As part of its 2010 Summer School, Community Dialogue (www.communitydialogue.org) hosted an exhibition of international cartoonists’ contributions to The Parents Circle – Families Forum (www.theparentscircle.com), which is a grassroots organisation based in the Middle East.
The Parents Circle – Families Forum represents more than 500 families, both Israeli and Palestinian, who have lost a family member to the conflict.
At the Belfast launch event at Farset International, Springfield Road, Forum members Robi Damelin (Israeli) and Seham Ikhlayel (Palestinian) described the background to this exhibition and their project work, as well as shared their stories, experiences and hopes.
I was particularly intrigued to learn more about their “Crack in the Wall” project, which will make interactive use of websites and social media. As Robi explained, with it becoming increasingly difficult to physically meet up, the use of phone lines and online resources become vital.
Robi and Seham insist that any peace agreement that does not involve the people in the process nor include reconciliation as a specific outcome is doomed to failure.
Robi also has no time for the display of flags, citing Israeli flags in Protestant areas and Palestinian flags in Catholic areas of Belfast:
“I don’t think that’s helping anybody. It just makes you feel good about yourself. I don’t see how Seham’s life was improved by a Palestinian flag.”
After Robi and Seham spoke, there was a Q&A session, with inevitable comparisons between the Middle East and Northern Ireland experiences. My impression was that the locals weren’t actually listening to Robi’s understanding (or incomprehension) of forgiveness. That is, several people tried to probe why it is apparent that Christian-populated places put such a premium on forgiveness. At one point Robi said that when Bishop Desmond Tutu insists on forgiveness, that’s immoral; you can’t righteously compel forgiveness.
There were workshop-style discussions afterwards, which I wasn’t able to stay for. But I am very grateful for Community Dialogue for facilitating this exhibition’s trip to Northern Ireland.
Robi and Seham were also interviewed by BBC Radio Ulster Arts Extra, where they described their work further: