy and rage, to a firm determination that the tragedies, killings and hate on both sides must stop. He needed to take on an active role in this process.

With this determination, Yuval set up a group of Israelis, both Arab and Jews that wanted to create together a new vision of peace for the Middle East. That year was 2009. At the same time, Yuval joined The Parents Circle – Families Forum [PC-FF] where Palestinian and Israeli bereaved families join forces for reconciliation, understanding and promoting peace on both sides of the conflict. Members of PC-FF act together to spread the message of reconciliation to many groups on both sides of the conflict with remarkable results.

Yuval says, “When my kids reached the age when they needed to take part in defending their country through a military service, I felt it was the time for me to step forward. I was no longer comfortable with letting our official leaders make the change. Changing the course of our bloody history is too important to leave it in the hands of the politicians. It is us, ordinary people who paid and continue to pay the price of the conflict, who must enroll ourselves and act within our communities to create the grounds and movement towards a sustainable peace among our nations.”

Ali and Yuval were visiting the U.S. – speaking about their experience and the importance of reconciliation and dialogue. They both represented The Parents Circle Families Forum, founded in 1995 to spearhead a reconciliation process between Israelis and Palestinians. The Parents Circle Familes Forum have one important thing in common – they have lost family members due to the conflict in Israel and Palestine.

Catholic Relief Services Southwest Region Office (S.A.) organized and sponsored their visit to San Antonio. Ali and Abu spoke at the University of Incarnate Word and at the Mexican American Catholic College. Both are promoting dialogue and reconciliation and prevention of violence.

We recommend the following resources related to this program:

– Official Website of The Parents Circle

– Official Website of Catholic Relief Services

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