Despite the many years, I have vivid memories of my childhood in Vienna
Ikhlas Shtayeh - "Blind to Hate"
My name is Achlas Ashtaya and I live in the village of Salem in the Nablus District. I'm 30 years old and there are 8 brothers and sisters in my family. My sister and I were born blind. In my childhood, I went through several failed treatments, until finally my parents sent me to a special boarding school for the blind, where I learned to read and write.
On the morning of September 27, 2004, I was in the 12th grade, and I woke up early to go to school, as my father was preparing to leave for work in Israel. It was an ordinary day, so I didn't even say a special goodbye to my father. I was sure I would see him later.
When I returned home after school, I met a relative of mine who screamed and cried as she told me that my father was hit by a bullet fired by a settler. It didn't take me long to understand that my father was dead, no longer among the living.
In an instant, I became truly and utterly blind. With the loss of my father, I lost my "sight" and the ability to cope with life's hardships. My father was a source of support for me, my friend and principal care taker.
My heart was filled with resentment and I felt a dire need to seek revenge against the Israelis who had killed my father-- an innocent man-- for no reason.
After my father's death, I left school and didn't want to go on living, but my mother insisted she would help me go back to school to graduate. During our time of mourning, my family told me about a group of Israelis who wished to come console me for my father's death. I refused to meet with them and started shouting at them when I encountered them. As I was shouting a woman named Ariella came up to me. She embraced me and started crying as she spoke words of comfort. It was the first time I heard the enemy cry.
This is where my journey with them began, as they give me a lot of help and support. After I met the group at my house, I participated in a gathering of the Combatants for Peace movement, a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization. I later met a man called Mazen, who invited me to join the Israeli-Palestinian PCFF (Parents Circle Families Forum), which includes bereaved families from both sides of the conflict who have lost their loved ones. I decided to join the Forum and immediately felt it was my second family.
In the context of my membership in the Forum, I participated in a group of influential women. It is one of the Forum's initiatives, as it aspires to get to know the other side and have a positive conversation, striving to attain peace for both sides of the conflict. During the activity I learned a lot and understood that violence is not the solution and that killing only brings more death. The solution is a nonviolent struggle to achieve a safe future for both sides.