Friday, January 09, 2009

Robi Damelin, Israeli Bereaved Mother

G.J. McCarthy photo of Robi Damelin, left, and Nadwa Sarandah who both wait for their audience before starting their lecture “Palestinian and Israeli Bereaved Families for Peace”

Robi Damelin, who visits the world with her film and her message of forgiveness & more. She works, heals and speaks with and about a community of listeners in Israel/Palestine. They are bereaved listeners, Palestinian and Israeli, who have a lot to say about the violence overtaking GAZA/ISRAEL and so much of the world today...

She says, "Instead of channeling (the death of our children) into revenge, the people in our group have chosen another direction for their pain. The pain breaks down barriers very quickly between Palestinians and Israelis in the group. There's a sense of trust. It's not hummus and hugs-- it's much deeper than that; it's acknowledgement and empathy, which happen much faster than in a normal meeting between a Palestinian and an Israeli because we recognize each other immediately through the pain."

Robi Damelin's son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper while he was guarding a checkpoint near a settlement during his army reserve service. Robi is an active member of a group of 500 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost close family members and who work together for reconciliation and a just resolution to the conflict. (The Parents Circle) She speaks with a Palestinian partner in communities and schools throughout Israel and the Palestinian Territories, as well as internationally. Robi Damelin is featured in Just Vision's documentary film, "Encounter Point". Find the URLS for more info on this, her life & the mission of others like her, below...

Here are some highlights from Robi Damelin on her son, David, & her process of grieving to forgiveness...

Occupation and Israeli Military Service:

“ Even in his regular army service [my son] David was torn because he didn't want to serve in the Occupied Territories. He became an officer and was called to go to Hebron. He was in a terrible quandary and came to me and said, "What the hell am I going to do? I don't want to be there." I said, "If you want to go to jail I'll support you, but are you going to make a difference if you go to jail?" Because basically, if he were sent to jail, when he got out they'd put him somewhere else [in the Occupied Territories]. It's a never-ending story...

For more about the bereaved families of Israel/Palestine, who have a particularly important message for their habitats & the rest of the world today, go

Personal Loss/Bereavement and Israeli Military Service:

“ David went to his reserve service and I was filled with a terrible premonition, of fear I suppose. He called me on that Saturday and said, "I have done everything to protect us. You know I love my life, but this is a terrible place, I feel like a sitting duck." He never shared that kind of stuff with me, ever. My kids never told me what they were doing in the army. They always told me ridiculous stories thinking that I was going believe them. The next morning I got up very early and ran to work hours before I had to be there. I didn't want to be at home, I had a very restless feeling. ”

Personal Loss/Bereavement and Occupation:

“ David was killed by a sniper, along with nine other people. They were at a checkpoint, a political checkpoint, near Ofra [settlement]. Two days after he was killed it was pulled down; they removed the checkpoint. I suppose all of my life I spoke about coexistence and tolerance. That must be ingrained in me because one of the first things I said is, "You may not kill anybody in the name of my child."...

Personal Loss/Bereavement and Occupation and Israeli Military Service:

“ Everybody had asked me what I thought should happen to the sniper, and if they caught the sniper do I want them to kill him. I said that he killed David not because he was David; if he had met David he would have loved David. David worked for peace, David was part of the soldiers who didn't want to serve in the territories. David was the most loving person, if he had sat down and had coffee with David, they would have become friends. On David's grave there is a quotation by Khalil Gibran that says, "the whole earth is my birthplace and all humans are my brothers." ...he didn't kill David because he was David; he killed David because he was a symbol of an occupying army. ”

Vision and Personal Story and Reconcilation:

“ I wrote a letter to the family [of the man who killed my son]. It took me about four months to make the decision, many sleepless nights and a lot of searching inside myself about whether this is what I really mean. I wrote them a letter, which two of the Palestinians from our group delivered to the family. They promised to write me a letter. It will take time; these things take time...

Personal Transformation and Reconcilation:

“ Each person's development on the path of reconciliation is different. It takes time. I can see how I myself have grown over the past two years, the difference in the way I respond to questions now compared to where I was two years ago; it's completely different. I'm an ancient person but I'm still learning. This is a long difficult path of learning, of tolerance, of being able to dialogue with a settler and to dialogue with somebody who's very angry; you learn that. I've always been able to persuade people because I'm a good salesperson, but now I come from a much cleaner place. ”

Personal Loss/Bereavement:

“ All these people who lost an immediate family member, Palestinians or Israelis, are the people I would least expect to follow another path...we recognize each other immediately through the pain. ”

Obstacles and Challenges and Personal Transformation:

“ It is a challenge for me because I've always been a very independent person. I was my own boss; I did whatever I wanted and if I made a decision that's what would happen… Now I have to work in a team. That's a huge lesson for me. I can't just wake up tomorrow morning and decide to do a project without consulting with anybody else, which is something foreign to me...It's different when you're working with other people to create a dream, which is a shared dream. It's not just my dream anymore.

Women in Society and Martyrdom:

“ I promise you that all mothers are the same, and that the mother of a suicide bomber has a threefold problem: where did she fail, losing her child, he killed himself and innocent people. I don't care what you say, any mother-- me in my little flat in Tel Aviv or a mother in a settlement that says she is proud to have given up her child for the land-- all our pain is the same, otherwise there is no nature, otherwise nothing makes any sense anymore. Mothers are the most powerful and the most humane because they are the only ones who know the pain of losing a child. I am not negating the pain of brothers and sisters and grandparents and fathers, but the pain of a mother is so extreme that I don't buy any mother's story that says she is proud to have lost her child for anything. ”

Political Peace Processes/Political Leadership:

“ Of course we try to talk to as many politicians as we can to show them another sort of aspect of daily life here that could make a difference. What happens politically will affect the work that we're doing. The closer we get to some form of agreement, the more important our work is, because we all feel that no agreement will happen unless there's a reconciliation process built in. ” [Source in Complete Interview]


“ I remember when Nelson Mandela came out of prison and he was speaking in a stadium. These people were standing there with sticks, to get revenge. He said, "take your sticks and throw them in the river, because that's not the path we're going to take." Pragmatically, he understood that the best thing for the South African people, for his people, would be to take a nonviolent path. ” [Source in Complete Interview]


“ How many Israelis know exactly what happens at a checkpoint and how many Palestinians understand the daily pain of living here, and what soldiers come out of the army with? Very few, but if you allow them to share their narratives, like in our group… if a person like Yakov Gutterman stood up and told the Palestinians that he came out of a Nazi concentration camp to live in Israel and he had a son here on kibbutz and that son died, was killed in the conflict… and you look at Khaled Abu-Awwad's family who were refugees from somewhere near Bet Shemesh and the life they have led and the loss of two brothers… when both of these narratives are told to Palestinians and to Israelis, will it be easier for us to have empathy for each other? ”

Obstacles and Challenges and International Involvement:

“ One of the biggest problems in the situation here is that people are either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli. When you're pro something it makes you feel very good about yourself. I remember I was with Nadwa at a meeting at a Presbyterian church somewhere in Chicago where they weren't too keen on me. We were sitting at the dinner table and this guy leaned over to her and said, "You know, I'm very pro-Palestinian." So she said, "Well I don't know, where has that gotten me up to now?" There was something very deep in what she said, because being pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian is like saying, the poor Palestinians or the poor Israelis and waving a flag. When somebody recognizes that the Palestinians and the Israelis aren't going to disappear and says, "Let's support Israel to get out of the Occupied Territories," I say they are supporting both sides. If this kind of non-judgmental interference would come from outside, I would be very happy. ”


“ The whole world should understand that for the benefit of both the Israelis and the Palestinians there will have to be a homeland for the Palestinians, Israel has to get out of the Palestinian territories because [the occupation] is destroying both sides. We all know that's what is going to happen in the end. The question is, how many people are going to have to die before that on both sides? How much more pain? How many more families are going join this bereaved circle? It has to stop. ”

Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad in South Africa: (condensed) The trip to South Africa opened a 40 year old scab of painful memories of a childhood of not taking into account all sides of the equation.

On arrival we drove straight through a squatter camp reminiscent of Gaza, however on the other side of the road, new little houses like mushrooms after a heavy rainfall. There is hope, and driving into the Mamalodi school, that hope began to be tangible. A future for children who do not always have enough to eat, but a future forged by a school of people feeding their souls.

I felt tearful all day long. So much of me still belongs to the nature and people of South Africa. ...

The horrors of the days of apartheid and the transformation in motion was powerfully illustrated with our trip to the Constitutional Court of South Africa, which is built on the site of a dreaded prison, where such famous prisoners as Gandhi were subjected to the nightmares created by the South African security police...

The next day we met with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, we were hoping to meet with Madiba as he is so fondly called, but unfortunately he was not well on that day. Nevertheless we met two wonderful representatives from the foundation and we hope to be able to work together in the future. Then off to Cape Town where Nigel surprised us with home hospitality in a township with Mandisa who then proceeded to give us new names . Ali is Remember, Nigel Love and me Forgiving this she did without knowing who we were or our stories.

Saturday night there was a screening of "Encounter Point" at a movie house in Cape Town and even though there was a dreadful storm many braved the weather and participated...

The major highlights of the most beautiful place on earth, Cape Town, were the meetings with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and with Alex Boraine one of the main architects of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Archbishop Tutu has to be one of the most charming men you will ever meet. He embraced us into his office and shared stories and humor for which he is famous. He of course knows all about the Parents Circle and was very interested in our projects. We were so moved by his warmth and his take on forgiving.

Alex Boraine is someone we could learn from and did, we could have spent the whole day with him. He founded the Transitional Justice Institute in New York, but has returned to South Africa to work on the ground .He promised to give us materials for the reconciliation center and we will follow up on this generous offer.

Back to Johannesburg for a screening of "The Letter" a documentary made by the South African Television, at the Witwatersrand University, it was well attended by students, both Moslem and Jewish and we had a very interesting discussion. Unfortunately there is a great strain in relations between the students, so I hope we brought some new ideas about not taking sides.

We also met with Janet Love and Jody Kollapen at the Legal Resources Centre. They are two famous anti-apartheid warriors who spent long periods of time in jail. It was so inspiring. We also spoke at the Temple Emmanuel synagogue, the biggest reform temple in Johannesburg.

Without doubt, the most moving meeting for me was with the African mothers who had lost children during the Apartheid regime. Many of whom have simply disappeared . We all told our stories, many tears were shed, and once again I realized that there is no difference between mothers, we all share the same pain. I will never forget this day...Robi Damelin - September 2008

For More on Robi, her son and others who like them seek peace instead of revenge:

For info & trailer about the film: here

For the Just Vision URLs on Robi, Go here

More from Just Vision here

1 comment:

CN said...


Yes, I know, I have a heap of catching up to do on our Journey photos which came almost a week ago (look for them soon under the original events) and so much more...

Perhaps the time I took to select and post Robi's highlights will be compensated by the timeliness of her heart, wisdom & story?

Perhaps you will be rewarded by having read the same?

Your's for sanity & peace!