Riflessioni sul Perdono, sulla Dignità e sulla Riconciliazione

Robi Damelin

1. I negoziati di pace, generalmente, sono incentrati sulle dimensioni politica ed economica. Quale è la Sua percezione della necessità di toccare aspetti più profondi e genuini della riconciliazione e come si può ottenere questo?

For decades, Israelis and Palestinians have been engulfed in an intractable conflict. Rising death tolls in the region and countless numbers of reprisals and counter-reprisals have created a cycle of violence that has severely affected the social, economic and cultural fabric in both societies. Given the escalated conflict and the very limited opportunity for Palestinians and Israelis to interact with one another, each side of the conflict has become entrenched in its version of history and views the other side as a severe threat to their security. This animosity is fostered through the often biased education that youth receive in school, their homes and communities. The respective governments have been slow to act in mediating the situation and media is used more often to sustain divisions than to correct misconceptions and educate both societies to foster understanding.

In a world fraught with rage, revenge, and hatred, the words reconciliation and forgiveness seem so out of place and impossible, and yet if we are to find a solution to the blood shed and madness of Palestine and Israel there is no other path than one of reconciliation which may or may not lead to forgiveness.

Broken promises, and the sense of betrayal experienced by so many in the conflict make the word reconciliation empty of meaning. There is also a sense of battle fatigue and exhaustion and of course the burn out which comes with the territory, All of these emotions make it difficult not to let the situation effect who we are but rather that we should be a catalyst for change.

Most diplomats and politicians when faced with a situation of conflict resolution find themselves stuck in the situation of people shooting and not being able to go beyond the cease fire into the realm of reconciliation.

Many agreements have been signed and witnessed on the White House lawn, and yet we are no closer to a solution. Could it be that our leaders did not take their people into consideration. Did they not have the vision to realize that trust would have to be built up over time and that a process for people to people understanding would have to take place. The extraordinary circumstance of our existence in Israel/Palestine is that we live next door to each other and yet we have absolutely no idea of who the human being is on the other side.

The Parents Circle – Families Forum, is a group of 500 Palestinian and Israeli families who have all lost an immediate family member in the conflict. The organization’s long term goal is to create a framework for a reconciliation process to be in place when political agreements are signed. Given that the lack of trust and empathy between the sides allows for the cycle of violence to continue, the Forum presents a different and much needed perspective on the reasons for the violence. To achieve this goal we work to imbue both sides with a sense of tolerance and reconciliation rather than hatred and revenge, sharing with others our personal and painful narratives.

In order for both nations to move on, they must realize that there is a component of reconciliation which is most painful and that it truth. Since 1983 truth commissions have been established in over 20 countries in all parts of the world. South Africa acts as an illustration of a miracle in our times. It is clear that without the possibility for South Africans to find out the truth and identify the patterns of abuse and the structured institutional crimes and without the possibility for people to tell their stories therecould well have been a blood-bath. This may not have been the ideal framework for reconciliation, but when you think of the alternative then it is clear that a miracle took place. We are not saying that the Truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa has to be our model, but we certainly can learn from the wonderful teachers who created this platform for truth.

The telling of the personal and the historical narrative can be a catalyst for creating empathy. The Parents Circle – Families Forum created a model for just such a project, “Knowing is the beginning”, The project is based on a strong academic rationale which resonates most strongly with the Healthy Relationship Family Theory of Change – which puts forward that change is expected to come from the interaction of belligerent groups and the increased mutual understanding and appreciation that is expected to be created. History writing and teaching is no longer confined to official political records and interpretation, to leaders decisions and to military and diplomatic events. It extends to describe and analyze social history and cultural history, popular history and “history from the bottom up” which focus on the experience of the common people. It is understood that change can be created from utilizing different sources of information and from the insight we derive from the past in order to improve the understanding of our present situation and to strive for a better future.

Influenced by post-modern trends many professionals in the field of history have started to use the human narrative in order to achieve better and more accurate understanding of the past.

This project provided an intimate way for members of the PCFF to come to understand the historical family tree and the personal narrative of the other. The project began with 140 Israeli and Palestinian members visiting the “Yad Vashem” Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. The purpose of the trip was for the Palestinian members to understand the fears of the Jewish people and to attain a deeper understanding of how they see Jewish history in order to create empathy even when there is no agreement.

The group then visited a Palestinian village that existed before 1948 near “Beit Shemesh” in Israel. Two of the Palestinian members of our group originally came from this village. The fact that the village was completely destroyed was distressing for all and gave everyone an incredibly moving and insightful understanding of the pain and longing of the Palestinian people, as short and intense perspective of the “Nakba” (catastrophe).

