November 29, 2012
Ali Abu Awwad and Robi Damelin —
No More Taking Sides

Robi Damelin lost her son David to a Palestinian sniper. Ali Abu Awwad lost his older brother Yousef to an Israeli soldier. But, instead of clinging to traditional ideologies and turning their pain into more violence, they've decided to understand the other side — Israeli and Palestinian — by sharing their pain and their humanity. They tell of a gathering network of survivors who share their grief, their stories of loved ones, and their ideas for lasting peace. They don't want to be right; they want to be honest.

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Guests

Awwad is a Palestinian who lives in the West Bank. He is a spokesman and project manager for the Parents Circle - Families Forum.

Damelin is an Israeli who lives in Tel Aviv. She speaks with community groups about her experiences as part of the Parents Circle - Families Forum.

Video Interviews with Krista Tippett

In the Room with Ali Abu Awwad and Robi Damelin

Watch complete, behind-the-scenes footage of Krista's interview with Robi and Ali during a restorative justice conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

SoundSeen (our multimedia stories)

Encounter Point: Robi's Letter to the Parents of Her Son's Killer

This documentary takes a direct, honest approach that lacks the sugar-coated enamel of many peacekeeping portrayals. Through the participants of the Bereaved Families Forum you experience the difficult dialogue taking place between Palestinians and Israelis, cry, and find hope in the possibility of common people reaching out and changing the situation by sharing their stories with each other.

Encounter Point: Ali Looks to Gandhi's Ideals in a Bethelehem Cafe

This documentary takes a direct, honest approach that lacks the sugar-coated enamel of many peacekeeping portrayals. Through the participants of the Bereaved Families Forum you experience the difficult dialogue taking place between Palestinians and Israelis, cry, and find hope in the possibility of common people reaching out and changing the situation by sharing their stories with each other.

Selected Readings

Letter to the Family of the Palestinian Sniper Who Killed David Damelin

The moving letter Robi Damelin wrote to the mother of the Palestinian man who killed her son.

Response to a Public Letter From the Palestinian Sniper Who Killed David Damelin

Robi Damelin shares the path she chose after losing "my precious son" with his killer in this poignant letter.

No Winners, Just Broken Hearts

"Let us look into each other's eyes and recognize each other's pain with empathy; let us see the human being behind the green and the blue. Let us force all to come to the table and not to a grave to talk."

About the Image

Robi and Ali after a screening of Encounter Point during 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.

(photo: Frank Micelotta)

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18Reflections

Reflections

Need to reflect on just who isn't coming into these "dialogic" processes, but does in fact send themselves via their money into the middle of this conflict? I admire the people in the video story. I have heard them before on Democracy Now. There work is powerful and needed by the people on the ground, but the real perpetrators of these crimes never get dragged into these kinds of open dialogic processes, nor into the light of day for all of history to see. Those processes are needed on the ground so that life can go on between ordinary people who were all exploited and abused by rulers on all sides of this conflict, including right-wing extremists from the US and other places who seed this conflict from many directions. But what is also needed are constitutional reforms which limit the power of the few to seed and benefit from conflict and war, and treat "created equal" citizens as their personal pawns and fodder for war machines. That in addition to dialogic and peaceful processes of understanding will be a real contribution for this educated and enlightened generation to contribute to posterity. We need to get to the bottom of the money flows that keep this conflict so raw. There is big money that builds settlements, seeds extremist religious education on both sides of this conflict, supports population control and social engineering by seeing religious communities to change the voting balance. Very ironic that terrorism is blamed on extremist Muslims on this planet today, but who really funded the extremist movement in Wahabbist Madrassas for decades? That would be the Saudi Royal family for anyone not familiar. The same goes with right-wing religious education groups everywhere including Israel and Palestine. Growing their extremism serves someone, and we had better start figuring out and fingering just who those people are. History if full of examples of Kings seeding conflicts between subjects to deflect from their own failings, and to make money from war or providing "security" to anxious subjects they themselves had a hand in making anxious. Israel's politics are as divided and divisive as those in the US, and many of the same money forces are behind these conflicts there and here. Just who is being served by this on-going continuing conflict whose secretive influence and power could have let to the set-up for failure of peace processes many were led to invest hope into? And what kind of prerogatives by ruling elites are maintained, furtively, by our "constitutional democracies"? Well, they are constitutional, but constitutions change and evolve with times. The US constitution once supported slavery, jim crow and kept mothers and grandmothers from voting, and since the 1970s it supports the prerogatives of a few with power and money to own media empires to propagandize and mislead ordinary citizens into voting against their own best interests. The US Supreme Court tacitly approves of divisive propaganda and scapegoating in FCC licensed media. We know what Presidents made these appointments, and what social classes benefit from the stalemate and permanent regressive taxation regime that only exacerbates economic hardships in the heartland of the US where is rising the most rage, anger, resentment, scapegoating and anti-state/separatist movements. The Israeli constitution may also have its own problems because right-wing forces and foreign influencers certainly seem to have the upper hand there, as they do here now with Citizen's United vs Federal Board of Elections to propagandize minds of ordinary, systematically propagandized, disinformed, manipulated, and increasingly anxious, but otherwise "created equal" citizens. Benoit de Spinoza said our "social constructions" were how we express our divinity. Now is the time for us to express this divinity more through reforms to social constructions. We need new constitutional reforms to take a way the prerogative of military industrial and financial ruling elites from seeding and perpetuating military crises that enrich themselves forever at the expense of taxpayers and ordinary families who just want peace and real prosperity, not the kind artificially created by war economies. Notice Europe has not had an internal war for 70 years because the constitutional reforms enacted there after WWII explicitly limit the power of monarchs, aristocrats and military industrialists to make war as had been their sole way of making wealth since the Roman Empire. EU seems to have much more robust democracies and equitable distribution of national wealth and future opportunity than does the US right now. We need to continue deep insight into this conflict. And every other, since upon deep reflection they almost all reflect similar circumstances.

