Saturday, January 03, 2009

Encounter Point

At the end of November, I went to Vienna to be part of the launch of SAVE, an initiative from Women Without Borders. One of the first incredible people I met, in three days and sleepless nights of meeting incredible people, was Robi Damelin, who is originally from South Africa.

Robi had been active in the anti-apartheid movement. When 'it was getting very pressured and ugly', she came to Israel as a volunteer after the 1967 Six-Day/June war. She learned Hebrew, married, then later divorced and brought up her two sons David and Eran on a liberal moshav, near Netanya

Her son, David was made an officer when he did his army service. He did not want to serve in the Occupied Territories and joined the peace movement, but nonetheless was told to serve in Hebron - or face jail. He went to Hebron, saying that he would go and try to lead his soldiers in treating everyone he met - Palestinian or Israeli - with respect.

After his mandatory army service was completed David went to Tel Aviv University, studied Philosophy and Psychology, and then started to do his Masters in Philosophy of Education. He was teaching Philosophy at a pre-military programme for potential social leaders, and also teaching at Tel Aviv University when he got called up again for reserve service in the military.

David was killed, along with nine other people, on March 3 2002 by a Palestinian sniper. He was guarding a checkpoint near a settlement - 'a political checkpoint', ( 'one not necessary for security' is how Robi described it, in an interview later with JUSTVISION).

Two days later, the checkpoint was pulled down. Robi was interviewed by the media and asked if she had a message.

'You may not kill anybody in the name of my child' said Robi. It was unexpected. It came out of a deep place within her.

Robi grieved; she travelled, went back to work, but nothing was the same. She began to want to get more involved in voluntary community initiatives and went on to become part of the Parents' Circle - Families Forum, a grass-roots organisation consisting of half Israelis and half Palestinians, who have all lost immediate family members to violence. The group now comprises over 600 people and continues to be engaged in joint reconciliation action, whilst the conflict is still active and in spite of all ongoing tensions and violence - and now, this latest war.

The Parent's Circle, Robi likes to say, 'is not about hummus and hugs - it's much deeper than that'. One of the things they do is go into schools and talk to Israeli 16-17 year olds before they join the army, and to Palestinian teenagers.

When I met Robi, she told me that the Parent's Circle had been into over 1000 classrooms.

'That's amazing', I said, trying to work out how many children, how many families that was.

'1000 classrooms just this year, 2008' Robi said, with justifiable pride.

She told me how some of the children, when they first come into the classroom to hear a bereaved Palestinian parent and a bereaved Israeli parent talk about life after bereavement by violence, don't believe that 'the other side' can actually feel the pain of loss.

'They think that Palestinians all rejoice in death and want 'martyrdom', they think the parents of Israeli soldiers and settlers are proud to 'give their children up for Israel'. Most of them have never had any meaningful contact with the other side at all. Ever.'

And afterwards?

'80% of the children want to talk to the other side'.

You can see seven minutes of film about the work Robi and others are doing in the clip below. More detail on the film at You can donate to The Parent's here.

'When Israelis cry, when Palestinians cry, what colour are the tears?' Robi says.
The only hope for both sides is to end, not escalate the violence and to talk and listen to each other. If six hundred of those who have suffered so much can do it, why can't six politicians, generals and spokesmen at least try?

This new year saw Gill Hicks, Elizabeth Kenworthy and Tim Coulson honoured. Gill, who lost both her legs in the 7/7 bombings, walked 200 miles for peace last year accompanied by Joe, her husband, and many friends and supporters as part of the WALKTALK initiative, and continues as an Ambassador for Peace Direct. Liz was on the train suicide-bombed at Aldgate, whilst other passengers were evacuated, she went to help those trapped, using her first aid skills learned for her work as a schools police officer. Tim, with other passengers, smashed his way into the stricken train at Edgware Road which had exploded as it passed opposite him, in order to help the injured and dying.

Happy New Year Gill, Tim, Liz, Robi and to all the other amazing people who inspire, amaze and humble me. I hope that 2009 is a year of peace, for you, for all of us. Despite everything, you show how a better future, a better way, is more than possible; it is already happening, because some people are making it so, doing what they can, when they can, one day at a time.


Blogger Boggo said...

Much enjoyed, Rachel, thanks - nice to catch you blogging again.

Happy New Year!

January 04, 2009 4:25 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thank you - happy new year to you too and to anyone still reading after my self-imposed blogging absence.

January 05, 2009 1:58 pm  
Blogger seth said...

hi rachel happy new year.

i hope that your year is off to a good start.

interesting post on gaza. what the arabs wont publicly say is that many of them also hate hamas.

whats your opinion?


January 06, 2009 12:47 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Non-extreme people take extremist positions in extreme circumstances.

If Palestine was not blockaded and starving, I doubt Hamas would have got a look in.

Happy New year Seth. And shalom.

January 06, 2009 8:32 pm  
Blogger Miriam said...

This post reminds me of 2 things - 1. a Womens' Peace group in Northern Ireland years ago. I can't believe that we actually do have peace now, after all those violent years. Just shows that if you keep talking about it and showing the children that the "other side" are human too...
2. A family who lost children in the Omagh bombing reacted like Robi. It was humbling, and I believe that it made a difference.
ALl that anyone can do is their little bit, and you're certainly doing that, Rachel.
Keep on writing, and don't anyone give up hope, mimi

January 09, 2009 9:54 pm  
Blogger DAVE BONES said...

cheers for the parents circle link. and happy new year

January 14, 2009 9:16 pm  

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