Do the People Silencing Bereaved Parents Know Our Pain? (Israel/Palestine)

Editor’s Introduction

According to the American Friends of the Parents Circle – Families Forum, “the Israeli government has recently announced its intention to restrict the Parents Circle’s public activities, starting with the removal of its Dialogue Meeting programs from Israeli schools and imposing restrictive conditions on the program’s application based on false allegations that the Dialogue Meetings denigrates IDF soldiers.”

The Parents Circle – Families Forum is a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization made up of more than 600 bereaved families. Their common bond is that they have lost a close family member to the conflict. But instead of choosing revenge, they have chosen a path of reconciliation. The dialogue meetings being challenged by the Israeli government, which often take place in schools, are led by two PCFF members, an Israeli and a Palestinian, who tell their personal stories of bereavement and explain their choice to engage in dialogue instead of revenge.

In response, the American Friends of the Parents Circle is hosting a webinar on “Safeguarding Peace Education” on Monday, February 27 (find more info here).  The OpEd reproduced below by Robi Damelin, spokesperson and director of International Relations for the Parents Circle-Families Forum, is an appeal to safeguard these efforts.

Do the People Silencing Bereaved Parents Know Our Pain?

Members and supporters of the new government, fueled by hatred and fear, seem to have lost all respect for bereaved parents of victims killed in the conflict. Before they judge us, they must listen to our harrowing stories.

By Robi Damelin

(Reposted from: Haaretz. February 9, 2023)

I wonder if the people who incite against the members of the Parents Circle – Families Forum on social media, and threaten principals and teachers who have invited us to speak, have ever experienced a loss like no other.

I wonder if they cried tears of parting, of fear, when sending the child they nurtured off to the army. I wonder if they had sleepless nights, obsessively listening to the news and waiting for the call saying “I am fine and safe.” And I wonder if they ever received the dreaded knock on the door, and were met by three soldiers bearing the message that their loved one has been killed. The rip in your heart that never mends. Life before and after.

Members and supporters of the new government, fueled by hatred and fear, seem to have lost all sense of respect for bereaved parents of victims killed in the conflict. They seem determined to stop members of our organization, both Israeli and Palestinian, from publicly sharing their message of nonviolence, reconciliation and ending the conflict, especially in schools.

They seem determined to stop members of our organization, both Israeli and Palestinian, from publicly sharing their message of nonviolence, reconciliation and ending the conflict, especially in schools.

The municipality of Kfar Sava, for example, first postponed our dialogue meeting at one of their high schools, and then, with an ugly red line on a poster, cancelled it completely. Let us ask the powers that be, what is the alternative? Should we seek revenge? There is no revenge. Should we quietly disappear with our children, or do we have the right to commemorate our loss with a message so unique and different – one of, dare I say it, hope – amid an ongoing conflict? Freedom of speech is a basic human right in a democracy; we have the liberty to spread this message. Some parents establish monuments or marathons or libraries to keep the name of their loved one alive. We choose to educate for nonviolence and peace.

Freedom of speech is a basic human right in a democracy; we have the liberty to spread this message. Some parents establish monuments or marathons or libraries to keep the name of their loved one alive. We choose to educate for nonviolence and peace.

Those who try to silence us have the gall to drape themselves in flags and stand outside schools screaming “traitor,” or stand outside a ceremony throwing bags of urine and spitting at people who have paid the highest price in the conflict. Those who shout the loudest have never heard a mother or father or brother or sister or orphan from the Parents Circle tell the story of their loss to a classroom of 17-year-old students. I dare them to come into a classroom and listen to Yuval or Ben or Tsurit, and say that they are not honoring their children or their brothers killed in the conflict.

And what of the Palestinian members of the Parents Circle – Families Forum? They often wake up at 4 A.M. and face the indignities of checkpoints to travel to a classroom and tell their stories of transformation, showing their humanity and vulnerability. And then they are greeted by shouts of “The only good Arab is a dead one.”

Do the people who stand outside and call these Palestinians “terrorists” know the story of Yakub, whose wife was killed when a settler threw a stone through the window of his car? Or Bassam, whose 10-year-old daughter was shot in the back of the head by a soldier? Or Ikhlas, whose father was killed by a settler? Or maybe even Laila whose 6-month-old baby died after he inhaled tear gas? The family spent hours at checkpoints to get the baby to a hospital, where it was too late to save him.

In an average class of 30 17-year-old students, it would be safe to say that 99 percent have never had an intimate conversation with, or had the opportunity to listen to, a Palestinian. It goes without saying that none of the students speak Arabic, and although most have probably been overseas, they have never met the “other” across the border.

These students, who are exposed to the most violent messages on social media and watch screaming matches between politicians and so-called “experts” from all sides of the political arena, are also able to listen to a message of reconciliation within their safe classrooms. They can ask the most difficult questions.

These students, who are exposed to the most violent messages on social media and watch screaming matches between politicians and so-called “experts” from all sides of the political arena, are also able to listen to a message of reconciliation within their safe classrooms. They can ask the most difficult questions.

If they are ready, at this age, to go to the army to risk their lives to protect their country, then surely they can be trusted to have the discretion and savvy to agree, or not, with our message. It appears that our opponents would rob them of any opportunity to see humanity in the other. Over the years, we have watched them inculcate their anger and fear into the very being of these children, leaving them with no sense of hope.

We thank all the brave teachers and principals of schools who have remained supportive of our message, no matter how many threats are thrown at them. They take a stand for free speech and are not intimidated by voices rooted in ignorance.

And we invite all of those who feel threatened by our message to experience a dialogue meeting before passing their judgment. Perhaps they will then be able to direct their anger to the many other injustices happening daily. We are an easy target, and yet we have paid the highest price to say what is in our hearts. Those attacking bereaved families should be ashamed.

Robi Damelin, whose son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2002, is an active member of and spokesperson for The Parents Circle – Families Forum.

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