Thought for the day — Who will follow the path to peace?
by Denzil McDANIEL
9 October 2023
There’s an organisation in the Middle East called the Parents Circle, which brings together people from both sides of the awful conflict whose children have been killed.
Last year I attended a discussion when two of them came to Belfast to tell their stories. I listened in awe to a Palestinian Muslim mother speaking about how her six-month-old baby died after inhaling tear gas let off by Israeli soldiers who then blocked her family’s frantic efforts to get the child to hospital. She sat beside an Israeli mother whose son was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.
They had overcome their own trauma and their anger and hatred of their enemies to work for peace and theirs were just two stories of the numerous human tragedies which lie at the heart of years of seemingly intractable conflict in the region.
I thought of their stories again this week-end, horrified at the savagery in the Middle East described as the worst violence in the 50 years since the Yom Kippur war; even worse than incidents a couple of years ago described by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as a “senseless cycle of bloodshed, terror and destruction”.
The recent air strikes and talk of revenge see outsiders react by taking sides in a polemic of ideology. But caught in the middle of territorial and legalistic wars are civilians on all sides, including visiting bystanders, elderly people with dementia, beautiful children cut down and all ages in between.
For example, on UNICEF’s World Children’s Day last November, it was estimated that 580 children had been killed in conflict or violence in the Middle East and North Africa last year alone.
It is the slaughter of the innocents of all ages and all peoples that is to the forefront of my mind when I ask if the rest of the Middle East on one side and the West on the other should be doing more to actually bring peace and justice a reality.
Conflict resolution is very difficult, but it will only come through dialogue.
Every year, Palestinian and Israeli families in The Parents Circle join together in a ceremony to plant Olive Trees dedicated to a lost family member. The olive branch is a powerful symbol, and they say the trees for their loved ones will continue to “create a forest of reconciliation and peace.”
They say by sharing sorrow and bringing hope the people most directly affected by this war will show everyone the common path to peace.
But who will follow?
Originally broadcast at BBC Radio Ulster on 9 October 2023. Transcript provided by the author.
Image “Olive Trees” by Howard Ignatius used by license CC BY-NC-ND
Did you enjoy reading this article? Be sure to sign up for our newsletter for a monthly recap of important peacebuilding news and stories: