Israeli And Palestinian Parents: 'We Need To Stop This Madness'

The deaths of three Israeli teenagers have sparked anger in the region. Two parents who lost children in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict explain why they are now calling for reconciliation.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. By now you've probably heard about the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers and all that has transpired because of it. The three young men - Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel - were abducted June 12 as they hitchhiked home from their religious schools on the West Bank. The kidnapping has led to more violence. Five Palestinians were killed in clashes with authorities as they searched for the abducted boys. One Palestinian teenager, Muhammad Abu Khader, died in a gruesome killing earlier this week that is suspected to have been a revenge killing. Israel's prime minister has also condemned this, as well. But Israel has been launching airstrikes aimed at the Gaza Strip because that area is dominated by the Palestinian group, Hamas, which Israel's leaders blame for the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens. Leaders around the world, including U.S. President Barack Obama, have expressed anguish over the deaths and especially for the pain of the parents. And that is a pain that members of Parents Circle Families Forum know all too well. Parents Circle is an organization comprised of more than 600 families, both Palestinians and Israelis, all of whom have lost a close family member as a result of the prolonged conflict. So we thought this would be a good time to speak with members of this group to hear their thoughts on a way forward out of this crisis. With us now, Robi Damelin - she is Israeli and a spokesperson for Parents Circle. Her son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2002. Also with us is Bassam Aramin, who works with the Palestinian office of Parents Circle. His daughter, Abir, was killed in 2007 by Israeli border police. And I thank you both for speaking with us, and I'm sorry for both of your losses.

BASSAM ARAMIN: Thank you.

ROBI DAMELIN: Thank you.

MARTIN: Robi, I wanted to start with you because it's said so often in this country - it's a cliche - that, you know, you live in a tough neighborhood, meaning the region, where there has been so much violence in recent years. But it does seem as if this latest cycle seems particularly intense. And there just seems to be kind of a level of grief and rage that seems significant. I wanted to know, do you agree? Why do you think that is?

DAMELIN: Well, I think that it's much encouraged by the powers that be. And from the minute that these poor kids were kidnapped, there came out of (inaudible) a rhetoric which was so frightening and so fear-creating that I think it worked up the whole nation. And also, it had been going on for a couple of weeks. And of course, the media, I'm afraid to say, contributed a lot to creating fear. And of course, now the whole cycle of violence is once again in place. And we believe at the Parents Circle that there has to be a reconciliation framework in any future peace agreement. Because without that, we just have these temporary cease-fires, until the next time.

MARTIN: Bassam, what about you? What strikes you about what is happening now and how your neighbors and how the countries are reacting to it?

ARAMIN: You know, I said that the conflict didn't start with the kidnapping and the killing the three young Israelis, unfortunately, which was a tragedy and will not end by the kidnapping and murder of Muhammad Khader, unfortunately. And we didn't want to make it between Hamas and the Israeli nation. No, it's between the Palestinian people and the Israeli occupation. And this is the reactions about the occupation, the continuation of that settlement and (unintelligble). And you cannot talk about peace and build more settlements. But we said that - and the parents said - we need to be very clear that we will never go back to be victims to this violence again. We liberate ourselves. We know that we are the same people. The two people are the same people. It's the same blood. And we need to stop this madness, this killing.

MARTIN: Robi, you were telling us that one of the things that - you both are people who have said, after your children were killed, don't take revenge in the name of my son. I noted that there were family members of the three Israeli teens who have also made this statement. But there are a number of people - public actors - who are calling for revenge. And I wanted to ask, what do you think it is that has allowed you to call to stop this cycle of revenge and others are not?

DAMELIN: I think that revenge is actually a very natural reaction to many things. I don't know. It's possibly my growing up in South Africa and being very influenced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And actually, when the Army came to tell me that David had been killed, apparently - and I really don't remember this - I said, you may not kill anybody in the name of my child.

And I knew very soon afterwards, when I was thinking about it, that this man didn't kill David because he was David. He killed him because he was a symbol of an occupying army. Please don't think that that is easy for me to say, but that is the truth. And when looking at that and realizing that maybe I could make a difference - the minute I met Palestinian mothers and recognized that we shared the same pain, then I knew that we could be this incredible force for making a difference.

And so it's a choice that you make. You know, many parents die with their children when their children are killed, and many parents build libraries and statues and do wonderful things. And I don't criticize anybody, and I understand people who are stuck in anger. But I do know that in my own path towards reconciliation, the minute that I gave up being a victim of the man who killed David, I was free. And that allows me to do this work because I couldn't do this work if I wasn't willing to walk the walk with the man who killed my child.

MARTIN: Bassam, what about you? Your daughter - do I have this right? She was only 10 years old...

ARAMIN: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Yes, when she was killed. And what has allowed you to choose this course for yourself? One could see where you would be very angry. And as I understand it, in your youth, you were a fighter, and you spent some time in prison as a consequence. What do you think has allowed you to take this course?

ARAMIN: Yeah. Everything about youth, to be honest, pushes you for more violence, more revenge. But maybe Robi said that. There's no revenge. And because we love too much our kids, we don't want to make - take revenge in their name, on their behalf.

It's the same thing when I said to the killer - I called him a victim who killed my daughter, in the Israeli court - that I need you to know that you are not a hero. You are not a warrior. You didn't kill the enemy or the terrorist. And that you don't want to take revenge. And if you come to ask me to forgive you in the future - if you understand that you killed an innocent daughter - I will forgive you because I am strong, because I am free, because I understand that this teenager is a killer of my daughter, but he's not a war criminal. And we need to go back to our roots, to the humanity.

I know the Israelis and the Palestinians - most of them have called the peace a process. The majority support this. Normal people - they want to live in peace and as neighbors.

MARTIN: We're speaking with two parents who've each lost a child in the ongoing Isreali-Palestinian conflict. They're now members of a parents group comprised both of Isreali and Palestinian parents who have lost a close relative in the conflict. Robi, you know, this conflict now reaches far beyond the region. I mean, where we are in Washington D.C., there were, you know, prayer vigils immediately upon the discovery of the teenagers. And you know, you can tell that there are people who feel a connection to this on both sides. Is there something that outsiders can do to be useful?

DAMELIN: Well, I - interestingly, there's one thing ask everybody, wherever I go. Please do not take sides. Please do not be pro-Israel, do not be pro-Palestine because what you are doing is feeling very good about yourself. But what you are doing is importing our conflict into your country and creating hatred between Jews and Muslims. And that doesn't serve any purpose at all, and certainly doesn't help us.

And wouldn't it be extraordinary if, instead of demonstrating and making prayers for one side, everybody would get together and pray for everybody on both sides because, actually, if we can sit in the same room - if I can travel with Bassam all over the world and talk in the same voice, surely that should be some kind of example. We cannot share this land just with graves.

MARTIN: Bassam, final thought from you? Is there something that others can do to be helpful here - to be useful here?

ARAMIN: Yeah, just to add a few words to what Robi said. Absolutely, I agree with her. We need you to pray for us, and don't fall with us. We need you to educate yourselves, to inform what happened, exactly, here. And this is what Martin Luther King said - that at the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends because we're going to sort this conflict. We will live in peace. Absolutely. It's not a matter of hope. This is history. So absolutely, we need your help, and we need you with us. Thank you.

MARTIN: Bassam Aramin works with the Palestinian office of Parent Circle. He joined us from Anata in East Jerusalem. Robi Damelin is a spokesperson for Parent Circle Families Forum, with us from Tel Aviv. Thank you so much for speaking with us, the both of you. We appreciate it.

ARAMIN: Thank you.

DAMELIN: Thank you.

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