Violence, Bereavement, Recovery & Resilience
On Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009, more than 80 people gathered to see two individuals from Israel - one Jewish and one Palestinian - talk about their experiences in a refreshingly unique, non-political manner. Robi Damelin and Mazen Faraj of the Parents Circle - Families Forum spoke of the violent losses of their close family members which stirred them on a quest for peace and reconciliation. Hosted by the Center for Violence Prevention and Recovery (CVPR), this program aimed to focus on the importance of reconciliation in the bereavement process.
Paul Levy, President and CEO, opened the discussion. "This session tonight is not about politics," he said. "It's about deeply felt human emotion." He spoke of Beth Israel Deaconess' history, reminding the audience that the medical center formed in response to discrimination and gave people a forum to give and receive quality medical care without fear of violence or discrimination. The program following his introduction was an extension of those principles.
Lisa Hartwick, MSW, LICSW, and Director of CVPR, spoke about how the Center's work is intricately related to the work of the Families Forum and introduced Damelin and Faraj.
Robi Damelin lives in Tel Aviv. She emigrated from South Africa in 1967. Damelin's son, David, was killed by a sniper while on military reserve duty, in March 2002. David was 28 years old, and was studying for his Masters Degree in the Philosophy of Education at the Tel-Aviv University. He strongly believed that through education, he could make a difference in Israel.
"He taught me about understanding," Damelin said. "He taught me about acceptance, and years later, I know how right he was."
After David's death, Damelin felt a burning need to do something to try to prevent other parents from experiencing the dreadful pain of losing a child. She closed her successful Public Relations firm to devote her entire time and energy to the Families Forum and its activities promoting dialogue, tolerance and reconciliation.
Of the Families Forum, Damelin spoke passionately. "It was the most extraordinary thing to see Israeli mothers and Palestinian mothers holding hands together, not being able to speak the same language but to see in each other's eyes the joint pain. There is no difference between Israeli and Palestinian mothers. It is the same pain."
She warned audience members that the path to peace and reconciliation lies in understanding, not in choosing sides. "The best thing you can do is not to take sides… if you do, you're not helping anybody."
Mazen Faraj then spoke about his experiences with the Parents Circle - Families Forum and his life before he found the group. Faraj is a 32-year-old married father of one child. In 1948 his father, at age six, fled his Palestinian village with his parents; they became refugees. Mazen and his siblings grew up in Daheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem.
In April 2002, during fighting between Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian fighters at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Faraj's 62-year-old father Ali went out to buy food for the family. On the return home, as his father passed the church, an IDF soldier killed him, mistaking his bags of food for something else.
Faraj said, "A lot of people are choosing the revenge way, but I will never choose revenge. Though some people will say it is because I am weak, it is because I believe this cause is a just cause."
His tribute to his family members is to work to stop the cycle of violence and bloodshed. Faraj and another brother, Riad, joined the Families Forum in 2004, and are working for peace and reconciliation between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.
Faraj said of the Families Forum, "For the first time in my life they gave me the space to talk and the space to listen."
Jane Matlaw, MSW, LICSW, and Director of Community Relations, then moderated an open discussion between the audience and the panelists, taking questions and relaying them to Damelin and Faraj. The discussion ranged from terrorism to the panelists' current associations with settlers still living in Gaza to how the Arab world is connected to Palestine, and the panelists responded passionately and earnestly.
Damelin said, "The truth is the beginning of the reconciliation process - everywhere," citing South Africa, Australia, and Spain as examples of countries which have struggled to deal with resolution to past violence between groups.
CVPR was established in 1997 by the Social Work Department at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) to address the impact of violence on patients, provider, and communities. CVPR strives to make connections for care and safety across the many forms of interpersonal violence and to respond to individual and community care needs in strategic and creative ways.
The Families Forum has played a crucial role since its inception in 1995, in spearheading a reconciliation process between Israelis and Palestinians. The Forum members, consisting of several hundreds of families, half Palestinian and half Israeli, have all lost immediate family members due to the violence in the region.