Since the initial seminar, members of the group engaged in personal, one-on-one in depth meetings with members of the “other side” visiting each other’s homes and sharing stories. The intimate knowledge of the other has brought the group much closer together and has brought about an understanding of how intertwined all of our histories are and how critical it is to approach one another with empathy. Our vision is to take this program out into both societies. To this end we are working with Georgetown University, Washington, who have become our valued academic advisors.

All of the above makes it clear, that we can not move on unless we begin a process of creating empathy and an understanding of the needs of the other. This last point, the needs of the other has to be brought home to leaders from all sides. In fact they could benefit from the Knowing is the beginning project. From a point of empathy and of knowing the needs of the other, it would be a lot simpler to negotiate.

2. Quali sono le condizioni nelle quali, al di là dell’assicurare gli interessi della parti in conflitto, può essere stabilito un processo incentrato su un senso di equità e dignità?

Life on the ground for the Palestinians makes it almost impossible to envision a process which would lead to a search for reconciliation. The daily indignities and the economic situation particularly in Gaza is not exactly a foundation for a peace process. Nevertheless the vast majority of the Palestinians as with the Israelis are just looking for an ordinary peaceful life without violence and fear.

Establishing a climate for this would be to deal with the human side and to give a face to the conflict. As mentioned before there is almost no contact between Palestinians and Israelis and the knowledge of the other is based on the media which revels in extremes. The role of the Parents Circle is to remove the demonization from the other and to lead by example. It is universally unique to find bereaved families from both sides talking to each other in the ongoing conflict, and trying to find a way forward to reconciliation.

If both sides could lessen the fear of the unknown then perhaps the Israeli’s would find it less of a bitter pill to evacuate the occupied territories and the Palestinians could have a viable homeland. The worst enemy of the Palestinians is the fear of the Israeli’s. We have been working over the past years to remove this fear and to show the human side of the other. Each year we do more than 1,000 classroom dialogs, where a Palestinian and an Israeli go into a classroom to share their stories to 17 year old students. The Israeli students have never met a Palestinian in their lives and the Palestinian students have only met an Israeli in uniform at a check point or a settler.

The media can be the worst enemy of creating a climate for dignity or its best friend. The Parents Circle – Families Forum initiated a new means for spreading the message of understanding by removing the demonization of both sides through the media. With the assistance of the most popular station, channel 2 T. V. company and their skilled script writer, they created a 10 episode fiction drama dealing with the personal and historical narratives of two families. We feel that this is the largest breakthrough on the topic of reconciliation to the general public that has ever happened through our media.

While reconciliation is usually linked with post conflict scenarios, it is also a process which allows violent conflicts to be brought to their end. As a process, reconciliation allows both sides to transform their views about the other side to the conflict, which are at the root of the conflicts ceaseless nature. This transformation creates trust between the two sides, a prerequisite to any peace process, which should enjoy the popular support of both societies.

3. Quanto il perdono è essenziale alla dimensione della riconciliazione? Alla radice della Sua cultura politica e/o della Sua fede religiosa quali sono i principi che implicano o escludono il perdono? Quali versi o detti che fanno parte del Suo personale patrimonio spirituale possono, nella sua opinione, avere un significato universale

I have spent the past 7 years trying to find a definition for forgiving, does it mean giving up your right to justice? or, does it mean we want to forget what happened, or maybe we should excuse what they did, or maybe that it would be okay to do it again. This is an almost impossible journey. Questioning my honesty happens almost on a daily basis. Can I really ever forgive the man who killed my beloved son David. Should I continue with the path of completion, does it mean giving up being a victim. I think in many ways it is all of the above and much more. I have asked the question of so many wise men and all have different and difficult answers. I can only evidence that when I wrote the letter to the family of the
sniper who killed my son, it was as if someone took a stone off my heart and yes there was a sense of giving up being a victim. I have no idea where this will take me, and actually it does not depend on the sniper, it rests with me. I am not waiting for repentance, in some way it is unconditional. However if the opportunity should arrise and this man would chose to say that killing is not the answer, it would be an incredible gift to the community who regard him as a hero and his advocating a non-violent way and showing repentance could be a huge step towards reconciliation by example. This example of one man’s repentance and understanding that non-violence is the only way, and the forgiving would create a rippling effect and perhaps encourage others to seek a similar path.

