Jamil Al-Qassas, left, lost his brother, Nasser, 14, who was shot by Israeli soldiers. Boaz Kitain's son, an Israeli soldier, was killed during his army service. More Photos »
They are Palestinians, and they are Israelis. They have lost their sisters and brothers and children, lost them in terrorist attacks, clashes, suicide bombings and military service.
They understand that the only way to break down the barriers and come out of their darkness is by recognizing one another.
They are dreaming of reconciliation.
They found one another through groups like Combatants for Peace and the Parents Circle-Families Forum, which runs educational forums to work on reconciliation.
They say it is critical to learn the other side's narrative, because the only hope for ending the bloody struggle is through empathy and reconciliation.
In sharing the pain of bereavement, many have bonded and work closely together. Reconciliation with the enemy has become the purpose of their lives in the name of their dead.
After more than 30 years of photographing war and funerals, I find hope in meeting the bereaved families and witnessing their reconciliation process. If they can do this, everybody else should.
I attended their meetings, reconciliation sessions and activities. They devote much of their time to lecturing both Israeli and Palestinian youth about the sanctity of life. By appearing together at high schools and in public venues, they are living proof that there is another way. There are many activities to nurture their friendships: tours, field trips, cultural events. But forgiving is not forgetting (some refuse to use "forgiving" in their vocabulary.)
Many of the parents talk about the difficult progression to reconcile and befriend the enemy, and their own commitment is tested over and over again when they face hostility from their own people, or their own family members.
Israelis and Palestinians Tell Their Personal Stories
Bushra Awad, a 48-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank village of Beit Ummar, lost her 17-year-old son, Mahmoud, during a protest against Israeli soldiers in 2008. He was a high school student. This is her story:
Robi Damelin, left, lost her son David, 27, when he was killed by a Palestinian sniper. Bushra Awad, right, lost her son Mahmoud, 17, when he was shot by Israeli soldiers.
Each day or night the Israeli soldiers invade our village and it ends in a clash with our youth resisting the occupiers. That day there was so much shooting by the soldiers I could hear it in my kitchen. It was so intense, from all directions, I suddenly felt that sharp pain in my heart. "Hurry, go find Mahmoud," I begged my husband. "I feel something happened to our son," I said, and he ran out.
I heard screams of my neighbors that my son was shot and I fell on the ground with that terrible pain in my heart. I knew I lost my child at that moment.
Later, days after Mahmoud was buried, my husband, Khaled, told me how he ran down the street toward the ambulances, arriving at the same time as the boys, running with our bleeding son, shot by Israeli soldiers. Mahmoud succumbed to his wounds on the way to the hospital in Hebron. My husband watched him dying.
Those days were days of grief, anger and vengeance. I wanted so much to go out and take revenge for my son. I wanted to go out and kill any Israeli. I'm a mother, I did not know I possessed such feelings of wanting to take somebody's life. I was so full of pain and hate.
And in those mourning days, while women of the village were paying their condolences and respect, there was a lot of talk of what the mothers could possibly do to protect their children's lives. So many young men of Beit Ummar have paid with their lives for resisting the occupation, and we, the grieving mothers, above all. None had an answer.
Our family was devastated after Mahmoud's death. I knew I had to do something, anything, that would save my other children from a similar fate. But how? Then a friend, a woman who lost her family member in same circumstances, invited me to a meeting in her home with other bereaved. She told me there would be Israeli mothers present as well. I would not hear any of that; she was inviting me to meet my enemies! Those who caused us such great pain.
For two years, she kept inviting me, telling me it was important for our children, it was important to save more lives. I decided to go but I would not look at the Israelis or shake their hands, I would just listen. There I met an Israeli mother. She showed me a picture of her dead son, I showed her a picture of my son Mahmoud. We both cried for our loss. Ever since that meeting, I'm part of the circle of bereaved mothers. We share a pain, and we share a hope to end the bloody cycle and maybe one day our leaders will negotiate peace.
Meanwhile, we live such a fragile existence. Israeli soldiers continue to raid our village, and clashes ensue. My other son was injured and later imprisoned. I pray that one day peace will come and we can raise our sons without constant fear for their lives.
All mothers are the same.
Ben Kfir, a 65-year-old Israeli from Ashkelon, Israel, lost his daughter, Yael, 22, in a Palestinian suicide bombing at a bus station in 2003. She was an Israeli soldier. This is his story:
From left, Dr. Adel Misk lost his son, Jum'ah, who was killed by an Israeli settler; Ben Kfir's daughter, Yael, 22, an Israeli soldier, was killed by Palestinian suicide bombers; Nella Magen, an Israeli, lost her husband, Efi, 32, an air force pilot.
When the army officers arrived I knew, because Yael always called after every suicide bombing. She did not call that day, and an hour after the bombing I knew she never would.
I could not stop crying for days, and I was so full of anger that I could explode.
I was angry at the Palestinians for killing my child. I was angry at the army for not preventing the attack. I was angry at the leaders for not reaching a deal.
And I wanted revenge.
I started planning it into particulars. I was lying in bed for days planning my revenge. I thought it was either revenge or I die; there was no meaning to my life any longer.
I was fantasizing how I would walk over to the construction site near my house where Palestinians were working and shoot them.
I was planning it in such detail that I even knew what clothes I would wear to do the killings. The more I planned, the more I realized that, while achieving my revenge, my acts would bring more death to my people.
The families of the dead workers would surely seek revenge on Israelis, the army would retaliate in Gaza, and the circle of death would never end.
Desperation overcame me because I also realized I was only thinking of myself and my immense pain. I thought there was no other way, that I should just die.
In those awful days I received a pile of condolence letters which I hardly looked at, I was so immersed in my grief, anger and quest for vengeance. But I read this one, from a woman named Hagit, a bereaved mother.
I called her and we cried a lot. She invited me to a gathering of bereaved Israelis and Palestinians.
I hung the phone up on her.
But then, I just went. I did not know why, I went. I sat and listened to some 60 people, Israelis and Palestinians, and I was not alone in my grief any longer.
Those wonderful people gave me a reason to go on living. I realized that the Palestinian stories and my story are no different. Our tears taste the same; our blood is the same color. I feel more comfortable with a bereaved Palestinian then with a regular Israeli citizen. We know what loss is, the shadow of our dead following us every day, every moment of our lives. But I'm not a walking dead any longer.
I live for a cause, and this is what I am saying in every lecture. Whether Israelis or Palestinians, revenge is not an answer. It will only bring more and more death. It is not easy to open up your wounds and expose yourself in front of so many people every day, but I believe today that only through mass reconciliation can we make peace one day.
Simple people like me are the ones who can bring peace. The leaders only sign it.
Rina Castelnuovo, an Israeli photographer, has been documenting the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis for more than 30 years, 17 of them as a contract photographer for The New York Times based in Jerusalem.