Bereaved Families Work Together for Peace and Reconciliation

Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin. 
Photo credit: Ryan Kellman/NPR
Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin. Photo credit: Ryan Kellman/NPR

One of the spokespersons of The Parents Circle—Families Forum (PCFF) –Robi Damelin–told me in a recent conversation:

We are the only organization in the world that does not wish to welcome any new members into its fold.

This hard-hitting statement motivated me to want to learn more about this ground-breaking organization.

The Parents Circle-Families Forum is a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization of over 600 families. It was created in 1995 by Yitzhak Frankenthal and a few Israeli families. The first meeting between bereaved Palestinians from Gaza and Israeli families took place in 1998.

All of the members of this organization have lost an immediate family member to the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that has been raging for too many decades by now. They have concluded that the process of dialogue and reconciliation between nations is a prerequisite to achieving a sustainable peace. Members of the organization–on both sides of the conflict– in Palestinian society and Israeli society– utilize all the resources that are available to them in education, public meetings and the media, to spread these ideas.

The activists involved with the Parents Circle-Families Forum have been persisting in their quest for peace for more than 20 years by now. Since they speak with a moral voice, they are accepted, understood and appreciated in both Palestinian and Israeli society.

I have long had a deep personal respect and admiration for the people who founded and currently lead this organization. Their persistence over so many years–despite so many setbacks and obstacles–is impressive and important for our common future.

I recently had a chance to talk to two of their leaders over coffee to learn about their personal stories and their vision for the future. I met with Robi Damelin, an Israeli Jews who lost a son in the conflict many years ago, and Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian Muslim Arab, from the West Bank, who lost a daughter in the conflict as well. Both of them–who currently serve as international spokespersons for the organization–do so with great dedication to the cause, with amazing personal and civic commitment.

Both Damelin and Aramin have been involved in peace work for a long time. Damelin’s son was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2002 and Aramin’s daughter was killed by Israeli soldiers in 2007. Rather than wallow in grief, they each joined The Parents Circle, as a way to be active for peace, to try to do what they could to end the conflict that killed their children. This involvement changed their lives and is helping many other people engage in a process of dialogue and reconciliation which is changing their lives as well.

I asked them both: what motivates you to continue to be involved in peace work? Their replies were immediate and genuine:

I am part of my society. I paid the highest price to be free to live a normal life, to live with dignity, with social justice, to be a good human being. I want to be free, and as a religious Muslim, I want to seek peace. (Bassam Aramin)

My motivation is to prevent other families from experiencing this pain. My motivation is that my grandchildren should not have to experience going to war. My motivation is justice—I cannot live in a country in which my neighbors are not free. In addition, I think that the future of Israel—and I love Israel—is dependent very much on what we do, since the whole moral fiber of this country is affected by this occupation. (Robi Damelin)

These courageous activists –and hundreds of their colleagues–have formed a genuine partnership, which promotes peace among Israelis and Palestinians and gives us hope for all of us in this region—hope that this conflict can be transformed into some form of peaceful coexistence, and that war and violence need not be the only way for us to live in this area.

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The Parents Circle–Families Forum, in cooperation with another amazing organization called Combatants for Peace, has been sponsoring a joint memorial ceremony on the evening of Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Memorial Day, for the past 13 or 14 years. It used to be held indoors until it grew too large.

I was told by both  Damelin and Aramin that last year’s ceremony was particularly meaningful for two reasons: First, in order to get permits for Palestinians from the West Bank to attend, the organizations had to petition the Israeli Supreme Court, which granted them permission to bring in 100 Palestinians to the event at the last minute. Due to the large amount of publicity generated by the successful court case, about 8000 people attended the commemoration in the Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv. Secondly, the renowned Israeli author and peace activist David Grossman–who is also a bereaved father (his son fell in the Second Lebanon War in 2006)–was the featured speaker. Among other things, he said at last year’s memorial event:

I know that within the pain there is also breath, creation, doing good. That grief does not isolate but also connects and strengthens. Here, even old enemies–Israelis and Palestinians–can connect with each other out of grief, and even because of it.(David Grossman)

This year’s Joint Memorial Ceremony will take place on Tuesday night, May 7th 2019, in Park Hayarkon again in Tel Aviv.

I plan to be there along with thousands of other Israelis and Palestinians who are still seeking peace, through dialogue and reconciliation, who have not given up on a better future for us and our children and our grandchildren.

 

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttlefield, in September 2017. He is currently working on a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine.
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