Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Bereaved Mother and Her Son's Killer

In September, Haaretz published an article (available in English and in Hebrew) about Robi Damelin, a member of the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace organization. Her son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper seven years ago. The sniper, Ta'er Hamad, is now in an Israeli jail, and Damelin decided to publicly forgive him. She wrote him and his family the following letter:

"This for me is one of the most difficult letters I will ever have to write. My name is Robi Damelin, I am the mother of David who was killed by your son. I know he did not kill David because he was David, if he had known him he could never have done such a thing. David was 28 years old, he was a student at Tel Aviv University doing his masters in the philosophy of education. David was part of the peace movement and did not want to serve in the occupied territories. He had compassion for all people and understood the suffering of the Palestinians. He treated all around him with dignity. David was part of the movement of the officers who did not want to serve in the occupied territories, but nevertheless for many reasons he went to serve when he was called up for reserve duty.

What makes our children do what they do, they do not understand the pain they are causing your son by now having to be in jail for many years and mine who I will never be able to hold or see again or see him married, or have a grandchild from. I cannot describe to you the pain I feel since his death and the pain of his brother and girlfriend, and all who knew and loved him.

I understand that your son is considered a hero by many within the Palestinian people. He is considered to be a freedom fighter, fighting for justice and for an independent, viable Palestinian state, but I also feel that if he understood that taking the life of another is not the way and that if he understood the consequences of his act, he could see that a nonviolent solution is the only way for both nations to live together in peace... Our lives as two nations are so intertwined, each of us will have to give up on our dreams for the future of the children who are our responsibility... I do not know what your reaction will be, it is a risk for me, but I believe that you will understand, as it comes from the most honest place within me. I hope that you will show the letter to your son, and that maybe in the future we can meet."

Hamad recently responded to this letter in a very negative and militant manner, saying that violence is the only way to end the occupation and that he will continue on this path until Palestine is liberated. He refused to address Damelin directly, and of course, refused to meet her, because he "cannot meet our land's occupier on the same land". You can read the response in Hebrew here. The Ma'an News Agency probably has the original letter in Arabic. I couldn't find an English version.

Well, at least one good thing came out of all this: we now know Ta'er Hamad shouldn't be included in any prisoner swap deals, since he hasn't changed his mind about violence.


  1. I wonder in all honestly whether Robi Damelin knows and understands what happened in 1948 and 1967 (she certainly appears a little naive in her initial outlook on Israel). As long as there is occupation some people will resist it by violent means, that's as clear as night follows day, even though violent resistance right now is largely counter-productive.

    Damelin's claim that revenge is futile is the 'turn the other cheek' side of the coin. Revenge, unfortunately, does have its uses. You supported the winter 'war' on Gaza mostly unreservedly, please don't come and tell me now that there wasn't an element of vengefulness in your attitude to the massacre...

    It's a great shame the sniper's letter isn't available in English. Not all forms of militancy or resistance are the same.

    As long as the occupation goes on, the role of organisations like 'Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace' will always be ambiguous IMHO because the conflict remains ongoing. For Israelis to advocate non-resistance (or non-violent resistance) is deeply hypocritical considering the ongoing human rights violations committed by Israelis, from irate settlers to trigger-happy IDFers. It's no surprise the sniper chose a checkpoint as his target...

    Of course I'd prefer it if Palestinian resistance was completely non-violent ('Ghandian') but in the absence of a 'partner' that can restore the power imbalance between the two Peoples, the oppressed will resort to violent means.

  2. Since Robi Damelin has been meeting Palestinians for quite a few years now, I'm sure she knows about the Palestinian view of 1948 and 1967. You're right that she's very naive, though. I'd say the Israeli extreme left is pretty naive in general.

    I'm no pacifist. Sometimes violence is justified, as was the case in Gaza (which wasn't a massacre). I can't even blame him for killing soldiers - I'm not happy he did it, but at least soldiers are a legitimate target, as opposed to civilians. What bothers me the most is the sniper's lack of any willingness to talk, even in the future. After all, only negotiations will bring about a solution. Violence won't. At the most, violence might nudge the two sides towards negotiations. Also, the sentence about not meeting the occupier on the same occupied land seemed to suggest he wouldn't stop fighting until everything is "liberated", including Israel-proper.

  3. Define 'massacre'...

    Would you consider the suicide bombing of an Israeli pizza parlour (15 dead, 90 wounded) or two buses (16 dead, dozens wounded) to be a massacre? Sabra-Shatilah (at least 460 dead)? Munich? Baruch Goldstein (29 dead, 150 wounded)? I do.

    Then surely the onslaught on Gaza qualifies as one too? How to explain the insanely high kill ratio of over 100 Arabs/1 Israeli? No amount of 'intense fire fights' can account for so many dead on one side, including such a high proportion of non-combatants...

  4. "Would you consider the suicide bombing of an Israeli pizza parlour (15 dead, 90 wounded) or two buses (16 dead, dozens wounded) to be a massacre? Sabra-Shatilah (at least 460 dead)? Munich? Baruch Goldstein (29 dead, 150 wounded)? I do."

    In all these cases, civilians were the target and the perpetrators certainly wanted to kill as many people as possible. In Gaza it was a much more complicated situation. I'm not saying all those deaths were justified, but there were many factors that contributed to the high death toll, some Hamas's fault and some Israel's.

  5. Two factors that should not be forgotten preceded the Gaza conflict:

    1. Hamas threatened to capture Israeli soldiers and hold them to ransom (like Gilad Shalit), should the Israeli army enter Gaza to stop the missile attacks on Israeli towns. This caused the army to loosen the rules of opening fire and led to nervous soldiers to open fire first and then ask questions.

    2. Civilian and army Rabbis were involved in spreading literature handed out to Israeli soldiers justifying, from biblical sources fighting for the land of Israel. Some suggest this caused soldiers to be more aggressive than usual.