“Losing a child is unlike no other pain I can describe,” according to Robi Damelin. More difficult still, Damelin said, is losing that child to an act of violence, when it is often easier to turn that pain into anger.
Damelin, an Israeli, and Bassam Aramin, who is Palestinian, told a crowd of 40 community members who gathered at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Oct. 13 how they could have simply turned their grief into rage. Instead, after each lost a child to violence in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, they sought understanding.
Damelin and Aramin are not alone. They are part of a unique grassroots organization called the Parents Circle–Family Forum (PCFF), which consists of more than 600 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost an immediate family member to the conflict. Founded in 1994, the PCFF’s long-term vision is to create a framework for a reconciliation process they feel plays an integral part of any future peace agreement.
“We can work together,” said Bassam. “We just need to discover our humanity.”
Sunday’s presentation by the PCFF was co-sponsored by St. Marks and Temple De Hirsch Sinai.
“[Rev. Steve] Thomason and Rabbi Daniel Weiner, of Temple De Hirsch Sinai, have been working for several months on developing interfaith programs at St. Mark’s and TDHS, which have a long history of service to the Seattle community beyond their own congregations,” said volunteer parishioner Steven Paul Moen, who led Sunday’s forum.
Damelin and Aramin each told the story of their personal struggle and journey toward creating an understanding of “the other,” which they stressed is essential for laying the foundation for the road to reconciliation.
“There is no revenge for a lost child,” Damelin said.
Her son was killed while serving in the army reserve by a Palestinian sniper. Aramin’s daughter was killed by an IDF soldier in front of her school. Both feel the same pain and have chosen to stand on a stage together in solidarity because they believe the only solution is a peaceful one. Both repeated in their talk that it is easy to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian, but neither label helps to further the progress of peace negotiations.
As members of the audience were invited to participate in a question-and-answer discussion, Moen emphasized that the focus on dialogue is PCFF’s reconciliation mission —not the difficult political or military issues facing the leaders and people of the Middle East.
“We feel that PCFF’s mission offers an encouraging message in what often seems an intractable struggle,” Moen said.
Rabbi Weiner echoed this sentiment, pointing out that Jews and Christians oftentimes find themselves at odds over this issue.
“Efforts like the Parents Circle try to transcend the controversy and focus on the universal issue,” said Rabbi Weiner. “I so value my relationship with St. Mark’s, and Steve [Thomason] and I are committed to continuing our relationship. This is a very significant way in which we are looking to do that. “
While there will always be outliers on the extremes only interested in continuing the status quo, Rabbi Weiner said he believes that “those of us in the mainstream middle are looking to help move the process forward in a productive and positive way.”
As part of the PCFF’s visit, following Damelin and Aramin’s discussion at St. Mark’s, the Seattle Jewish Film Festival screened the documentary “Two Sided Story” at the Stroum Jewish Community Center. Directed by Emmy-award-winning director Tor Ben Mayor, the 75-minute film follows a group of 27 Palestinian and Israelis who meet through a PCFF project. Among the participants are bereaved families, Orthodox Jews and religious Muslims, settlers, former IDF soldiers, ex-security prisoners, citizens of the Gaza Strip, kibbutz members, second-generation Holocaust survivors, non-violent activists and more.
“Film has a way of inspiring a mutual experience,” said SJFF director Pamela Lavitt. “This was an opportunity to have a conversation with the subjects of the film, not just the filmmakers.”
Lavitt saw an incredible response and turnout by the community, noting strong attendance by local Israelis, and not just “the usual suspects” at the Sunday afternoon screenin.
“We felt the program managed to stay extremely engaging and positive,” Lavitt said.
She also said festival office received a handful of rare praise.
“We’ve received two or three ‘thank-yous’ for having the courage to bring the film,” Lavitt said.