After her son was killed in action defending an Israeli checkpoint, Robi Damelin decided her life’s work would be to ensure that no other parents had to suffer that kind of pain. Bassam Aramin came to a similar conclusion after his daughter was killed by an Israeli soldier at the age of 10.
Damelin and Aramin came together before a crowd of 50 on Sunday night to share their stories and implore members of the Yale community to support a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. The two work together through Parents Circle Families Forum, an organization that brings together bereaved Israeli and Palestinians.
Damelin said that the first time she participated in a Parents Circle Families Forum meeting, she sat with 140 Palestinian and Israel families. All were complete strangers, but they shared something powerful in common she said.
“That’s when I realized that we all shared the same pain,” Damelin said. “I realized that that could be the most powerful tool for making a difference because, if I could stand up with a Palestinian who had also lost a child on a stage, surely that would be an example to others that there is another way.”
The talk was moderated by Nate Swetlitz ’17, co-founder of the Yale chapter of J Street U, a national student organization that advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Swetlitz said he originally learned about the Parents Circle Families Forum while in high school and started planning the event this past summer.
“These people are wonderful models for what we are all striving for,” Swetlitz said. “I think it’s especially important … with all the divisiveness, slander, hate speech and polarization that’s occurred over the past several months. I think it’s so essential and so special to see an Israeli and a Palestinian who have lost what’s most precious to them to work together towards peace.”
Both Damelin and Aramin depicted people who commit violent acts as victims themselves, including the fighters that took the lives of each of their children. Aramin said there is no such thing as a type of revenge that does not create another victim or another criminal.
Aramin said he first identified as a Palestinian resistance fighter at age 13 and was imprisoned at 17. He said that the culture he grew up in leaves little room for children not to grow up hating the other side.
“We have no education not to hate or not to be a fighter,” Aramin said. “They teach us how to hate them and how to fight them.”
Aramin said he had so much loathing for Israelis following his imprisonment that he began watching Holocaust films to watch Jews being tortured. Then he said he realized that if Palestinians adopted the same ideologies as the Nazis, that they too would lose their humanity. Aramin now has a master’s degree in Holocaust Studies.
Damelin said the long-term goal of the Parents Circle Families Forum is to create a framework for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, adding that any future peace agreement without such a framework is “just another ceasefire.”
Both speakers maintained that there is no merit in a military solution to the conflict and that while it is still possible to support either Israel or Palestine, no progress can be made until both sides are understood.
“I love Israel, it’s my country, but being pro-Israel or pro-Palestine doesn’t help either side,” Damelin said. “Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. If you were a friend of Israel, you would also be a friend of the Palestinians.”
The talk was cosponsored by J Street U at Yale, Yale Friends of Israel, the Arab Students Associations and the interfaith group, Jews and Muslims.