Abuawwada and Barnea Siham Abuawwada and Aaron Barnea (photo: Christin Davis)

Part One: Experiencing the Other Online

With a set goal in mind, social media moves people. This is especially true in our heavily networked world where social media is enabling the spread of popular revolutions across the Arab world — protesters organizing via Facebook groups and Twitter campaigns.

The Parents Circle Families Forum, an organization of more than 500 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost immediate family members as a direct result of the conflict, now has a plan to use social media as a tool, not for protest, but for reconciliation.

Their Crack in the Wall (CITW) campaign connects Israelis and Palestinians in order to share stories of the “other side.” The aim, according to group member Aaron Barnea, is to break down psychological, if not physical, barriers between the two peoples. The project is set to launch this June.

Mr. Barnea’s youngest son was killed in 1999 while serving his mandatory duty in the Israeli Defense Forces. While explaining the trauma of his loss in a Jerusalem meeting, Parents Circle member Siham Abuawwada, a Palestinian from the West Bank, took Barnea’s hands into her own, “I am so, so sorry for your loss.”
At the age of 14, Ms. Abuawwada took on the responsibility of raising and caring for her five siblings after her mother was first arrested and periodically jailed in subsequent years. In 2000, her closest brother was shot in the head at an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank. “All of us have a broken heart,” she said. “I don’t have to forgive or forget, but I have to understand the other.”

The idea is to determine how to “translate rage into human words and find a path to work together," Mr. Barnea said. "We have a deep feeling that what happened to us shouldn't happen to other people.”

While mourning for his son, Mr. Barnea said he realized that Palestinians were also demonstrating against the conflict and had lost their beloved. “They were talking the same language of peace. It was a shocking, enlightening new experience," he said. “As an organization, we give the ‘other’ a human dimension, which is necessary to create the belief that reconciliation is possible, and fundamental to peace. With social networks, we can create an open discussion with millions of people in the region.”

CITW follows the organization’s 2002 initiative, Hello-Shalom-Salaam, a telephone hotline and voicemail system that allowed Israelis and Palestinians to engage with each other. Since its launch, the project has recorded one million minutes of dialogue.

In a virtual venue, CITW offers the space for individuals to express views and tell stories from their community, which will be immediately translated into the other’s language — Arabic or Hebrew.
Mr. Barnea said CITW is not an effort to promote one narrative or the other, but simply to portray to people that there is in fact another side. By targeting youth, Parents Circle hopes to move both peoples toward understanding and dialogue.

“It is necessary to create a belief that reconciliation is possible,” Mr. Barnea said. “Not only is it possible, but it is fundamental for any peace agreement. Without reconciliation, there is no peace.”

Christin DavisChristin Davis is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Southern California, and the managing editor for Caring, a magazine focused on social services produced by The Salvation Army.

This series is part of a collaboration between On Being and the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism in an attempt to add to the public's understanding of the diversity of stories of daily life in Israel and the West Bank.
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