It would appear that we at the Parents Circle – Families Forum, will have to gather up all our courage, resilience and determination to understand that we are now a part of a world which is fast becoming a fascist playground. Now more than ever, we will have to face those who are even more emboldened by the election results, to express their fear and hatred of any group, and in our case, a group of Palestinian and Israelis, who have all lost their loved ones in the conflict and are fighting to preserve the lives of those left in their families and for a safer future for children from both sides, through nonviolence
Without the blink of an eyelid those who would prevent our dialogue meetings in schools have taken up the cudgel to stop any opportunity for their 17-year-old children, to meet Palestinians and Israelis who have experienced the loss of their family members and to understand the meaning of transformation and a possibility for reconciliation. There is no dark motive in our work, only a wish for students to recognize the humanity in the other and to be able to listen with empathy in a safe environment, even if they do not agree. We have brought this message for countless years to thousands of students all over the country with the approval of teachers and principals.
Freedom of speech is an expression of human rights and we would ask that you examine the content of our message to the students before draping yourselves in Israeli flags and listening to those who incite hatred and fear in their demonstrations.
It should be noted that members of the group, together with those in charge of education in the Forum, spend many hours with the teachers and principals of the schools before coming into the classroom. Trusting the discretion of these educators and the fact that they are in the classroom for the length of the meeting, should allow you to believe that the discussions are meant to illustrate a shared pain of loss and the sanctity of human life.
It is interesting to note that the students are in general extremely interested and feel safe enough to ask even the most difficult of questions. In most cases it is the first time they meet a Palestinian and hear the narrative of the other and understand their loss. Most of the students do not speak Arabic, have never interacted in a safe environment with the so-called “enemy”, and it would be safe to say that the majority have never had the opportunity to share their fears and anger and doubts and have in turn received answers in a respectful and honest manner.
Seventeen- and 18-year-old students are exposed to the most violent and hateful messages on social media. They watch screaming matches between politicians and experts from all sides of the political arena. This is an opportunity to be respectful, even if you do not agree. If at this age, they are ready to go and serve in the army and to risk their lives to protect their country, they can certainly be trusted to have the understanding and savvy to agree or not with our message.
We who have experienced the greatest loss possible and have paid the highest price in the conflict, ask that you trust a message of reconciliation that comes from the heart. Please feel welcome to come and listen to stories of loss and pain. Even the hardest of hearts understands that we must find a way to stop the endless violence.
Robi Damelin’s son David Damelin was killed by a Palestinian sniper in the Second Intifada. She is the spokesperson for the Parents Circle-Families Forum, a group of hundreds of Israel and Palestinian bereaved families working for peace and reconciliation.