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Last Updated: Monday, 19 September 2005, 18:10 GMT 19:10 UK
Women bridge Middle East divide
By Jackie Storer
BBC News

Israeli Robi Damelin and Palestinian Nadwa Sarandah
Ms Damelin and Mrs Sarandah are firm friends
Two women - a Palestinian and an Israeli - have travelled to the UK in an effort to promote reconciliation and understanding in the Middle East.

Israeli Robi Damelin's son was killed by a Palestinian sniper while a sister of Palestinian Nadwa Sarandah was killed in West Jerusalem.

The pair, now close friends, are meeting Foreign Office officials, MPs and faith groups to push their message.

Empathy for each other's suffering has helped them deal with grief, they say.

Mrs Sarandah, a 51-year-old mother of two sons, and Ms Damelin, 62, who has a son and two grand-children, met through the Parents Circle Families Forum.

The group provides support and encouragement to Israelis and Palestinians who have lost relatives in the violence.

Talking therapy

Now the pair present a united front to meet Palestinian and Israeli adults and children in a bid to get both sides to talk to each other and bridge the divide.

Pain equalises you and you start to listen and that's when you start to understand
Nadwa Sarandah

The two women are often close to tears when they recall the losses that have drawn them together.

But Mrs Sarandah, a housewife who runs a tyre factory, says by talking about the loss of her sister Naela, 48, she can keep her sibling's memory alive.

Naela was stabbed to death in West Jerusalem six years ago, although the circumstances remain unclear to her family.

A Palestinian man was jailed by Israel for the crime, having confessed that he thought Naela was an Israeli. However, the family say they are concerned about the Israeli police investigation of the case.

Mrs Sarandah says she was incredibly "sceptical" when she attended her first Parents Circle meeting.

Enemies but friends

"I couldn't believe that I, after being paralysed by hate, anger and despair could empathise with an Israeli, but I did," she said.

Naela Sarandah
Naela Karain Hamdan was killed in West Jerusalem

"Pain equalises you and you start to listen and that's when you start to understand."

She says she would not have taken part in the forum had she not heard the open letter of apology from its Orthodox Jewish founder, Yizhak Frankenthal, who lost his 19-year-old son Arik.

Ms Damelin, whose 28-year-old son was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in March 2002, says their campaign is like a "continuation of motherhood because David was part of the peace movement".

"I couldn't stand by and watch what was happening without doing something," she says.

David Damelin
David Damelin was killed by a Palestinian sniper

"It's a reason for me to get up in the morning - we want to prevent other families from experience what we have."

Last year the two women carried out over 1,000 classroom lectures with Israeli 17-year-olds, who were due to join the army.

They discovered that while more than 70% of the youngsters in Israeli classes had been overseas, very few knew a Palestinian, despite living 10 minutes apart.

"In Palestinian schools they have not met an Israeli out of uniform who is not standing at a roadblock or an Israeli who is not a settler," says Ms Damelin.

Confidential phone

The group has now created an anonymous telephone line for Palestinians and Israelis to talk to each other, and since October 2002 it has been used by more than one million people.

Many of the conversations start off as rows because both sides are angry but then sometimes telephone numbers are exchanged and meetings held.

Ms Damelin, who used to run a public relations company, said she knew of a family from Bethlehem who received help in getting medicine for their diabetic child from a family from Israel.

"When you have dialogue from the other side, you start to understand and there is no way back," Mrs Sarandah, her Palestinian friend, added.

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