On Sunday, I attended a brunch hosted by my friends Kristen Howerton and Laura Tremaine. We were privileged enough to have Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin of the Parents Circle- Families Forum (PCFF) come tell us their remarkable stories and speak about their efforts toward peace through radical forgiveness. The PCFF is a joint Palestinian Israeli grassroots organization of over 600 families, all of whom have lost a close family member as a result of the prolonged conflict. It promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.
Robi (her story here) is a bereaved Israeli mother whose son was killed by a Palestinian sniper, and Bassam (his story here) is a grieving Palestinian father whose ten-year-old daughter was killed by Israeli soldiers.
You may not think of me as a shrinking violet, but there are a couple of subjects that shut me right up. Top of the list: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though it affects me deeply and personally– I have family in Israel, including my brother and my nephew– I don’t engage about it publicly very often. I tell myself that when it comes to Palestine and Israel, I am overly emotional and under-qualified, and that whatever I say, I’ll be hurting someone I care about. Until now, I’ve dealt with that by avoiding the subject. I went to the brunch with the hope of changing that, of beginning to reach for my own voice. I challenged myself to learn, to get in the discussion, to be unafraid to make mistakes. I never could keep my big yap shut for very long.
Hearing about the losses of Robi’s son and Bassam’s daughter felt like being kicked in the chest. It was not an easy morning, but it was a hopeful one.
Robi was quick to point out that she doesn’t have an easy definition for forgiveness, or any definition at all, really. I relate to this. I’ve always thought forgiveness is a word that’s bandied about way too easily. I’ve wondered- can forgiveness be manufactured? Can you just decide to forgive someone because you think you should? Or is forgiveness an action? And if so, what action?
Robi fielded the question to us:
What is forgiveness?
“Forgiveness is owning your part,” one person answered. “Forgiveness is giving up your just right to revenge,” said another.
“Forgiving allows you to stop being a victim of that circumstance,” said Robi.
The PCFF uses art exhibitions, film, dialogue meetings, and various other creative and humanitarian projects to discuss the human side of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and why mutual understanding of the “other side” and a reconciliation framework is necessary for any sustainable peace agreement.
I was especially captivated by Bassam and Robi’s emphasis on the importance of storytelling– of narrative– in relationship-building.
“Once you understand how the other sees their story, they become human.” said Robie.
If I’m impassioned about anything, it’s the healing power of narrative, both on individual and larger cultural levels. I left feeling emotionally wrecked, but also mobilized and inspired.
You can sign up for the PCFF newsletter here, to learn more about their ongoing programs. Please do!