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Two Men Fight For Peace Amid A Long War

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Two Men Fight For Peace Amid A Long War

Israeli-Palestinian Coverage

Two Men Fight For Peace Amid A Long War

Two Men Fight For Peace Amid A Long War

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Renewed efforts to start negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have created a great deal of buzz, but whether these efforts result in real change is still unclear. To discuss the potential for reconciliation are two people who are living every day with the consequences of perpetual conflict. Kamel Husseini is a Palestinian from Jerusalem, and Yitzhak Frankenthal is an Israeli whose son was killed by the Palestinian political party and militant group Hamas. They both work for the Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace, a group that tries to help both sides overcome the psychological barriers to making peace.

MICHEL MARTIN, host: And now we want to talk about the quest for reconciliation in a long-running conflict where a lasting peace seems a distant dream. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the news again. There was the announcement of an alliance between the two Palestinian parties, Hamas and Fatah. There was President Obama's policy address last month where he laid out a series of compromises he called upon each side to take. And then there was the U.S. visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Since then, pundits and the public have been arguing over whether Obama is anti-Israel, whether Netanyahu was rude to Obama, and somewhere in there is talk about restarting peace negotiations. In the middle of all this, we've been trying to keep the focus on the people who have to live with the consequences of perpetual conflict.

Last week we talked with two young activists, an Israeli and a Palestinian who were trying to work together for peace. Today we speak with two more men who are also working together to help their countrymen overcome what they call the psychological barriers to making peace. Their group is called the Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace.

Yitzhak Frankenthal is Israeli. He's the executive director of the fund. He's here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Welcome. Thank you for coming.

YITZHAK FRANKENTHAL: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Also with us is Kamel Husseini. He's the Palestinian organizer for the fund. He's here with us, also. Thank you for coming.


MARTIN: They're actually visiting the U.S. to spread the word about their group.

Mr. Frankenthal, you were actually mentioned in President Obama's policy address to the State Department last month. We'll just play a short clip.

President BARACK OBAMA: We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones. That father said: I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.

MARTIN: I want to mention that the president was actually referencing a different group that you are also involved with, but could you talk about what happened to your son and how that motivated you?

FRANKENTHAL: Alec(ph) was 19 and a half years old. He was an Israeli soldier in the tank force and on his way home he was murdered by the Hamas. Alec was a wonderful kid. He was something special. And, you know, I realized that I lost Alec not because he was ill, not because it was an accident that he was killed, it was because there is no peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

And I said to Alec months before he was murdered, I asked him, Alec, tell me, if you would be Palestinian, what you would do. So he said to me, you know, daddy, if I would be Palestinian, I would kill as much as possible Israeli soldier exactly like we did to the British to achieve a state for our people. Unfortunately, months later he was murdered.

And since then I am doing the utmost to try to reach peace between the Israelis and Palestinian. I realize that the Palestinian are human beings exactly like the Israelis.

MARTIN: Mr. Husseini, what about you? Why did you decide to get involved in this?

HUSSEINI: Well, I don't have the same tragic story like Yitzhak and many Israelis and Palestinian families who lost loved ones, but I lived the conflict. I grew up in Jerusalem. It is united city, but divided in every sense. I did not have Israeli friends until I came to America and started in this city, Washington, D.C., where I made my first Jewish and Israeli friends.

So I realized that we are living in a big divided reality and that division is growing. And that is dangerous. So that is what draws me to this.

MARTIN: How does it work? What are first steps that people can take?

HUSSEINI: I think the first step would be maybe to put a human face on the conflict and that should be focused on both Israeli and Palestinian public opinions. We have invested little in outreaching to Israeli public opinion as Palestinians and I believe the Israelis have not also invested in reaching to the Palestinian public.

Although we are neighbors, we are the most proximate neighbors on earth, but we are so distant in every other sense. So there should be some re-humanization of the conflict. And then it is a series of activities using media, using drama, entertainment, reality TV, all kinds of tools that would enable both sides to see each other in a different context. Hopefully that will create pressure on leaderships to be a bit more bolder and more daring to go to a peace process that will deliver results.

MARTIN: Was either of you - could tell me a little bit about what kind of media projects you think would be helpful?

HUSSEINI: The kind of media that we are going to use is first of all social media. It's a new media, what we are talking about. Another media that we are going to do, it's like a "Big Brother" to bring together Israelis and Palestinians to one house, let them be there for a couple of weeks and TV will show them 24 hours a day. They will raise all the questions and we will deal with it.

