The host of a national radio show wondered whether there was a difference between how Israeli and Palestinian parents respond to the withholding of their children’s bodies by the other side: Hamas or the Israeli government.
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Razi Barkai compared the grief of Palestinian mothers - families of Palestinian terrorists killed while carrying out attacks - to the grief of Israeli mothers - families of Israeli troops killed in action. “From the point of view of the feelings of a bereaved Palestinian mother and a bereaved Jewish mother, I don’t think there’s a difference.” His remarks triggered a storm of harsh criticism and personal attacks: how could he make such a comparison? How dare he? The former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin wrote on Facebook: "There isn’t just pain – there’s good pain and there’s bad pain."
What makes you think that the tears on the pillow of a bereaved Palestinian mother are of a different color or substance than those of a grieving Israeli mother? What could make you think that in comparing suffering no mother can suffer more than 'our' mothers? Perhaps you think that you know how a Palestinian mother feels, or that their culture is different, or that she does not value the life of her child like 'we' do?
I for one have spent the past 13 years, since my beloved David was killed by a Palestinian sniper discovering that we share a pain so intense that it changes your very being forever.
That was the catalyst that brought me to the conclusion that all mothers who have lost their beloved children share the same pain. No matter what image or label is given to that loss by the media or the politicians or the powers that be, their lives will never be the same. It is as if someone ripped out a piece of your heart and it can never be replaced.
I can understand the dreadful longing of a mother who does not know the fate of her child, and even if she does, she has no grave to go to in order to mourn the loss, and no garden on the grave to take care of. This, after all is a kind of extension of motherhood.
There is of course a certain thought that maybe, just maybe, in the absence of a body that child did not die, and how dreadful is that uncertainty, and how dreadful the pain of never knowing.
Why would a Palestinian mother not want to at least have her child returned to be buried? Why would she be any different from an Israeli mother and not want to be able to mourn her loss with dignity? This is not a question of the person lost, this is a question of the mother’s loss.
No matter what the crime, there is a need for some sort of completion. That cannot happen without knowing there is a place where your child is buried and you can go everyday as some mothers do, or on an anniversary, and whisper to your child how much you love him or her and how much you miss them and wish for even one more minute to hold them and express your love.
Punishment, the withholding of dead bodies, born out of revenge, will only create more hatred and wish for revenge. We should have learnt this by now. Instead of the never-ending cycle of violence perhaps there is another way. We seem to repeat the same patterns of behavior on both sides, behavior we already know will only lead to more death and the destruction of families.
All the mothers of the 600 Palestinian and Israeli bereaved families, members of the Parents Circle – Families Forum, whom I have come to know so intimately, will tell you, if you care to ask, what they feel when they wake up in the morning and think for one moment that it was only a dream - only to be hit with the reality of loss. Ask Nasra from Nablus who lost two sons and spends her life worrying about the rest of her family, ask Bushra who lost her son, ask Tamara who lost a son, ask Iris who also lost a son and ask me if you dare, and we will tell you that we are united in grief and will never give up hope for a better future for our children and grandchildren.
So a man on the radio, who himself lost a brother during his military service, and knows what happened to his mother and his whole family, dared to say that the pain of both Israeli and Palestinian mothers is the same, and the whole country is up in arms. I suggest that we all listen carefully to what he says, and even if you don’t agree, allow him his opinion and his dignity, without descending into civil war, of needing to define only one side as being right.