'Hello! Salaam! Shalom!'
Peace Activists Set Up Phone Lines to Encourage Israeli-Palestinian
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JERUSALEM - To one group in this war-torn region, peace is
just a phone call away. A peace-seeking organization that promotes dialogue
between people who have lost loved ones on both sides of the conflict has
set up a service to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to talk on the
By dialing a four-digit number, any Israeli can talk to a Palestinian, and
any Palestinian can talk to an Israeli. Full-page ads for the service began
appearing last week in newspapers in Israel and the West Bank. Within a few
days, more than 5,900 people have called to get connected to the other side.
"The concept is simple," said Itzek Frankenthal, who heads the
Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Parents Association. "Let people talk to each
The advertisement appeared yesterday in Ha'aretz, an influential Israeli
newspaper. Big, bold letters across the top of the page screamed a greeting
in Arabic and Hebrew: "Hello, Salaam! Hello, Shalom!"
Using names of neighboring Israeli and Palestinian cities, it continued:
"Two years have passed without our speaking to each other. I from Gilo, you
from Beit Jala. I from Hadera and you from Tulkarm. You get shot at and we
get bombs exploding on us. We're angry and we're in pain, and the other side
certainly feels the same. It's time to put an end to this."
Frankenthal, who lost a son to a Palestinian suicide bombing eight years ago
and has long been active in the peace movement, said the phone line costs
his group about $2,500 a month.
People who call the number tell an operator whether they are Israeli or
Palestinian, and whether they would rather speak to a man or a woman. A
computer then searches through a database of names compiled from interested
people on the other side and relays a phone number.
Frankenthal, 51, said that for now, the only users are people who want peace
and probably share similar views. He hopes that as more and more people
call, out of curiosity or idealism, the database will become more diverse.
On Thursday, Frankenthal tried the system he created. He soon got a number
for a Palestinian living in the West Bank city of Ramallah, who had
registered after seeing the ad in the Palestinian al-Quds newspaper.
They talked for half an hour, and Frankenthal learned that the man's sister
had been killed by Israeli army gunfire a few months ago. "He told me he had
lost his sister, and I told him about my son," Frankenthal said. "And he
said, 'Here we are talking. I don't want revenge, and I don't feel hatred.'"
The conflict has been so fierce and so painful that many on both sides feel
there is no common ground for discussion.
Nabil, the Palestinian who chatted with Frankenthal, would not give his last
name to a reporter, fearing reprisals from his friends and family if they
found out he had participated.
"I called because I believe in peace," Nabil said in a telephone interview.
"And I believe that there are more people like me. The two sides have not
talked in two years. I think that we can rebuild if we can get the two
Source: The Baltimore Sun, October 6, 2002
Distributed by Common Ground News Service
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.