The daily drama programs that we are going to do on both sides, on the Palestinian side and the Israeli side. There is a (unintelligible) that will talk only about peace issues, about religious and peace issues both from the Islamic in peace and the Judaism in peace because many people are using religion against peace. We would like to show them that there is a way how to use religion for peace and not against peace.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We're talking about a new effort to achieve reconciliation in the Middle East conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. I'm joined in the studio by Yitzhak Frankenthal. He's the executive director of a group called the Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace. Also with us, Kamel Husseini. He is a Palestinian organizer for the group. The leaders of both communities could create circumstances where people could meet each other. Why do you think they don't?

FRANKENTHAL: Our leaders are not leading us as they need to lead us. If we will overcome the psychological barriers that fill the mistrust and the demonization about others, and we will do it in a professional way as we are planning to do it, then the society will force their leaders to do what their leaders need to do.

MARTIN: But how? What exactly should people do?

FRANKENTHAL: Many, many things. For an example, once we are talking about the media project that we are planning, people will start to see Palestinians are exactly human beings as the Israelis.

MARTIN: You really think that most Israelis don't see Palestinians as fully human, as wanting the same things? They don't?

FRANKENTHAL: You need to understand, the Israeli society are wonderful people. Unfortunately they don't understand the situation of the Palestinians. If they would understand the situation of the Palestinians, they would push the government to make peace.

MARTIN: Mr. Husseini, the same question. Do you think that that is - the same is true on the Palestinians so that they really don't see Israelis as being fully human, as wanting the same things?

HUSSEINI: I mean, they don't see the Israelis as normal next door neighbors. They see them as soldiers, intelligence officers, people that not interested in their well being. They're maybe sharing the land, but they want all the land, so they see them as occupiers.

MARTIN: Why do you think you don't? Why do you think you are able to have this friendship with Mr. Frankenthal?

HUSSEINI: Maybe we have traversed some of that mistrust, some of that perception, ignorance. And we also understand that the end result is sharing this property called the Holy Land. And, also, there's a deep sense inside both of us that is a value system. We have a value system to respect humans, to respect lives.

If you recall, a few months ago, young Palestinians killed an Israeli family in a settlement and a three-month baby was killed. And, you know, when I saw the pictures, usually we Palestinians don't exchange, you know, pictures of Israeli victims, we look at our victims from Gaza, so that's what we spread among ourselves on the cyberspace. We get more anti-Israeli. But this time somebody sent me the pictures of the Israeli family. And I opened them and I saw the one picture of the three-month-old baby. And I have children and I just related to my own daughters who I kiss every night going to bed. And I said this cannot happen. We cannot be animals. And we - even if they are settlers.

So I posted on my Facebook my feelings and I said settlers have babies too. To my surprise not too many Palestinians attacked me. Some reminded me that we lost children too and we should not just - I said, yes, but this is not resistance, this is not honorable, this is not fighting enemy, killing children is not tolerated. So one has to go that extra mile and be human.

MARTIN: Mr. Frankenthal, what about you? How do you maintain hope, particularly in the face of your own loss?

FRANKENTHAL: As I said before, Alec was murdered not because he was Alec, Alec was murdered because there is no peace between us and the Palestinians. I got another four kids, I got six grandchildren. And I am fighting for all my kids. I am fighting for Kamel's kids. And you know what? It's also for your kids because if it's not going to be peace in the Middle East, you in the States are going to pay very heavy price.

And therefore, I'm doing the utmost, whatever I can do to try to stop this circle of blood and just to let people to understand that this is not right way how to go.

MARTIN: My Husseini, I gave Mr. Frankenthal the first word, I'll give you the last word. How do you maintain hope and is there anything you would have us do here?

HUSSEINI: I maintain hope by trying to tomorrow. Today is ugly. It might even get uglier, but I think I see tomorrow, tomorrow can be much more beautiful. And that's what is inspiring me and will inspire hopefully other people. What we need to collectively, also, the American people, I mean we need to effectively use media. Media has been the reason the Arab revolutions have happened because they used new social media and because there was a gap between the leader and the people in terms of communication

I think we need all the talent in this country, from Hollywood to Silicon, Valley to anywhere where we can get it, in terms of how we can be more creative than radicals, more creative than the politicians to get the people's heart. I think there is enough goodwill and power in this country and elsewhere in the world to help us overcome some of the obstacles.

MARTIN: Kamel Husseini is the Palestinian organizer for the Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace. Yitzhak Frankenthal is the executive director of the fund. He's Israeli. And they both joined us in our NPR studios in Washington, D.C. They're on a U.S. tour to promote the work of the fund. I thank you both so much for joining us.

FRANKENTHAL: Thank you very much.

HUSSEINI: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: Please stay with us on TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

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