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The ‘Parents Circle – Families Forum’ is in my view the most outstanding peace organisations I have ever come across. In summation, according to their website: “Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF) is a grassroots organisation of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis. The PCFF promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge”.

To give you a bit of a background to this organisation (from a Ha’aretz article): “At the end of 1994, Yitzhak Frankenthal, a bereaved father and an Orthodox Jew, spent three months in a public library in Tel Aviv. His self-appointed task: to go through the library’s newspaper archive and find the names of all the families that had lost loved ones in terror attacks since 1948.

The final list numbered 422 families. He invited 350 of them (forgoing those whose loss was quite recent and those who had made bellicose declarations to the media regarding Arabs) to join a group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families that he was establishing. Representatives of 44 families who had lost members to the conflict responded positively and became the first to join the Parents Circle Families Forum – Palestinian [and] Israeli Bereaved Families for Peace. It’s the saddest – and most optimistic – peace organization that is active here. As it marks the 20th anniversary of its founding, the forum now consists of 620 Israeli and Palestinian families bonded by bereavement….. “

For the full article you can go….VKMvEmTF8m8

I find it absolutely incredible that bereaved parents on both sides of this conflict can come together and talk. It is a great sign of hope, that even while politicians rouse country into violence with fiery language of war, some of those most effected by the conflict are taking a stand in the opposite direction! I think the same article in Ha’aretz puts it best: “The Parents Circle Families Forum is unique among the country’s peace organizations. Its members hold a kind of joker card, which, when pulled, trumps all other cards. It’s bereavement. Bereavement is a major element in the collective national identity of both Israelis and Palestinians. Usually it’s a springboard to an aggressive approach. Yet for the past 20 years, the forum has invoked the sacred experience of loss and bereavement to achieve the opposite goal.”

Each year, the Parents Circle – Families Forum holds a youth camp. This year, the camp had around 40 young people Israelis and Palestinians aged 14-18 who came together to meet each other. It was co-ordinated by Dana Wegman and her partner Osama Abu Ayash, both members of the forum. Many of the kids came from the forum and some also came from outside. During the camp they undertake dialogue together, do joint activities, group projects and of course music and drumming!

This years camp was held at “Neve Shalom: Oasis of Peace – Wahat al-Salam” – a cooperative village jointly founded by Israeli Jews and Palestinian-Israeli Arabs in an attempt to show that the two peoples can live side by side. A beautiful venue for a camp – truly an Oasis. I was already to be at Neve Shalom to run a workshop so it was fortuitous that the Parents Circle – Families Forum were also holding their annual youth camp at the same time so I could run a workshop with them.

It was a Friday night, and I had just had a quite Shabbat dinner with some of the members of the Neve Shalom Spiritual Centre after which we headed up to the village bonfire pit where the young people from the camp had gathered. They were playing djembe drums, singing and dancing together around the fire; it was an intense tribal atmosphere, with some of the loudest and most intense djembe drumming I think I have ever heard, which took me into a state of mild shock after our quite Shabbat discussing Sufism and Psychodrama. We heard both Arabic, Israeli and Western songs and chants, and all sorts of dance taking place around the fire.

At this stage, I thought to myself, “how on earth am I supposed to run my workshop in this atmosphere around the fire without electricity!”. Also given my nerves were already on edge, I thought this was going to be a real challenge to do something different. As fate had it, we had a noise complaint so we made our way to the dining hall and that is where I setup the microphone and sound system. Probably a more suitable venue for what I normally do, so given the circumstances, I was kind of relieved.

It was late, 11pm, so I did not want to run a full song making workshop – it was just about facilitating a jam session – to continue somehow fanning the flames of the campfire sing. So we just got to it… 40 people in a circle. I encouraged anyone to create improvise a musical part and for everyone to repeat. I then recorded and looped the sounds and on this went! I then introduced circle singing and we had various groups within the circle, singing parts as an ensemble. The group got into it! Someone also picked up a guitar and added a bass line which worked super well in the song. The result is a bit of an a cappella meets EDM (electronic dance music) music track. I added a dance beat underneath the circle song to give it a push.

Good fun and I am just really glad to have played a part, albeit a tiny part, in helping the Parents Circle – Families Forum run its program. It was a real honour to work with them, and of course the young people who were taking part in the program themselves!