WADE GOODWYN, HOST:
Israel announced this week that it will launch a criminal investigation into possible military misconduct in Gaza. Their forces have been accused of using excessive firepower, which included shelling a United Nations school and killing four boys on a beach. For parents on both sides of the fighting, there is no making sense of these tragedies. We'll hear next from two parents who have lost children to this long-running conflict. They are both with The Parents Circle. It's a group of over 600 families that had a close relative killed.
Robi Damelin is Israeli. Her son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2002. And Bassam Aramin is Palestinian. His daughter Abir was killed in 2007 by Israeli border police.
NPR's Michel Martin caught up with them earlier this week when they were in Washington. She shared part of their conversation.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: I'm sorry for both of your losses. Thank you both for speaking with us. You're both bereaved parents from a conflict that's been going on for so long. And I wanted to ask you, how do you cope when you see the recent escalation and you see the violence on both sides and people being killed on both sides? How do you cope with it? Bassam, do you want to start?
BASSAM ARAMIN: Yeah, in fact, it's very sad. Because we know that nothing new will come from it. It's just to invest in more hatred and more blood. We will never achieve anything by violence because we tried it more than 100 years.
MARTIN: Robi, what do you do?
ROBI DAMELIN: Well, firstly, I became very angry because I kept seeing that women are always the pawns with their children in war. And they always have to make all the decisions about whether their children will live or not. You know, there was a siren and I went on into the shelter in my building. And there was a woman standing holding her baby and it had a ball in its hands. And I thought, what are we doing? This is insane. I thought about the women in Gaza who had nowhere to run because they have no shelters. And so they had to make a decision. Shall they say at home and maybe they'll get bombed there? Or they'll run away and maybe the Hamas will punish them for doing that?
And then I hear a woman from Sderot, the village which is on the border of Gaza. She has 15 seconds to get to the shelter and she has a child in a wheelchair and three other children. And so she can't make up her mind what she should do, who should she save. And this is the terrible part.
Again, it's women and children - women and children who are the pawns of everything.
MARTIN: The polls showed at the height of the conflict that the military campaign was very popular in Israel. It had a lot of public support - let me put it that way. And it's you know, harder to assess public opinion under the circumstances that existed in Gaza, you know, with the bombing and so forth. But we do know that Hamas appears to have had popular support from Palestinians in the past. You know, given that, is this a leadership problem or is this a followership problem?
ARAMIN: I believe it's a leadership problem because they feed us with this fear so they can counter loss. They didn't trust each other. They are very weak. For that this is our job to let them know that we support you. We want to push you to negotiate because we know the solution. In the end, we will have the peace agreement. We will have a two-state solution, we will end the occupation because we cannot continue like this forever. So everyone knows the solution.
MARTIN: Robi, what about you? What do you think? Is this a leadership problem or is this a people problem?
DAMELIN: Well, I think this is an army where everybody has to go. You know, it's everybody's children. I remember standing to say goodbye to David when he went to the army and thinking to myself, this is insane. How can it be that my child is sitting on a bus going away and will be given a weapon? And no mother wants her child to go to the army. No Palestinian mother wants to lose her child. That pain is the same pain of all the bereaved mothers.
And I think the political leaders are there because they care about their positions. I don't think they really care about the country, otherwise they would've made very different decisions. Otherwise, they would not have appropriated land in the occupied territories when they know full well, that this has got to be negotiated and that by appropriating more and more land, eventually there'll be no solution that is political.
MARTIN: Do you feel, Robi, that you're making any headway, given all that we've talked about?
DAMELIN: You know, we work on the ground solidly, 24 hours a day. Last weekend we had a meeting of The Parents Circle, which was really showing and reaffirming the work that we're doing. It's not easy for a Palestinian to come to a meeting like this, having watched what happened on Al Jazeera, Al Arabyia, Hamas. And on the other side also, for the Israelis who watched our news, which is always biased. And we all came together to talk. And there was an honesty of being able to share that pain and anger. And if that can happen for us, then surely we are this extraordinary example.
MARTIN: Given that, what keeps you going?
DAMELIN: I think probably my South African background. You know, if you would've told me in 1967 that blacks and whites would sit together in a room and find a pragmatic way not to kill each other, I would've said you were mad. But a miracle happened in South Africa. South Africa's not the Garden of Eden now, but there's hope. And the hatred in Israel and Palestine is no more than the hatred that was in South Africa. And that's what gives me a sense of wanting to go on.
MARTIN: Bassam, what is giving you hope?
ARAMIN: You know, it's not my provision to be a bereaved father and a peace activist. And because I love my daughter, I decided she will live longer than her killer. I have another five kids. They deserve to live. The Israeli kids; they deserve to exist and to live. So it's our life. We must continue.
MARTIN: I've been speaking with Parents Circle members Robi Damelin, an Israeli mother whose son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2002, and we're speaking with Palestinian father Bassam Aramin, whose daughter Abir was killed in 2007 by Israeli border police. She was just 10 years old.
Thank you both so much for speaking with us.
DAMELIN: Thank you.
ARAMIN: Thank you.
GOODWYN: That was NPR's Michel Martin in a conversation with parents whose children were killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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