Opinion |

15 Years of Grief Failed to Prepare Me for One Palestinian Mother's Brave Message

The brave mother of the Palestinian teen who was burned to death by Jews says women should sit at the negotiating table.

Robi Damelin
Robi Damelin
Suha and Hussein Abu Khdeir, center, parents of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, hold posters with his portrait after the reading of the verdict in his killing, at the Jerusalem District Court, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015.
Suha and Hussein Abu Khdeir, center, parents of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, hold posters with his portrait after the reading of the verdict in his killing, at the Jerusalem District Court, Nov. 30, 2015.Credit: AFP
Robi Damelin
Robi Damelin

Fifteen years have passed since I lost my son David. But even these 15 years of efforts at reconciliation and living together with the Palestinians didn’t prepare me for that moment last Friday when I listened to the emotional remarks of Suha Abu Khdeir, the mother of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was burned to death by Jews in the summer of 2014. Abu Khdeir got up in front of 200 Israeli and Palestinian women and spoke to us in a language that only mothers could fully grasp.

There is no competition when it comes to bereavement. Every one of us who has lost a child has suffered the worst pain a human being can suffer. But Abu Khdeir’s ability to speak publicly about the circumstances of her son’s death and move beyond them toward a message of reconciliation made us very excited and proud of this brave woman.

“For three years I can’t fall asleep at night; every day that passes, I’m the one who’s burning because of what happened to Mohammed,” she said. “Mohammed passed me a message that I must work to achieve justice for myself and for him. That I must work so that no other mother should lose her son.”

There wasn’t a throat in the hall that wasn’t choked, nor a dry eye, in the face of those words. A woman who has all the reasons in the world to hate is seeking reconciliation. She who has suffered the worst possible pain wants to stop the continuing cycle of bloodshed.

Abu Khdeir was addressing an event organized by The Parents Circle – Families Forum for International Women’s Day. The event, which took place in Beit Jalla under the slogan “Breaking the Wall Between Us,” was attended by more than 200 Palestinian and Israeli women who sought to convey a message of reconciliation, a message of connection. All those present believe that without a reconciliation process we have no future here. We can sign peace treaties, but without real understanding they will only be cease-fires until the next war.

After Abu Khdeir’s emotional speech, the women together smashed a symbolic wall that had been erected that day. The joint breaking of the wall symbolized the desire of all of us to live side by side, as two nations with equal rights in two sovereign and independent states, without ignoring the understanding that in the end we will have to share the same region.

Robi Damelin (right) and Bushra Awad, two bereaved mothers, an Israeli and a Palestinian, who are members of the Parents Circle - Families ForumCredit: Dan Peretz

Of the drivers who passed us during the march at the end of the event, which made its way to the tunnel road checkpoint, there were those who honked in solidarity and there were some who cursed at us. It’s not very common to see hundreds of Palestinian and Israeli women marching together in the middle of the territories, carrying a message of peace and reconciliation. But even if it’s not common, it’s a heartwarming sight that made me feel that despite the hard feelings, despite the ongoing conflict, despite the violence, there is still hope that the day will come and someone will listen to these marvelous women; someone who will understand that all of us, citizens and leaders, must take example from Suha Abu Khdeir.

It’s about time that women sat at the negotiating table and took an active part in the talks that determine our fate. After all is said and done, we are the ultimate victims of this ongoing conflict.

During the last round of fighting in Gaza, when I ran to the shelter in the building where I live, I looked at my neighbor’s little boy playing ball and thought to myself how lucky I am to have a shelter to run to when necessary. I thought of the mother in Sderot who said she had only 15 seconds to get to a safe area with her three children, one of whom is in a wheelchair, and is forced to ask herself who to take first. I thought of the Palestinian mothers who have no shelter at all.

We ended our little peace march with the John Lennon song “Imagine”: “You can say I’m a dreamer/But I’m not the only one.” I’m proud to be part of a wonderful group of women and men who don’t stop dreaming and do all they can so that the dream of reconciliation will become a reality.

They are predicting another war this summer. This is precisely the time to stop this recurring bloodshed. How many more victims will we have to sacrifice before it ends?

The writer is a bereaved mother and a member of the executive of The Parents Circle – Families Forum.

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