Israeli Families Say Peace is Revenge

Editor's Note: In 1994, following the abduction and murder of his 19-year-old son Arik by the terrorist group Hamas, Yitzhak Frankenthal founded the Bereaved Families Forum -- an organization of 190 bereaved Israeli parents, Palestinian and Jews, who lost their children during army service or in an act of terrorism. The organization, also referred to as Parent's Circle, promotes peace and coexistence through educating for tolerance and compromise. The group recently set up a free service to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to talk on the telephone.

AlterNet: What motivated you to found the Bereaved Families Forum? What do you hope to achieve through this organization and its efforts?

Frankenthal: After I lost my son, Arik, I came to understand that he was not murdered because the murderers knew him. He was killed because there is no peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is why we are ready to make reconciliation and not ready to go for revenge. And if we can do it -- when we have lost members of our families -- everyone can and needs to do it.

Many people respond to grief and loss by seeking vengeance. Why have you chosen reconciliation instead?

I am also looking for revenge. Revenge for me is making peace. The murderers killed my son because there is no peace. And I am angry. I am very angry that we are in this terrible situation and people are not ready to listen. People have a lot of hatred, a lot of fear. What they need is to talk to each other. For example, recently we set up a telephone program, where Israelis and Palestinians can call each other. Now, 22,851 people have talked one with the other because of this. That would be 600,000 people in the United States in terms of the percentage of the population here. That is really unbelievable -- the need for Israelis and Palestinians to talk to each other.

But how do you address that fear you mention? How do you respond to people on both sides who are afraid -- and for very good reasons?

How many more people are we going to lose on both sides before we realize this is not the right way? Palestinians recently lost 25-26 people. The Israeli army says it does not have any choice. The Palestinians say they do not have any other choice but to kill. But the real way to stop it [the killing] is to understand the motivation of those who are doing the killing.

Is it harder to make this argument -- that the solution to terrorism is to understand the root causes -- since the 9/11 attacks?

What is harder since 9/11 is that there is no differentiation between two types of terrorism. What happened in 9/11 is a kind of ideological terrorism. Bin Laden was against the free world, America, and capitalism. What is going on in the Middle East is because the people are in despair. I can't justify it, but I want to understand the roots of it. What 9/11 did was give a great fig leaf to Sharon -- let him say what you are going through in the United States is the same as what we are facing here. It's a complete bluff. This is about the Occupation. Finish the Occupation, you will finish the killing.

How have other Israelis reacted to what you are doing?

Some welcome it, some are very angry. But no one does not care. But many people understand what we are doing is because we care. We are Israeli patriots. We have lost members of our family to terrorism. I am an orthodox Jew. No one is doing this for the Palestinians.

Patriotism has become a very loaded word these days. You call yourself an Israeli patriot. How do you define your patriotism?

This is my notion of patriotism. I have served in the army. My children are serving in the army. You understand? I also believe we need to have a strong IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) in order to maintain the peace. I do not believe in European leaders or even U.S. leaders. It is we who have to defend ourselves. But because I love my people, my community, it doesn't mean I need to do terrible things to the Palestinian people. It is because we are doing terrible things to the Palestinian people that we are in this situation.

What about the Palestinians? How have they responded to your organization?

With a lot of respect. They are ready to listen, ready to walk together. The reaction to all our efforts has been very warm.

So are you optimistic or pessimistic about the prospects of peace in the near future?

I'm neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I am a realist. If we achieve a real reconciliation, we have a chance of peace. If we don't then more and more people will be killed and maimed on both sides.

How can Americans help promote this peace effort in the Middle East?

If Israelis talk to Palestinians and Palestinians talk to Israelis it will help take down this wall of hatred. What you can do is help us by donating money to make this possible. You cannot do the work for us; we have to do that ourselves. The truth is both Israelis and Palestinians want to achieve peace. And the way to do that is through reconciliation.

Today, Oct. 17, is the death anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin. Do you think his assassination destroyed hard-won progress towards peace and reconciliation -- especially when we look back at how much the situation has deteriorated since then?

Of course and no. What do I mean by that? I think no one person can stop the peace. But what the murderer of Rabin did is not only kill him but also the thousands of people who have died since then because we did not achieve peace. I think peace will come. It is not a question of idealism. We are living with a million people, sharing the same land. We need to be clever enough to recognize the picture in front of us.

Learn more about the Parent's Circle and how you can get involved at

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