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Parents Who've Lost Kids To Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Work Together To Promote Peace

The Peace Square, an open public dialogue on peace and reconciliation, held by Parents Circle Families Forum in Tel Aviv in 2014. (Courtesy)
The Peace Square, an open public dialogue on peace and reconciliation, held by Parents Circle Families Forum in Tel Aviv in 2014. (Courtesy)

The fragile cease-fire between Israel and Gaza continues to hold, but tensions between Israelis and Palestinians remain high.

The devastating 11-day air war killed more than 240 Palestinians and a dozen Israelis. Three hundred buildings in Gaza were razed.

Throughout this conflict, and the decades of war that preceded it, some Israeli Jews and Palestinians have continued to work together for peace. Among them is a group called the Parents Circle – Families Forum, and its members have suffered what many can’t imagine — losing a family member to the conflict.

Members of the group believe that there can be peace regardless of the Israeli occupation, random acts of terrorism, failed treaties and war.

Robi Damelin is a Jewish Israeli who joined Parents Circle after her 28-year-old son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2002.

“Please don’t for one minute think I’ve now become a Palestinian,” she says. “I am an Israeli. I love this country, but I want us to live in a moral country and I want the Palestinians to have a free state of their own.”

Another member, Bassam Aramin, grew up in Hebron in the West Bank. He lost his 10-year-old daughter Abir in 2007 after she was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. He continues to fight for justice for her.

“When we say free Palestine, in fact, we say free Israel also. They don’t need to be killed,” he says. “We both will exist on this land as one state or two states or five states. Otherwise, we will share the same land in two big graves.”

Interview Highlights

On where Damelin finds hope that peace is possible

Robi Damelin: “If there won’t be any hope, there certainly will never be any peace, because that’s a very important equation. And that’s why there’s so much violence because so many people are left without hope. So unless we can find a way to create a reconciliation process, which will be an integral part of any political peace agreement later on, otherwise all we can expect is another round of violence.

“You know, I’ve been thinking about the children, the children who live in Gaza, who will grow up living this terrible conflict, living in violence and seeing all this death and buildings being broken down and not having a shelter to run to. And I look at the mothers who live in Sderot and Ashkelon and Ashdod, which is on the border of Gaza, and they have shelters to run to, but they may only have 15 seconds to get there. So what are their children going to grow up doing? So we have to work so much harder now. It’s not a question of giving up hope. I don’t give up hope.”

On how to resolve the conflict over who controls the Gaza Strip

Damelin: “There cannot ever be peace until Israel will end the occupation. It is very clear we’ve known it for so many years. And when you look at what is happening internally with all the fighting and the anger, it’s in the young, it’s in kids of 16 to 20. And it’s like somebody released this bottle of hatred. And those settler children are also involved in this battle. These children are absolutely doing things without any punishment. And the kids, the Palestinian Israeli kids are also in a very difficult position because they don’t live in an equal society. They may have something very similar, but they certainly don’t have the same schools as Israeli children. And so why would they not be angry?”

On Palestinians wanting the right to return to the land of Israel after their families left decades ago when it was declared a Jewish state

Bassam Aramin: “When you talk about the refugees [coming] back to their land, they have the right to return. But there is a difference between right and return. It’s a political issue. I am not a politician. And believe me, if they want to solve the problem of the refugees, they are not going to ask me personally. But in general, it’s an occupation. This is the source of the problem. This is the reason that we lost our kids. Robi lost David, I lost Abir. Both of them are victims to these circumstances. So we call for a political solution to start to make peace and to start a reconciliation process so we can live, both of us, in peace and security and prosperity.”

On how Aramin transitioned from rage to a message of peace

Aramin: “You know, it’s a long process, but it’s not a personal thing between this victim — I call him a victim who killed my daughter at the age of 10 — and me personally. It’s part of that environment for the circumstances, the political circumstances. We are people [who are] very sensitive, well educated, looking forward to establish a democratic state to live as the rest of the world live.”

On why Aramin calls the sniper who killed his daughter a victim

Aramin: “When someone who belonged to the most moral army on Earth kills a 10-year-old daughter from a distance of 15 to 20 meters, and he didn’t show any empathy? Absolutely. He’s a victim because he thinks he’s a hero. For that, when I met him three and a half years in the court, I said to him, ‘You need to know that you are not a hero. You are not a warrior. And in any day, if you come to ask me to forgive you, I will not because of you. It’s because of myself, simply. I love my daughter very much and because I have another five kids, I don’t want them to grow up as victims to you.’ So he’s a victim.”

On why Damelin said “do not take revenge in the name of my son” after David’s killing

Damelin: “I was born in South Africa and that had a lot to do with who I became. You know, I was in the anti-apartheid movement and it was really prophetic of what I was going to be doing with the rest of my life. And I started to travel and to talk in Congress and the House of Lords, even in your parliament. And then they caught the man who killed David. And that’s when the real test comes — to see if you really mean what you say. And that’s what pushed me to write a letter to the family and to tell them about David and to tell them about the Parents Circle, that we are 600 families who’ve all lost an immediate family member, but we work for reconciliation and nonviolence.”

On whether people on both sides respond to their proposed solutions with anger

Aramin: “Absolutely, because we still live under the same occupation, the same difficulties. So I understand them, but I am not in danger. They just need to see some hope. … In the end, we need to learn how to live together, give the Palestinians their rights, and the Israelis deserve to live in security. And this is the solution.”

Damelin: “I can’t be affected by [people’s anger]. I really don’t care because I get talkbacks every time I write something in the newspaper that I should burn in Auschwitz and other things.”

On advice for people grieving loved ones lost to COVID-19

Damelin: “I just wanted to say something about what is happening in the world with this huge pandemic and how many families have lost loved ones. And I was thinking to myself, especially if they could never say goodbye, how important it is to support these people. I just wanted to give a small tip, if I may, and that is write a letter to the person that you couldn’t say goodbye to. It will give you a lot of solace.”

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.