Robi Damelin: Activist for reconciliation
'This for me is one of the most difficult letters I will ever have to write. My name is Robi. I am the mother of David who was killed by your son…’ With these moving words starts the letter which Israeli Robi Damelin sent to the Palestinian parents of the sniper who killed her son David. Damelin refuses to be the victim.
Robi Damelin’s remarkable path of reconciliation and forgiveness started in March 2002. It was the peak of the violence during the Second Intifada. Her son David, a 27 year old student and a reserve officer, was killed at a checkpoint on the Westbank by the Palestinian Thaer Hamad. When two officers brought her the news and said they wanted retaliation, Damelin responded: ‘You may not kill anybody in the name of my son.’ Damelin believes that if you see each other’s humanity, you will stop being enemies.
Today, this energetic 69-year old grandmother travels around the globe to deliver that message in mosques, synagogues, parliaments, the army and at public meetings, addressing more than 25.000 people a year. Each and every time, she reopens her own wounds and faces dilemmas.
Damelin: ‘When Thaer was apprehended in 2004, part of me didn't want him to be caught. Because I didn’t want to meet him. When I finally sent my letter I gave up being the victim.’
Thaer initially refused point blank to meet with ‘the occupier of his land’. Later on he passed the message that he was willing to meet her. Damelin: ‘I thought: who the fuck does he think he is? But then I also understood that Thaer is confused as well. As a child he saw his uncle being gruesomely killed by Israelis. It’s not that I mitigate the injustice that was done, but I seek to see the other side as well.’
For that reason, Robi Damelin agreed to put Thaer’s name on the list of prisoners who would be swapped to free the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Gaza in 2011. ‘It was the loneliest time you can ever experience, but human life is more important than any petty demands that I have for making a man stay in jail for the rest of his life.’
The government didn’t release Thaer and their meeting in prison is complicated by red tape, rules and permits of Israeli and Palestinian authorities. But Damelin knows by now that she is ready to meet the one who killed David and she wants to understand why he did it.
This conviction took her back to het native South Africa, that is beginning to heal its old wounds after a long process which started with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in the 1990s. Robi Damelin: ‘Reconciliation as a national program means acknowledging the truth and suffering of the other, without having to forgive. This is vital in the Israeli Palestinian peace process as well. The occupation is killing the moral fiber of Israel. Without reconciliation we're lost, South Africa reminds me that the impossible can happen.’
By Simone Korkus