22nd January 1995, a double suicide bombing carried out by Islamic Jihad
terrorists at the Bet Lid junction near Netanya killed 21 and wounded 34.
Most of the victims were soldiers, including 19-year-old Amir Hirshenson.
In the previous July, Israeli businessman
Yitzhak Frankenthal had just retired, intending at some future point to become
involved in a new venture. Two days later, his son, Arik, was murdered
after being picked up by Hamas terrorists posing as Jews, while he was hitch-hiking
home from his army base.
Frankenthal never did start work on
the new business venture; instead he has devoted his life to running the
Bereaved Families’ Forum, which he established after Arik’s death.
Initially, Frankenthal searched through
newspapers and contacted the families of victims of terror attacks, informing
them that, in his opinion, the only solution to the conflict was a continuation
of the peace process leading to the formation of a Palestinian state. Soon
after his son’s death, Roni Hirshenson received a letter from Frankenthal
telling him about the group, which today comprises Israeli Jews and Arabs,
Palestinians and Druze families who have lost loved ones in the continuing
Even before their sons died, both
Hirshenson and Frankenthal had always been firm supporters of the peace process.
Paying the ultimate price has only reinforced their views.
Heartbreakingly, the Hirshensons suffered
a further tragedy in October 2000 when their 19-year-old son, Elad, committed
suicide after his best friend was killed protecting the Israeli settlement
of Netzarim in Gaza. Elad left a note explaining that he could not live in
a country which sent its children to a needless death.
The Forum currently has a membership
of some 200 Israeli and 150 Palestinian families – a figure the group fervently
hopes will remain static. While most peace groups in Israel lost their
momentum when the intifada began, “the Bereaved Families’ Forum never stopped
the dialogue with the Palestinians, or the campaign, for even one day,” says
Yasser Arafat is one of the Palestinians
with whom Frankenthal himself has a personal dialogue. During the past
five years, he has met the Palestinian leader on many occasions, the most
recent being last week. Like it or not, he maintains, “Yasser Arafat is the
person we have to talk to.”
The Forum has just spent half a million
dollars on an advertising campaign promoting the slogan “better the pains
of peace than the agonies of war“, which currently appears on billboards,
in full-page newspaper advertisements and on the radio throughout Israel
and the West Bank and Gaza.
In addition to maintaining the Forum’s
existing contacts between Israelis and Palestinians, a new campaign is about
to be launched which will enable ordinary individuals from both sides to
talk to each other directly by dialling a toll free number. The Forum
hopes that the “Hello, Shalom, Salaam” campaign will demonstrate
to ordinary Israelis and Palestinians that there are real people on each
side of the conflict.
Frankenthal, who is an orthodox Jew,
says that right-wing Israelis often tell him they would support his efforts
to the full if they believed that there could be a real, lasting peace settlement.
“But they don’t believe that the Palestinians want real peace,” he says.
“Members of our group have lost a child due to the absence of peace; we
consider it our duty to strive for peace so that other parents’ children
will live on.”
The Bereaved Families’ Forum comprises
people from across the political, religious and racial spectrum who share
a true appreciation of the terrible cost of the continuing conflict. And
they remain determined to persuade ordinary Israelis and Palestinians that
only a just peace, involving compromise on both sides, will end the bloodshed.