I haven't had a conflict in my life as serious and deadly as what is going on between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea but if I do this program will help me solve it. Rather than attacking the other and defending the self, both Robi and Ali seem to be looking towards the desired end result - peace. There's a line in a Jewish prayer "Lord grant us peace, Thy most precious gift". I hear both Robi and Ali praying for peace. I hope they, and we, can all have peace. I think this program itself is working towards that outcome.

Personally, I feel that we can conquer "most" conflicts through the development of embodied relationships. By this, I mean that we get to know the other person in a fundamental way whereby we learn (through a great deal of grace & humility) to honor the dignity of the person or; as I would like to put it - we discover the soul beneath the surface.

I live in the midwest (Kansas) where there are very few opportunities to engage and befriend Jewish people even though I have developed an increasing interest in their faith tradition (I, myself am Roman Catholic). At a very simple level, I have decided to be pro-active about forming my own inter-religious dialogue with Judaism. I am doing this by learning Hebrew, reading anything I can get my hands on, and participating in some events at a Synagogue in Kansas City, MO. I don't have to go to Israel or hold a summit, or pray at the wailing wall - all I have to do is "actively" listen to their stories by putting aside my agenda and just being present or just "showing up".

In the film, Ghandi, I remember the scene where Ghandi tells a Hindu penitent (who is seeking forgiveness for killing a Muslim) that in order for the sin to be purged, Ghandi tells the Hindu to go and take care of the murdered man's children. It was a powerful lesson to learn and hints at the true "cost of discipleship" that Bonhoeffer spoke of.

In closing, I would like to offer a poem I wrote whilst thinking of all the "conflict" in the Middle East. The figure of Abraham as the father of both Judaism and Islam was the inspiration for this meditation of mine. You may print it if you like or just enjoy it.

Sincerely,
Rick Folker, MASM
Kansas City, MO

Abram’s Broken Dream
by
Rick Folker

His withered hand sifts through the sand,
While he sleeps…

His only bed now,
These rough, coarse grains
For this lonely, haunted Abraham.

And yet he dreams…

“My descendants are like
stars that have fallen upon a land of
Broken promises and endless hates...
Two sons; two nations
Two faiths.”

And yet only one endless earthquake.

Something causes him to wake
some voices whispering and pleading;
"Remember Isaac, Remember the Knife?”
“No please - Remember your people, remember your wife.”

Lillith-like women laughing,
they torment him unceasingly…

“Go ahead and choose - choose death or choose life!”

In his sleeping, his waking -
The searing sun his only cover
All alone with his stars and his sands -
He waits …
He waits and hopes

And prays to wake

In the hot Arab sun Isaac and Ishmael from afar
Phantoms who vanish
reaching, fighting, arguing for their star.

“Why have you left us bereft of
your dream,
your wish of shalom
Sinking and stinking
Of broken promises

A father who will live through the ages
Whilst Arabs and Jews live through
The wars where broken hearts give birth to newly-found hatreds

Always sleeping and dreaming father
Whilst your sons must be leaving and longing and looking….

