Members of the Parents Circle
Renowned lawyer and legislator the late Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam served in parliament from 1994 to 1999 representing the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) where he led many initiatives on constitutional and legal reform, the ethnic conflict, human rights, social justice and inter-community understanding. As one of the best constitutional lawyers at the time, he served on the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Reform and in the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Finance, Planning and Ethnic Affairs.
Dr. Tiruchelvam was also the founder and director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) and the Law and Society Trust (LST), and was a senior partner at the Tiruchelvam Associates law firm. He was assassinated by the LTTE on 29 July 1999. The Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust (NTT) was established in 2001 to sustain his legacy as a peacemaker, legislator, constitutional lawyer and institution builder. The trust hosts an annual commemorative lecture.
This year’s lecture was based on the Israel-Palestine conflict. It was conducted by Robi Damelin, whose son, David, was shot in March 2002 by a sniper while serving in the Israeli Army. He was 28 years old. Robi is the Israeli spokesperson and member of the Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF), a group of 600 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost family members to the conflict and who work together for reconciliation and a just resolution to the conflict.
Her lecture, moved the audience, and gave insights into what we could do as a nation in our own reconciliation process. Unfortunately her co-speaker Bassam Aramin was unable to attend the lecture. Robi and Bassam demonstrated that the long-term goal of the parent’s circle is to create a framework for a reconciliation process to be an integral part of any future. Otherwise it is just another ceasefire.
Robi opened the lecture and said, “ I don’t take for granted that other people are interested in what we have to say in the parent’s circle. My relationship with Bassam, is not a Palestinian-Israeli relationship. It’s not about that, it’s above the conflict, it is a friendship that has become family.
It is hard for me to begin talking about this conflict that should have ended a long time ago. One of things I discovered about bereavement is the writing of letters. If you know anyone who has lost anybody, advise them to write them a letter.”
It is hard for me to begin talking about this conflict that should have ended a long time ago. One of things I discovered about bereavement is the writing of letters. If you know anyone who has lost anybody, advise them to write them a letter
An excerpt from a letter:
“ My love I am reminded of the day you came to visit. We sat very close together on the couch, each of us with a glass of whiskey. You shared something so painful and once again I understood what it was to be a child brought up in Israel and what a dilemma you were facing, as you were called to serve in the reserves. This happened every year and you went. But this was different. This time you were called to serve in the occupied territories.
So you decided to go and I was left with a sense of dread. We had a lovely lunch a day before you were sent to go to reserve and I can still see you in your red jersey waving and saying I love you.
Saturday you called to see how I was and to tell me where you were. You told me you were sitting ducks in a deep valley between a British police stations and Ramala. Normally you would not share these kinds of things and that threw me into a panic. After our last I love you I started to clean the house in a mad frenzy. I woke up very early next morning and rushed off to my office.
Was it perhaps to avoid hearing some news ? I guess I’ll never know. I could not work it was as if I was still waiting.
A few hours later there was a knock on the door and when I opened it there were three soldiers. One a doctor to tell me that you had been killed by a Palestinian sniper. Actually they did not have to say anything. I knew what they had come to say. Apparently one of the first things that I said was, ‘you may not kill anybody in the name of my child’. I do not remember this, but I was told.
The soldier apologised and said that he will do it as fast as possible. Then you had a conversation and recognized the humanity in each other. When he heard the next day that you had been killed he was so sorry.
Reconciliation or Revenge
She spoke on how revenge is not the answer to pain, “I know revenge is a natural reaction, but there is no revenge for a lost child. I would do anything to bring David back, I would swing from top of a ceiling if I could spend one minute with him. You could build museums do all those kinds of things. But I knew I wanted to be involved with education. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to see the end of all these mad killings in the vicious cycle of violence.
I was taken by a Jewish man to spend a weekend with bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families. I knew that if we could stand on the same stage of Palestinian and Israeli and talk in the same voice to stop the violence, and to look for reconciliation, then surely it would be an example for anybody else.”
Reconciliation and forgiveness
She contrasted forgiving to reconciliation. “I’m not talking about forgiving. Please do not equate forgiving with reconciliation. It has nothing to do with that. Forgiving is a very personal journey. You cannot certainly force anybody to forgive, that happens to be immoral. Do not expect people to forgive because you will hurt them. You will force them to shake hands and go away and they will be absolutely distraught.”
Her journey as an activist for reconciliation was wrought with difficulty. She said, “I really thought I was a big deal, talking at various forums. One night I came home and there was another knock at my door. I opened the door and there were three soldiers standing there. When you see three soldiers it can only mean one thing. so I slammed the door immediately in their face.
“You know you can walk around the world and talk about love, reconciliation and peace. Read bad poetry and do all these things. But do we actually mean it? This is when it becomes difficult. I also told them about the parents circle. I told them it is a group of people who have chosen another way. We cannot go killing each other and bargaining for bodies.
“Two Palestinians in our group delivered the letter to Fahir, and they were quite shocked. When I got that letter it was like a stone had been lifted from my heart and I was free. I know it sounds strange, but I was no longer a victim because it did not matter anymore, what this man’s reaction would be. But I still wanted to meet him at this stage.”
How to forgive?
Her statements with regards to the complex and human phenomena of the act of forgiving truly stroke the heart strings of the audience. She said, “Personally I was looking at the path of forgiving. Does it mean giving up your path to justice? does it mean that what the perpetrator did was okay? Does it mean they can do it again ? Does it mean that we should forget? I do not know. I asked so many people from rabbis to the Arch Bishop of Canterbury. But nothing really touched my heart.
“I did not understand forgiveness, till I met a South African woman, she told the man who killed her son that she forgives him. I wanted to know what she meant. She said that forgiving is giving up your just right to revenge. That meant something to me, that I could understand. It does not mean that it is okay. But it does mean that I understood something else. It was much deeper.
Sri Lanka and reconciliation
Our nation has experienced its own disasters, considering the recent Easter attacks, the 30-year-civil war and the Sinhala Muslim riots. As a nation we must be pro-active with building peace and unity. We should act now, before it is too late.
She said, “I think it is so important for people to start somewhere, to teach people how to tell their story. There are so many parents who have not told their stories. I met such a woman in Sri Lanka a day or so ago. I do not know why she has never told her story, maybe it is cultural. She trusted me enough to tell her story. The next morning her whole face was different.”
She also said that to create trust through reconciliation, we need to know each others history. She concluded the lecture, by saying, “The Palestinians did not kill six million Jews, and the Israelis did not kill six million Palestinians, but one Palestinian killed my child not the Palestinian nation.”