Shiri Ourian, Executive Director of American Friends of the Parents Circle Families Forum and friend of the Promised Land Museum, shared with us her powerful experience of witnessing Israeli and Palestinian women practice a role reversal activity with the Parents Circle – Families Forum in Bethlehem. The non-profit has organized the transformative Parallel Narrative Experience since 2010, impacting more than 1,200 Israeli and Palestinian participants to overcome differences and find empathy for one another.
Read Shiri’s story below:
In Shiri’s Words…
I am just getting back from Israel and Palestine. There are so many things I could share about my time there. But, there was one moment that was the most powerful Parents Circle experience for me. I want to share it with you.
I had the opportunity to spend the weekend with a group of 30 Palestinian and Israeli women in Bethlehem. They were taking part in the final weekend of our Parallel Narrative Experience program. There’s so much I can share about that weekend. Being with this group of women was so moving and fulfilling.
But the one experience that stood out for me was the role reversal activity. The participants traded places. The Palestinian women were now Israeli and the Israeli women were now Palestinian. They had to think of questions and interact with each other as if they were “the other”. They had some time in their uni-national groups to prepare.
When the Israeli women finished working on their questions, they came back into the room where the Palestinians had been working. As they tried to enter the room, they found that the Palestinian women had taken on the role of Israeli soldiers. They were simulating a checkpoint for the Israeli women. They were tough. They were mean. They were cruel.
The Israeli women were in shock. They did not know what to do or how to respond. The Palestinian women were strong and domineering in their newfound roles. But they were also giggling as the situation was so outrageous to them. It was hard to watch and also fascinating.
When the “game” was finally over, they were able to sit down and process and discuss. The Palestinian women were so apologetic to their Israeli counterparts about how they had treated them. They said that it felt terrible to be a soldier and while they hated living under occupation, they would not want to trade places.
I thought you’d want to know about this experience.
About the Parallel Narrative Experience
The Parents Circle’s Parallel Narrative Experience (PNE) program began in 2010 and has since served more than 40 cohorts of over 1,200 Israeli and Palestinian participants. Each cohort participates in workshops, dialogue activities, and fieldtrips over three months to build trust and find empathy for each other.
Israeli and Palestinian participants learn about each other’s national narratives. For example, PNE participants visit Lifta, a Palestinian village that was destroyed during the 1948 Nakba (or the catastrophe), and they also visit Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.
The PNE program makes an impact. Polls of their participants showed that 88% felt increased empathy toward “the other,” 98% recognized and understood “the other’s” narrative to the conflict, and 96% expressed a desire to work together after the program.
About Parents Circle – Families Forum
The Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF) is a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization of more than 600 families who have lost an immediate family member due to the ongoing conflict. PCFF was founded in 1995 by Mr. Yitzhak Frankenthal and a few other Israeli families; they then organized the first meeting between bereaving families, Palestinian and Israeli, in 1998.
It is the PCFF belief that a lasting peace in the region can only be achieved through a process of reconciliation between nations. The organization strives to achieve reconciliation and peace through educational projects, media campaigns, and public meetings that promote dialogue and tolerance.
PCFF hosts many programs in addition to the Parallel Narrative Experience. Last month, PCFF sent a group of Americans and bereaved Israelis and Palestinians on an educational tour of the U.S. South to learn from the American experience of conflict and reconciliation. The group spent a week visiting plantations and museums and also met with experts regarding the criminal justice system and reform.
How You Can Help
You can support The Parallel Narrative Experience by making a one-time or monthly donation here. Each PNE module for 30 Israelis and Palestinians costs $30,000; your donation—no matter the size—can help this program continue its important work.
The Parents Circle – Families Forum is a not-for-profit organization. Donations make PCFF’s work possible. You can donate to this organization here.