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November 18, 2013

The documentary film Two Sided Story tells of Parents Circle Families Forum, an organization in which bereaved family members of Palestinian and Israeli victims of violence meet to tell each other of the suffering they’ve experienced. The 18-year-old organization now has hundreds of members who are achieving reconciliation amidst the seemingly never-ending violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

In Two Sided Story, released in 2012, the dialogue among people on the different sides is sharp and frank. Reconciliation begins with talking with those you see as implicated in the murder of your son or daughter. But the dialogue is not without pain of its own.

“The only good Arab is a dead Arab,” one man says in the film. Over time, however, participants move to greater understanding of each other and even form friendships.

A 2009 report on Parents Circle produced by PBS’ Religion and Ethics Newsweekly focused on two men who formed a strong bond through the group and, at that time, had given more than 1,000 talks in Palestinian and Israeli schools urging children to seek peace in the country.

Rami Elhanan’s 14-year-old daughter Smadar was killed by two suicide bombers when she was going to buy books at the start of the 1997 school year. Maren Faraj’s 62-year-old father was shot by Israeli soldiers outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002 when he was returning home from buying groceries.

Faraj said when he came to his first Parents Circle meeting at which Elhanan was to talk, he told him, “What do you know about suffering and pain? You just live in Jerusalem. You are Israeli; you are the occupier; you are everything.” Then he listened and “I found out, whoa, it’s the same pain.”

Elhanan said when he attended his first meeting, he was shocked to see bereaved Palestinians. “It was the first time ever in my life that I met Palestinians as human beings after so many years of demonizing each other.”

When Elhanan and Faraj began to give talks in schools, they found disbelief among the students at the thought of Israelis and Palestinians ever becoming friends. They also found that the biggest threat to their own personal safety comes from people on their own side who view them as traitors.

Parents Circle is a sign that hatred does not have to exist, that reconciliation is not an empty word and that ultimately Blessed John Paul II’s words “Never again war” can be realized if centuries-old enmities are broken down through open dialogue.

The human person is built not for war, for isolation and for prejudice, but rather for solidarity. Solidarity begins with hearing of the suffering of the stranger. Said Elhanan: “It’s not our destiny to keep on killing each other, and we can stop it by talking to one another – it’s that simple.”