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Gaza conflict: Families bound in grief

Fatima Asmal

Parents Circle - Families Forum is a Palestinian-Israeli organisation of more than 600 families who have lost loved ones during the conflict.

Robi Damelin's son was reluctant to serve, and then killed while on duty. (Nir Elias, Reuters)

When Robi Damelin heard that her son David, while serving as a reservist, had been killed by a sniper at an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) checkpoint, the first thing she said was: “You may not kill anybody in the name of my child.”

Damelin – who was born in South Africa, where she fought against apartheid, before moving to Israel in 1967 – is a spokesperson for the Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF). It is a joint Palestinian-Israeli organisation comprising more than 600 families who have lost close family members during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The forum tries to convey the message that reconciliation between individuals and nations is possible, and engages in activities such as dialogue between families, public meetings, educational programmes and media campaigns.    

Read more on the Gaza conflict:

In its latest online video campaign, half a dozen Palestinians and Israelis of diverse ages simply say, “we don’t want you here”, one after the other, in Arabic and Hebrew, against a backdrop of haunting music. The video ends with the text: “The Bereaved Parents Families Forum doesn’t want new members.” 

“The PCFF needs your help to share our message and lead the anti-war movement,” the site states under a link to the video, urging people to share it.

Reluctant to serve
Damelin joined the organisation after her son’s death in 2002. She said that David had been reluctant to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories.

“Throughout his army service, we were debating whether he should,” she said. 

“Then this group was formed of officers that did not want to serve in the occupied territories and David joined and went to all the demonstrations.”

Grappling with this irony has been difficult.

“That is the most heartbreaking part of it – it was the most senseless, useless killing of a person who could have been a leader,” she said. “But I knew immediately he [the sniper] didn’t kill David because he was David; he killed him because he was the symbol of an occupying army.” 

During the current conflict in Gaza, Damelin and her peers set up a tent in Tel Aviv, in which they are open to dialogue with the public.

‘Everybody’s angy’
This hasn’t been easy under the current circumstances. “Everybody’s angry – would you not be angry if your country is at war?” she asked.

“How do you think Palestinians feel when they go back home and find that their homes don’t exist anymore? Can you imagine what the children from both sides are going to be like when they grow up? In a way, they are abused children.”

But this hasn’t deterred her from working for peace in the region through reconciliation.

“If you had told me in 1967 when I came to live in Israel that blacks and whites in South Africa would some day find a peaceful way to live together, I would have said you are mad,” she said.

“I don’t see any more or less hatred here.”

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