Middle East peace among grieving parents
ITZHAK FRANKENTHAL, a deeply religious Orthodox Jew, has paid the ultimate price for Israeli security: His eldest son was murdered.Skip to next paragraph
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Arik was picked up by members of a militant Islamic group one summer evening in 1994 while hitchhiking home from his Israeli Army base. The three men in the car posed as Jews, listening to a cassette of Jewish songs, and spoke to Arik in Hebrew before killing him.
Since then, the grieving father has been a man on a mission - not of revenge, but to bring about peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
As diplomats try to hammer out a sweeping final peace accord - achieving a minor breakthrough on transferring control of the West Bank yesterday - Mr. Frankenthal is building bridges with bereaved parents on both sides of this conflict. And he is campaigning to change views among Israelis - particularly right-wing Jews. "When I was in mourning, my friends said Arik's death proved we were dealing with enemies and there is no chance to make peace," Frankenthal says. "But I told them Arik was killed because no one had done what was necessary to make peace."
To find out what it would take, the soft-spoken former businessman began devoting his time to visiting homes in Jewish settlements and Palestinian villages, and meeting with groups of all kinds, from Hamas to right-wing religious organizations.
Earlier this year, he founded the Families Forum, made up of Israelis and Palestinians who had lost their children to the conflict. "Among Israelis, you have the fear of peace. So it is very important for a group like us to talk to Israeli society and say we are not afraid. And that Palestinian parents are heard saying what they feel," he says.
But Frankenthal also confronts the intense views of some Israelis toward giving up any land. A recent public survey found that 80 percent of the ultra-Orthodox and the national-religious public see peace as dangerous to the integrity of the Land of Israel; 50 percent are opposed to any compromise giving back land; 30 percent put the authority of rabbis above the rule of law; and 68 percent say Arabs do not deserve equal rights.
He is seeking a solution "especially as a religious person, because many in Israel are using the Jewish law against peace."
One who understands this better than most is Leah Rabin, widow of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. "The man who murdered my husband was a religious Jew incited by a rabbi," Mrs. Rabin says. "He believed the prime minister had no right to live because he was returning Judea and Samaria, and land is holier than the life of the prime minister."
Mr. Rabin visited Frankenthal in his home after his son's death, and they became friends. Frankenthal spoke shortly before Rabin at the 1995 peace rally where the prime minister was assassinated.
"Right-wing people say to me, 'Yitzhak, you are our greatest enemy because you are religious and talk our language, yet you are ready to make peace.... Why are you in a hurry? We've got time,' " Frankenthal says.
"They want time because they believe that with time, the settlements will be 200,000, half a million, and then you can't do anything. I say, 'How many kids do you want to lose to have more time - a hundred? a thousand?' "
What Frankenthal and his colleagues are doing "is unique," says Mrs. Rabin, "because very many bereaved parents don't have the strength to raise their voices to say there is no other way but peace." In fact, some groups of victims' relatives adamantly oppose compromise.