Forum members meet peace envoy
Tony Blair during London visit

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has met two members of the Bereaved Families Forum to discuss peace and reconciliation work in Israel and Palestine.

Israeli Robi Damelin and Palestinian Bassam Aramin visited the UK to promote the message that the cycle of violence needs to stop.

Tony Blair, whose role as Quartet Representative sees him working with Palestinians, Israelis and the international community to help prepare the Palestinians for statehood, talked about the challenges of embarking on a process of reconciliation.

‘We have to give people a voice but on the other hand we want reconciliation to work in a way that isn’t just about people reliving their pain,’ he said.

Comparing some aspects of the Israeli/Palestinian situation with the Northern Ireland peace process in which he played a central role, Tony Blair said that issues like prisoner exchange were extremely sensitive and could upset some who had lost loved ones, even though they benefited the overall peace process.

Mr Blair spoke of the importance of grassroots initiatives like PCFF. ‘One of the things about conflicts like this one is that each side doesn’t always see the pain of the other side. It’s important for both sides to understand that it’s a shared experience, not a unique one, that you can begin to make sense of things.’

He was optimistic about the role of ‘real people’ as well as politicians from both sides working cooperatively together and said that he had found that in Northern Ireland these voices became increasingly important as the peace negotiations progressed.

Speaking about his encounters with bereaved families in Northern Ireland, Israel and Palestine, he said: ‘You sit in a room with these people and think they really could have a future together. People need to know there are real people not simply politicians involved in this.’

Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin welcomed the opportunity to meet Tony Blair. Robi Damelin said: ‘We are grateful to Tony Blair for meeting with us and welcomed the opportunity to talk to him about the important role reconciliation should play as part of any future peace agreement in Israel/Palestine.’

‘Israelis and Palestinians have been killing each other for more than 100 years but the armed struggle doesn’t work,’ said Bassam Aramin. ‘It is important not to take sides in the conflict but to be pro-justice and pro-solution.’

Mr Blair said that although the peace talks were ‘tough’ he maintained hope. He praised US Secretary of State John Kerry for his tenacity in helping to keep the talks going. He said that it was in the interest of both sides to have peace with those next door and that both Israelis and Palestinians had shared aspirations to achieve. ‘It would be very smart for both sides to make peace given the turmoil in the region,’ he said.

Warm welcome at London Central Mosque

Bassam and Robi visited the London Central Mosque on 9th November as guests of the Islamic Circle. Naugul K. Durani, organiser of the Circle, welcomed Robi and Bassam and they gave a short talk about their work.

Everyone present gave Robi and Bassam and FBFF members a warm welcome, and there was an opportunity to chat to people during a break in the formal part of the meeting.

Pictured above (left to right) are Bassam, Robi and Naugul.

Goodwill abounds at fundraiser

A fundraising dinner arranged by Friends of the Bereaved Families Forum on 10th November was a great success. Almost 160 people attended and the Friends are confident it will have raised a substantial sum to support the work of the Forum.

Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin spoke movingly about their work and Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg (pictured above with Robi, Bassam and Rabbi Alexandra Wright of the LJS) delivered a powerful appeal for funds.

We enjoyed delicious gourmet food thanks to Street Kitchen chef Mark Jankel, who donated his services without charge; and a magnificent, original composition was performed by internationally renowned flautist Wissam Boustany, who works for peace around the world.

The Liberal Jewish Synagogue kindly waived hire costs for their hall, and the FBFF committee as well as a dinner committee specially formed for the event worked hard to ensure that everything ran smoothly.

Massive thanks to everyone involved.

Above: Wissam Boustany on the flute and Mark Jankel on the pots and pans.
Dinner photos by Josh Cowan