And waking

My ex-husband was dying of cancer. He could no longer care for our teenaged sons, so I was preparing to take them. However, I could not find a house to rent that I could afford. I looked at 13 places. Then I had a dream. The dream image reminded me of an incident 17 years previous: a mutual acquaintance called my husband a "pride-filled son of a bitch" for not listening to an old man tell him how to repair his truck. On pondering that event, I asked myself how I was being a "pride-filled son of a bitch." Immediately I saw how tightly I was holding on to bitterness, hatred and resentment toward my ex-husband. I had not seen that. I thought all the crap was on his side. I knew, again, immediately, that I could not live like that. That evening I invited him to live with us. He accepted, very gladly. The last seven months of his life were not easy. But we became friends. I especially felt, for the first time, that he listened to me. Of course, he had cancer of the mouth, and couldn't talk much! His heart, though, both of our hearts -- had softened and opened to each other. It was clear that we weren't married again. But it was a blessing for us both, a huge one, to spend that time together. It led to a several miracles for me: After he died, I joined his church, which had supported us in very practical ways. Then, I was led into ministry in that church and now serve my own church. Our three children witnessed our reconciliation. And, the biggest miracle, I no longer had to carry the acid of all that bitterness around with me. I was a bigger person, with a bigger heart.

Thank you for doing this show! I have a sister who will not forgive me or have anything to do with me. For over 18 years she has disowned me. I can't change her feelings or her choice. I hope and pray that I will always forgive because it's so incredibly painful and isolating to be unforgiven.

I write prayers. My approach to "A Prayer for Peace in the Middle East" was influenced by the passion and wisdom of Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad that come through in your interview, as well as a memory -- provoked by a photo on Facebook -- of a Palestinian man, a friend of my youth whom I'd long forgotten.

Please take a moment to read and listen to the prayer at www.tobendlight.com or www.kavanat-or.com. Another prayer on that site that holds profound significance for me is "For Bereaved Children." It's quite special. I recommend it, as well.

Thank you for your work,

Alden

For Peace in the Middle East

Sons of Abraham,
Sons of Hagar and Sarah,
Of Isaac and Ishmael:
Have you forgotten the day we buried our father?
Have you forgotten the day we carried his dead body into the cave near Hebron?
Have you forgotten the day we entered the darkness of Machpaelah to lay our Patriarch to rest?

Sons of Esau and Jacob:
Have you forgotten the day we made peace?
The day we set aside past injustices and deep wounds to lay down our weapons and live?
Or the day we, too, buried our father? Have you forgotten that we took Isaac’s corpse into that humble cave to place him with his father for eternity?

Brother, I don’t remember crying with you.
Sister, I don’t remember mourning with you.
We should have cried the tears of generations.
We should have cried the tears of centuries,
The tears of fatherless sons
And motherless daughters,
So that we would remember in our flesh that we are one people,
From one father on earth and one Creator in heaven,
Divided only by time and history.

One G-d,
My brother calls you Allah.
My sister calls you Adonai.
You speak to some through Moses.
You speak to some through Mohammed.
We are one family, cousins and kin.

Holy One,
Light of truth,
Source of wisdom and strength,
In the name of our fathers and mothers,
In the name of justice and peace,
Help us to remember our history,
To mourn our losses together,
So that we may,
Once more,
Lay down our weapons and live.

G-d of All Being,
Bring peace and justice to the land,
And joy to our hearts.

First of all, I was floored by these two and their ability to see past their losses and use it to help others. I cannot imagine losing a loved one so irrationally and so needlessly because of religious conflict, but to take this pain and use it for the greater good is so amazing to me! It is also great for both of them to recognize that even though they are considered "enemies" to each other, each of them are human and each of them share a lot of the same pain. And the fact that they could laugh and joke together and are actually friends is just so great, it shows that with effort anyone can see past their differences and learn from one-another. Maybe someday this could spread throughout the world and we won't have to wage these wars anymore.

There are many irreconcilable conflicts in my personal life that I should look past -I suppose I've focused my energy into hating these people instead of moving on from it. I think I could take a hint from these two amazing people and see that if I turned around my anger and focused on making things better, my life could be so much better from it.

Putting differences aside was certainly emphasized in this broadcast. Ali was quite passionate towards this concept in the beginning of the broadcast. I agree that the "taking sides" between these groups is only leading to more conflict with no hopes of ending the on-going war. I find it interesting that religous beliefs can fuel such violent acts. Is it right to kill in the name of religion?

I can relate to such situations that experienced everyday in life. Particularily prejudice amongst ethincs in public schools. It's rather easy to feel the tension amongst ethnic groups with varying beliefs in religion and cultural values. I have found that it is often a good tactic to stay quiet around those with whom you don't agree with. I have come to learn that everybody will never agree with all of my beliefs and values. Differences will always be present among different people, and coming to terms with this is essential to living a peaceful life. On the other hand, I believe it is these differences that give the world such a rich diversity and culture. This variety can be beautiful, and also dangerous.

This interview was so beautiful. It reflects many principles taught in the simple book "Anatomy of Peace" by the Arbinger Institute. Thank you

The following comment was added to an episode of Tom Ashbrook's On Point titled Artificial Intelligence. The comment was inspired from the agitation of turning the discussion into a dichotomy of man versus computer. Hopefully the On Being readers will find association to these thoughts, this program about taking sides, and the divisiveness of only seeing two options of an argument.

