There were two speakers – Robi Damelin from Tel Aviv whose son was killed by a Palestinian sniper and Basam Aramin from Jericho whose young daughter was killed by an Israeli soldier. Their stories were very moving and the pain of having lost a child so obvious. Yet they were both committed to reconciliation and peace. Both belonged to the Parents Circle - Family Peace Forum which was set up in 1995 by Mr Yitzhak Frankental and several bereaved Israeli families who believed that reconciliation was the only way to make peace in that troubled land and to stop the violence. Now it is a joint Palestinian Israeli organisation with a membership of over 600 families, all of whom have lost a close relative as a result of the conflict. They work incessantly for understanding and peace and their members are willing to go anywhere to promote this message.
Neither of the speakers were offering a political solution to the problems of Israel/Palestine but they were adamant that peace will only come through reconciliation between the two peoples. Neither of them wanted to minimalise the violence or the injustices and as Robi said ‘we must speak the truth to one another in love – but before we speak the truth we must speak’. It’s this speaking she suggested that allows for an understanding of a common shared humanity in a situation where both sides are suffering at the very depth of their being, for what can be worse than losing a child in such terrible circumstances. And speaking in these circumstances (and in all circumstances) involves listening. Not to listen to the other’s story and perspective, Robi suggested, could lead to extremism from the one who feels they have not been listened to or understood. Violence can then become the only way to make their views known.
Robi was also challenging to those of us present at the event –‘if you cannot be part of the solution it’s better to do nothing and leave us alone to sort out our own problems. Do not import the conflict into your own situation’. There’s a real tendency here in Scotland to take sides in this particular conflict. Often the Israel/ Palestine conflict is the elephant in the room at Christian – Jewish – Muslim dialogues. If it’s raised people polarise immediately. This has become a challenge – how to talk about the situation, hear the stories of both sides, recognise injustices and yet make progress in peaceful reconciliation which is needed here as it is in Israel/Palestine itself.
As a young man Bassam was involved in hostilities against Israel, raising the Palestinian flag to make the Israeli army angry. He has spent time in prison where he became convinced that it was important to get to know your enemy - so that you can kill them. But he also came to realise that hate only leads to the killing of oneself. He had heard stories about the Holocaust but didn’t believe them. Since then he has studied at Bradford University and visited concentration camps. He too has become convinced that recognising our different stories and interpretations of historical events is essential in the work for peace. He quoted Rumi ‘yesterday I was clever and thought I could change the world. Today I am wise and know I can only change myself’. He also quoted Nelson Mandela, ‘ if you want to make peace with your enemy, you must work with your enemy and then you become partners’.
This partnership working was so obvious in the two speakers and the charity they represent. Both realise that there is much political work to be done for peace between Israel and Palestine but it doesn’t deter them in their work. At present the Parents Circle is working on a process for reconciliation that will be part of any future peace process.
These were remarkable people – inspirational, challenging, hopeful. Surely If they can work for peace we can all do it in our own small way, knowing that we are part of a far wider movement which must have some impact in our world.