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2 parents discuss losing children to gun violence between Israelis and Palestinians

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The stories emanating from the Israeli and Palestinian conflict we've been hearing about or living through recently are not new, but they should still alarm and disturb us. Last Sunday, hundreds of Jewish settlers went on a rampage to the Palestinian town of Huwara that left one Palestinian dead and injured others. Many homes were also set on fire. That attack followed the shooting of two Israeli settlers, two brothers, by suspected Palestinian gunmen earlier in the day. This seems to be a continuation of the violence that's been building since last spring in the West Bank, which Israel captured in 1967 and where Palestinians seek to build an independent state. After suspected Palestinian attacks on Israelis, the Israeli military began months of raids that it says target militants, but have often killed civilians, including a Palestinian American journalist. The Associated Press says 62 Palestinians and 14 Israelis have been killed since the start of the year.

At times like this, it's easy to tune out - to lose sight of the people who continue to lose loved ones and to lose sight of those who are still trying to find ways to achieve a lasting peace, so that's why we called two members of the Parents Circle-Families Forum once again. That's an organization of Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost children to violence. The two people we called are Robi Damelin, an Israeli whose son was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2002, and Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian whose daughter was killed by Israeli border police in 2007. We've spoken before, and I was so happy that they agreed to speak with us once again. So thank you both very much for being with us today.

ROBI DAMELIN: Thank you.

BASSAM ARAMIN: Thank you.

MARTIN: So can I just start by asking how you are? Robi, do you want to start?

DAMELIN: Yes, I guess so. My life is so complicated and so strange. And if anybody would have predicted that this is where I would be at my age, I would never have believed them. Yesterday was the anniversary of David's death, and I went to the cemetery and met so many of his students who've continued to come for all of these years. And this morning, we celebrated a wonderful day all together with Palestinian women from our group - Israeli and Palestinian women - and listening to their reports on a new program that we are doing - it's a wedding planning business - and then coming back to Tel Aviv hardly being able to get home in time because there are huge demonstrations going on in Tel Aviv.

The cycle of violence that is terrifying, the burning - I call it a pogrom - that happened in Huwara as a result of two people being killed - two Israelis. It's the cycle of violence that started up, but we don't know where it's going to stop because there is this extraordinarily right-wing government that is in control.

MARTIN: Thanks for sharing that, Robi, and I'm so sorry, again, for the loss of your son and, Bassam, as I am for the loss of your daughter. Bassam, can I just ask how you are?

ARAMIN: The situation is really very bad, as exactly as Robi describe it. To face this - or to start again, this dark ages that we never expect.

MARTIN: Robi, you were saying that what's upsetting and frightening is the feeling that the government turns a blind eye or that the government itself is complicit in some ways with this kind of mob violence. Would it be accurate to say that that's a big part of your distress?

DAMELIN: The government is not complicit in the actual action, and there's no accountability in most cases. But we have the minister, who claimed that the whole of that - of the whole of Huwara should be burnt down. Now, what should we say to that? How can we live in this situation? And yet within the work of the Parents Circle is this miracle and light of us continuing to meet others, continuing to trust each other and not to look for revenge, but just to try to change hearts. And this is a difficult task, but there is a miracle in the element of the work that we do.

MARTIN: Bassam, do you feel that way?

ARAMIN: This is every meeting. We think that this will be the last meeting because we don't know what will happen. They make everything possible against us to prevent us from meeting - from continue doing the Circle job between people - real people. So, yes, it's also - it's very problematic that the government itself adopted this policy against us. As I said, it's always tough for the Palestinians. For the first time, it become a real dangerous for the Israeli society.

MARTIN: Both of you have been pointing out that this is all taking place against the backdrop in what is understood to be the most conservative, rightist government ever, I think, in the history of the country. And there are demonstrations - there are huge demonstrations. And a lot of this has to do with the direction of the governance, and, as you pointed out, this minister made this comment that has been condemned by the United States, for example. It sounds like this feels like a really fraught moment. Do these demonstrations offer a sense of volatility and the fear of the situation?

DAMELIN: Well, you know, I think that it's not about hatred. It's about fear. And watching the demonstrations, I'm so proud that there are people of all ages, of all colors, of all beliefs - right, left, wearing yarmulke - all kinds of people have come to this demonstration. It's not a left-wing demonstration, although the government would like it to be seen as such. We have to believe that we making a difference. We cannot sit back and let this dark time win. So we went to the High Court a couple of times because of being stopped from doing the ceremony, and we may have to do that again. But one can only fear for the judicial system because that, for me, was the last bastion of democracy.

MARTIN: I think a lot of people wonder, like, what is keeping you engaged at a time like this? Because it is so easy to feel, you know, hopeless. So, Bassam, can I ask, like, what keeps you engaged in this process? And is there something that gives you hope?

ARAMIN: It's not hope. It's faith. It's not written anywhere that we are going to continue killing each other forever. Believe me, those are group of terrorists. According to the Israeli law even, those ministers and according to the American laws, they will lift, and we will remain. We are not the first or the last conflict on Earth, unfortunately. We prove that we can live together if we find a brave leader who take us towards the future and to release us from the very painful past. I believe one day we will have peace agreement. We will live in peace. But when? How much blood we need from our kids, from both sides?

MARTIN: So before we let you go, we've talked in the past about some of the specific activities that your group has developed in order to give people a chance to encounter each other. Like we've talked about, you know, the peace tents, for example. What are some of the things that you're doing right now to advance the goals that both of you have?

DAMELIN: You know, I spent a lot of time with the Palestinian women finding out what it was that they really wanted to do. And they said that they would like to increment their income. And so each woman told me the thing that she liked to do best, and one was flowers, photography, nails, designing dresses, making sweets, cakes, doing menus. So we are opening a bridal service. Some 40 women just completed the course, each woman in the subject that she liked best. And we got wedding dresses from a wonderful group in Chicago, and each woman got a certificate today. And that's a miracle, and I'm hoping that they will create a lot of income for Palestinian women. It's time for women to come to the table. It's time for women to have their voices heard.

MARTIN: Bassam, final thought from you?

ARAMIN: We have a lot of projects. One of them that I'm very proud - that narrative project that we bring Palestinians and Israelis - homogeneous groups from the same profession just to teach them how to listen to each other, to listen to the narrative of the other. And the results are amazing. When the people meet as people without politics, just as human beings, always they try to find a third narrative in order to exist and to try to live together, which is the majority want to do so.

MARTIN: Bassam Aramin works out of the Palestinian office of Parents Circle, and Robi Damelin is a spokesperson for Parent Circle. Thank you both so much for talking with us today. I certainly wish you the best.

DAMELIN: Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity. It's so important not to take sides, not to be pro-Israel, not to be pro-Palestine, but to be pro-the solution, to be pro-peace, because otherwise you simply import our conflict into your country and create hatred between Muslims and Jews.

MARTIN: Thank you both so much for joining us.

DAMELIN: Thank you so, so much.

ARAMIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.