American actor Richard Gere called for compassion, forgiveness and love to heal the pain of Israelis and Palestinians so they can move forward into an era of peace.“We know that more hatred and more anger will never lead us out of this,” Gere said in a video appearance at the annual Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Ceremony to mark Remembrance Day.The event, co-hosted by the left-wing NGOs Combatants for Peace and the Parents Circle-Families Forum, featured bereaved Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones either in war or in incidents stemming from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gere called on participants to create a world where children can grow up without fear.“Until the Palestinians have a home, the Israelis won’t have a home,” Gere said.Israelis and Palestinians recalled their stories, with artist Tamar Peikes recalling how she lost her father in the Six Day War and her brother in the Yom Kippur War.She herself, the youngest of four children, was born three months after her father's death. "I may have heard my father's voice when I was in my mother's womb, but I did not get to meet him," she said."My father was a military man and was killed by a Jordanian Legion soldier in Jerusalem. My sister said he was fearless," Peikes recalled.Her older brother Yoni did his best to play the role of father for his younger siblings, playing with them and taking them on walks, she said."He was a sweet, wild and beloved boy and perhaps he was also fearless," said Peikes, adding that he was killed on the second day of the Yom Kippur War but his body was found only three months after its end."The days when he was missing were the days when I started first grade. My mother recovered with great difficulty and so did we. The emotional costs were unbearable," his sister said."As a child, I was scared to death of Arabs," explained Peikes, adding that there were a number of terror attacks during her childhood. "On summer nights when the windows of the house were open, and the sounds of the muezzin snuck into my dreams; my soul almost left me from the nightmares." A muezzin is the man who calls Muslims to prayer from a mosque. "When I landed in my mother's bed in the middle of the night, she would say I felt like a ton of bricks," Peikes recalled. As an adult and a mother of two, she lived in Jerusalem near where her father and brother are buried.She imagines that Palestinians who have lost loved ones also have part of their hearts buried in the ground. As an adult, she has come to believe that it is possible to end the violence between Israelis and Palestinians through mutual recognition and equality."As long as we embrace fear and not equality, we respond with violence," Peikes said.
LAYLA ALSHEIKH of the West Bank village of Battir outside of Jerusalem recalled how her six-month-old son Qusay was overcome in their home by IDF tear gas in 2002.His “breathing rate increased” and his “eyes looked at me like a frightened bird,” Alsheikh recalled.She and her husband got in their car so they could drive him to the hospital but soldiers had closed off their village and every road was blocked for four hours.The soldiers, she said, were immune to the sound of the crying baby in her arms. "Every fragmented breath of his was like a knife deep in my heart," she said.By the time they could leave, it was too late to save her son. "The color of his face was like the color of twilight and his cheeks that were like two red apples that had begun to dry out. His small fingers hardened like wax."She never got to buy him a bicycle or watch him graduate from school, Alsheikh recalled.Instead “he lay alone in a dark, cold grave away from the warmth of my lap. This coldness consumed everything in me.”For 16 years, she said, she was consumed by hatred of Israelis, until she met them through the context of the Parents Circle-Families Forum that brought together bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families."A loss is a loss regardless of circumstances," she said.Alsheikh said she has since worked to spread the message of peace and reconciliation and to end “injustice and hatred.”