By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Though this is the group's first national tour, it's not their first trip to the U.S. Last March, they brought a symbolic display of flag-draped coffins representing 773 Palestinians and 203 Israelis who had been killed in the current intifada by that point, and set it up outside the United Nations. They also met with half a dozen members of Congress. In the short time since, those numbers have climbed to more than 1500 Palestinians and more than 500 Israelis, according to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem. Meanwhile, says Frankenthal, those Congress members have "done nothing at all."
That's one reason Brit Tzedek is sponsoring the tour, says Marcia Freedman, the group's president and a former member of the Israeli Knesset. "Americans hear only one voice on each side of the conflictHamas on one side, and the Sharon government and the settlers on the other," she explains. "The agenda of the conflict is being decided by extremists on both sides, so the more representative, and larger variety of voices who support Israeli withdrawal from the settlements and a two-state solution must be heard here."
"Sharon and Arafat are not going to do it by themselves," says Essawi, even though "people are tired and want things to change." "Israelis are suffering," she adds, and Palestinians "feel more desperate every day, and the way some are responding, going and killing people in a restaurant, is not right."
She and her five-year-old son, Bashir, moved back to her late mother's house outside Jerusalem soon after the intifada erupted. It's safer there than in Ramallah, where they had been living with her husband. But that means Essawi has barely seen her husband in the last two years; he doesn't have a permit from Israel to spend the night in Jerusalem. Essawi works from home most days rather than spending several hours at checkpoints to and from her Ramallah office. Besides, Bashir has become so traumatized by the guns and tear gas at the checkpoints that he cries whenever he hears they're going to the West Bank city. When Bashir was introduced to Yitzhak Frankenthal, he wondered aloud whether the Jew would kill him. "All he knows is soldiers and settlers," Essawi explains. "I told him they have good people and bad people just like us, but he was terrified to meet Yitzhak." She sighs and adds, "I just want my kid to have a normal life."
That's the simple desire shared by all members of the Families Forum, but one Amiram Goldin, for example, believes is being thwarted by his own government. "When Omri was killed, I didn't feel vengeance," he says. "My major feeling was sadness that we Israelis had not done everything we could to protect our children by bringing an end to the conflict, by making peace."