It is not a prerequisite in the Parents Circle for our members to take this path. It is a personal difficult choice and forcing people to forgive is immoral. I think that it is in the heart of the person and certainly in my case not a religious teaching. I think that watching the bereaved South African mothers in the Truth and reconciliation commission and my subsequent meeting with them had a great influence on my life. The letter which I wrote to the family of the sniper has had a huge impact on my life: –

This for me is one of the most difficult letters I will ever have to write. My name is Robi Damelin, I am the mother of David who was killed by your son. I know he did not kill David because he was David, if he had known him he could never have done such a thing. David was 28 years old, he was a student at Tel-Aviv University doing his masters in the Philosopy of Education. David was part of the peace movement and did not want to serve in the occupied territories. He had a compassion for all people and understood the suffering of the Palestinians, he treated all around him with dignity. David was part of the movement of the Officers who did not want to serve in the Occupied Territories but nevertheless for many reasons he went to serve when he was called to the reserves.

What makes our children do what they do, do they not understand the pain they are causing your son by now having to be in jail for many years and mine who I will never be able to hold and see again or see him married, or have a grandchild from him. I can not describe to you the pain I feel since his death and the pain of his brother and girl-friend and all who knew and loved him.

All my life I have spent working for causes of co-existence, both in South Africa and here. After David was killed I started to look for a way to prevent other families both Israeli and Palestinian from suffering this dreadful loss. I was looking for a way to stop the cycle of violence, nothing for me is more sacred than human life, no revenge or hatred can ever bring my child back. After a year I closed my office and joined the Parents Circle – Families Forum. We are a group of Israeli and Palestinian families who have all lost an immediate family member in the conflict. We are looking for ways to create a dialogue with a long term vision of reconciliation.

After your son was captured, I spent many sleepless nights thinking about what to do, should I ignore the whole thing, or will I be true to my integrity and to the work that I am doing and try to find a way for closure and reconciliation. This is not easy for anyone and I am just an ordinary person not a saint. I have now come to the conclusion that I would like to try to find a way to reconcile. Maybe this is difficult for you to understand or believe, but I know that in my heart it is the only path that I can chose, for if what I say is what I mean it is the only way.

I understand that your son is considered a hero by many of the Palestinian people, he is considered to be a freedom fighter, fighting for justice and for an independent viable Palestinian state, but I also feel that if he understood that taking the life of another is not the way, and that if he understood the consequences of his act, he could see that a non-violent solution is the only way for both nations to live together in peace.

Our lives as two nations are so intertwined, each of us will have to give up on our dreams for the future of the children who are our responsibility.

I give this letter to people I love and trust to deliver, they will tell you of the work we are doing, and perhaps create in your hearts some hope for the future. I do not know what your reaction will be, it is a risk for me, but I believe that you will understand, as it comes from the most honest part of me. I hope that you will show the letter to your son and that maybe in the future we can meet.

Let us put an end to the killing and look for a way through mutual understanding and empathy to live a normal life, free of violence.

I would like to stress again that this path is individual and can not be forced on anyone no matter how “well-meaning” the motive, it must be a path chosen by the individual. I am not sure there can be a universal forgiving of nations, there can be a reconciliation. I can not deal with the religious aspect, there are enough experts in this field.

4. Il perdono richiede qualche forma di pentimento da parte di coloro a cui il perdono viene offerto? Il perdono ha condizioni o è senza condizioni?

Reconciliation Center:
The Reconciliation Center will begin as a space for all individuals to come and share their personal narratives and testimonies. With one office in Israel and one in Palestine, the Reconciliation Center will house the parallel narrative project. Once formed, the center will also provide an infrastructure for best practices, related to conflict resolution, including existing and emerging views on the “reconciliation process” Documenting the “reconciliation process” is essential in asessing people’s perception of reconciliation and its feasibility, facilitating a better understanding of how individuals transform trauma suffering into empathy toward the other. As part of the Center, a library of reconciliation materieals, films, books and T. V. documentaries will be available to the general public. The Reconciliation Center will act as a safe haven for all to share their narratives. An interactive portion will be added to the PCFF website, offered in English, Hebrew and Arabic, to engage students and community member who participate in dialogue work, and for the public to view testimonies and stories by the PCFF members and the general public. This would be an ideal project for the universal council on reconciliation to mentor.

The Universal Council could play a very important role by carrying the message of solutions for both nations not for one or the other. Neither nation will disappear in a puff of smoke because someone expresses a wish. All should be encouraged to work for a solution of reconciliation for both peoples.

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