Dichotomy is artificial. It's likely the binary nature of the computer is transforming human intelligence instead of human intelligence transforming computers. Dichotomy is not how the human neural network works. Synaptic connectivity is more complex than ones and zeros. Dichotomy discounts the grey matter. It gets stuck in an endless loop of polarization; good vs. evil, winners and losers, or man vs. computer.

Instead of fearing how the computer will overtake man's ability, why not focus on how the synaptic process can scale beyond an individual and help many discover the mutual inclusion within a solution?

Our current economic model is based on building more wealth with less human effort. Why not flip that model? How can we utilize more people to figure out how to use less energy and consume fewer resources? How can humanity's neural network be utilized to do good? It's not an either/or argument. It's not all or nothing. It's in the grey matter.

Maybe it's time to switch from artificial intelligence to real intelligence or let loose of this hold on the false dichotomy of a binary computer.

Your Sunday morning program is the only homily I need.
Thank you Krista.

A brilliant, deeply moving program for Americans like me who share intimate personal and family allegiance to Israel from World War and MidEast heroism history, and the most intractable dream of peace.

as much as this relationship and its goals are to be admired and promoted, unfortunately by excluding religion from the conversation limits the effects. There is a major part of the conflict which is not about land or nation but rather religion. These individuals do not address or represent this. We need to bring religion with tolerance and "dignity of difference" as Rabbi J. Sacks calls it to make lasting headways. However any conversation is beneficial and important. I commend and thank them both for this.

I’m so glad I decided to listen to the “No More Taking Sides” broadcast. I think there is so much all of us can learn from these two incredible people.
After dealing with seeing your mother swallowing plastic to deliver a message and seeing her in prison frequently, Ali almost had a right to become bitter. After losing his brother, Ali said he contemplated killing Israelis to make himself feel better. That’s how the cycle of violence continues. Instead, he chose to think of others’ pain he might cause and he “saw the other side”. Those words were pretty powerful to me. He didn’t just deal with his pain; he used it.
Robi doesn’t sound bitter either as she talks about her son and the way he really was. She said it has to be a conscious decision to remain alive after losing a child. As a mother, I think losing a child would probably be the hardest thing one could ever imagine. Robi decided she could be more effective in Parent Circle than anywhere else in the world.
Robi and Ali are amazing people. We can all learn so much from them and how they have dealt with their pain and tried to stop the violence rather than contributing to it. They said the governments aren’t stopping the violence, but people can by having truthful dialogue with personal narrative. Their statements have a lot of wisdom behind them. Another one is that we shouldn’t use religion as an excuse. When Ali talked about David (Robi’s son) telling him “Take care of my mother”, I got chills. These people have really grown to love and care for each other and you can hear it in their voices.

Kudos to you! Its so much harder to hate when we know each other.

This On Being podcast is the most powerful and emotional one that I have heard so far in this semester. It is about two people who lost their loved ones in the war. But instead of turning their pain into more violence, they decided to understand the other side — Israeli and Palestinian — by sharing their pain and their humanity. Robi Damelin lost her son David, and Ali Abu Awwad lost his older brother Yousef.

To Ali Abu Awwad, his brother was like his best friend, his father, and his mother. Yousef was killed by an Israeli soldier who shot him in his head. He had nothing to do with the hostilities but was still killed. I can imagine how hard it was for Awwad to hear the news about his loving brother’s death. There’s one thing that was very touching to me, he said, “We — it's a very special life with Yusef. So at that moment, Yusef, for me, was another life, and I lost that.” A very great point was made by Awwad was that killing other Israelis doesn’t do anything good. It doesn’t ease the pain of losing his brother, and it certainly won’t bring Yousef back. Instead of becoming hateful and seeking vengeance, he decided to live better for his brother’s memory. He was introduced to a new idea of using this pain in a human way to protect people and lead both nations towards nonviolent.

The same thing happened to Robi Damelin. She lost her wonderful son and was very depressed about it. But when she saw the parents or the family members of her country’s enemy were also in great pain, she realized that she should use this pain to stop the violent and prevent more families from experiencing the same tragedy.

It was very touching to me to hear these stories and it was very inspiring to me that we can use our humanity in a way to stop wars and violence and bring peace to this world.

I think they're both remarkable, Ali more so because Palestinians are enduring far worse daily suffering in Palestine than Israelis living in Israel or Jews living abroad. My deep empathy/allegiance with the underdog is perhaps keeping me away from believing that Robi's suffering is equal to Ali's - yes, the humanity shared in all suffering and emotions is there, but the systematic degradation of human dignity that Palestinians suffer everyday, cannot be equal to living in Israel as a Jew. Surely, how can the Palestinians be expected to rise above this without the resources such as the world's Jewry enjoy?

Did you listen to this podcast before commenting? If so, you have missed the point of what they are saying.

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