How would you feel if you registered for an event and the acknowledgement indicated only that it would be held somewhere in the south side of Glasgow, with the eventual confirmation of the location containing a request not to share the information and a warning that only people who had registered to attend would be allowed in? What kind of event was I attending, you might ask, that such security was required?
It was an event entitled “Invest in Peace” which was to feature two parents who had lost children in the conflict in Israel/Palestine and it was jointly supported by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, and jointly hosted by Giffnock Synagogue, Orchardpark Church of Scotland and St Cadoc’s Catholic church. So are you surprised or shocked at the fact that they felt the need to have security for such a laudable meeting? Regretfully even in our city of Glasgow, there are those who do not wish any discussion of peace or reconciliation in the context of the Holy Land.
However the atmosphere inside the synagogue (which turned out to be the venue for the meeting) was warm and welcoming and the clergy of the three faith communities went out of their way to lighten things with jokes, before Rt. Rev. Derek Browning, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, as chair opened the proceedings by saying that we were there to speak truth in love, to build longer tables not higher fences, and to seek unity not uniformity.
The two presenters, Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin, of the Parents Circle – Family Forum, were impressive, calm and dignified witnesses for peace and reconciliation, particularly in view of the ironic tragedy of their own stories.
Robi lost her son who was in the Israeli army doing his national service,. Before he went into the army, he had been a member of the peace movement at Tel Aviv University and discussed with her whether he should accept military service. He had decided he would do so but would always try to treat Palestinians with respect when carrying out his duties.
Then he was killed by a Palestinian sniper, and the challenge for her was to “walk the talk” of peace and reconciliation. She was open and honest about the difficulties this had entailed: writing to the Palestinian’s family, seeking to meet with him despite his refusal. She had asked herself what did forgiveness really mean, and she quoted the answer she had been given in South Africa. “It means giving up your just right to revenge”.
Now she travels the world to try to prevent other families experiencing her pain. She asked that people listen and respect the views of others, rather than engage in heated arguments, because as she had said in a meeting in the House of Lords, you cannot make the Palestinians or the Jews disappear.
Bassam had spent 7 years in an Israeli jail and had struck up an unlikely friendship with one of the prison guards when he decided that he needed to learn the language of the “other” and had found out about the Holocaust. On his release, he decided that the armed struggle was not changing anything so he started to work for a peaceful solution, helping to set up Combatants for Peace. Then in 2007 his 10 year old daughter was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier outside her school. He refused to seek revenge, saying that it cannot bring back the dead, and the pain remains. His strong belief is that the two communities need to share the land, otherwise they will simply be digging two big graves for their children, as neither side will give up their claims. However he has hope, pointing to the example of Germany and Israel.
The long term goal of the Parents Circle is to develop a framework for a reconciliation process which will be included in any peace agreement. Meanwhile they run projects (called “History through the human eye”) to try to get people to understand how the “other” sees their own history.
These then were the radical speakers whose right to speak for peace and reconciliation are based on their own tragic experiences and who challenge us to consider our commitment to peace and justice.
As may be imagined, there were many questions at the end of the testimonies but one response stuck in my mind. It was made by Basaam quoting a Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish “Feed the doves”. In other words we need to feed those things that make for peace not the flames of hatred. It was a very thoughtful audience which left that evening to travel home, taking with them the final invitation to pray for peace.