NASHVILLE—An Israeli woman and Palestinian man who both lost children because of ongoing violence in the region discussed their mutual love and support for one another during the annual three-day Q Conference which is built around the belief that "Christians are called to redeem entire cultures, not just individuals."
In 2007, Bassam Aramin's 10-year-old daughter, Abir, "was shot in cold blood by an Israeli soldier while standing outside her school with [her] classmates." Two years before his daughter was killed, Aramin had started a reconciliation organization called Combatants for Peace, where he continues to work alongside "former Israeli and Palestinian combatants" in an effort to "create political pressure on both governments to stop the cycle of violence, end the occupation and resume a constructive dialog."
Prior to launching his peacemaking organization, Aramin had been jailed for seven years after he was caught, at age 17, plotting an attack on Israeli forces. His plan was to take revenge on the soliders because at age 12, he had witnessed the shooting of one of his peers during a Palestinian demonstration against Israel.
Once in prison, Aramin struck up a friendship with one his guards and observed "how this transformation that happened through dialogue and without force made me realize the only way to peace was through non-violence. Our dialogue enabled us both to see each other's purity of heart and good intent."
Aramin explained on Wednesday that should he ever meet his daughter's killer, he would "break his heart."
"He expects me to fight him, but this is his view, not my view. … Let's ask him for more mercy. Forgiveness is a kind of revenge," said Aramin, adding that he was acting the way that Mohammed would.
"I hope you understand us, we came from a different place to bring this message of peace and reconciliation," said Aramin. "[Robi Damelin and I] are not two crazy people; we are here for the 600 families in the Parents Circle who have to share the same message: [We must] share the land together."
Aramin is a member of Parents Circle, a group of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones because of the ongoing violence. It was through the parents' support group that he met Damelin, an Israeli mother whose son was killed in 2002. Damlin's son, David, 28, was in the process of receiving his master's degree at Tel Aviv University when he was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.
Damelin explained that her empathy for the "other side" began when she recognized that "Palestinian mothers had the same pain I did."
"When you look for the humanity in the other, that's really the end of conflict," she said. "Very often we don't see who's on the other side. Losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to you. You learn to live with that pain next to you … it's always bittersweet."
Damelin shared that several years after the shooting she wrote a letter to the family of the sniper and two Palestinians from the Parents Circle delivered it. After sending it, she realized the personal sense of liberation that forgiveness had offered her.
"I'm free to realize that I'm not a victim," said Damelin. "My life is not contingent on what [the killer] considers to do. Forgiving is for me."
She asked the largely American audience to go to the press and their congressional representatives and tell them about their work, suggesting not that the United States should stay out of the conflict, but that the government should avoid being pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, because otherwise it was just inserting "your conflict into our own conflict."
"What I want from you is to go back to your communities — you just met two people who paid the highest price in the conflict and yet they are willing to stand, surely that must be an example for you," said Damelin.
Damelin concluded her remarks by taking Bassam's hand and walking off the stage.