Family members mourning the loss of loved ones in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict came together Tuesday night on Yale’s campus to share their experiences and the lessons they have learned.
At a discussion held in the Law School Auditorium, two members of the Parents Circle — Bereaved Families Forum, as well as Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and two Yale professors, spoke about the importance of empathy in bridging the gap created by hatred and misunderstanding in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The talk began with scenes from a documentary film called “Encounter Point” featuring the two guest speakers, Ali Abu Awwad and Robi Damelin. The scenes introduced people from both sides who had lost loved ones in the conflict, conveying a message of cooperation and reconciliation that resonated in the speeches at the event.
Damelin, an Israeli who lost her son to a sniper at a checkpoint a few years ago, spoke about the Parents Circle and its efforts to bring Palestinian and Israeli families together. Participants have a chance to impart their stories in the hope that shared experience can bring about understanding, and ultimately, reconciliation.
Damelin reached out to audience members by reading the letter she wrote to the parents of the sniper who killed her son. She said she was looking for a way to stop the cycle of violence and go beyond her grief.
“Revenge cannot bring our children back,” Damelin said. “The process of reconciliation is private, but it has a rippling effect.”
Awwad, who lived in one of the refugee camps in the Palestinian territories, related how he was shot in the leg by an Israeli settler and, while receiving medical treatment, was informed that his brother Yusef was killed by an Israeli soldier. The traumatic event led him to join the Parents Circle and work to advocate nonviolence and empathy. He said it was more important to understand what humans need and what unites them, rather than how to seek revenge.
“It isn’t our destiny to keep dying … by hating each other,” Awwad said. “What is more important: to be human, or to be Palestinian, Israeli, American?”
Awwad emphasized the need to be aware and not to blindly trust politicians who have yet to create a sound solution or help to bring an understanding among the divided sides.
Salovey stressed the importance of personal narratives for empathy. He said the conflict could only begin to be resolved when people forgo the impulse of revenge and share recognition of each other.
Paula Hyman, a professor of Jewish History, said the message of empathy and reconciliation at the discussion was an appopriate one.
“The stories were moving,” Hyman said. “Empathy is a necessary first step for people to ready themselves for the peace process.”
Aaron Goode ’04 said he appreciated the advocacy of nonviolence in the speeches, but that there was not enough stress on what has to occur after reconciliation takes place.
“It starts with the people making their values and priorities clear to the governments nonviolently,” Goode said. “But the political pressure for negotiation wasn’t talked about.”
The discussion was entitled “500 bereaved Palestinian and Israeli families work together for peace.” “Encounter Point,” which was released earlier this year at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the San Francisco International Film Festival.