An Israeli woman and a Palestinian man sat before cameras at Sacred Heart University’s School of Communication and Media Arts to share the common tragedy in their lives: she has lost a son to a Palestinian sniper, and he has lost a daughter to Israeli soldiers.
Instead of choosing the path of revenge, they have become united by tragedy and chosen the path of reconciliation. They are among more than 600 Israeli and Palestinian members of the Parents Circle Families Forum (PCFF) who have lost family members in the longstanding and ongoing conflict between the two peoples. Their losses bond them now as they endeavor to encourage peace, pairing up to share their message around the world.
Faith Daniels, former anchor for CBS Morning News and the Today show, interviewed the pair in Studio B at the Martire Center for Business and Communication. Her husband, Dean Daniels, a former WCBS news director and current PCFF board member, had approached Joe Alicastro, coordinator of SHU’s master’s program in broadcast journalism, to produce the video in partnership with Shiri Ourian, executive director of the American Friends of the Parents Circle.
Alicastro, a former senior producer of NBC News, enthusiastically took on the project with fellow faculty members, award-winning photojournalist Richard Falco and instructor and studio manager Keith Zdrojowy. Two digital production graduate students, Sean Elliott ’17 and Geer Teng ’16, helped facilitate the entire production in the university’s state-of-the-art facility. Alicastro said the video will be used as a social media awareness tool—illustrating “anger turned toward solution-finding.”
James Castonguay, professor and director of the School of Communication and Media Arts, endorsed the production, noting, “I expect the video and collaboration will be an important contribution to interfaith dialogue, which is an important part of the University’s mission.”
During the interview, Robi Damelin talked about her son, David, who was 28 when a Palestinian sniper shot and killed him at a checkpoint at the West Bank on March 3, 2002.
David was in the Israeli military, she said, and then in the reserves, seeing duty in the occupied territories. “He was part of the peace movement, very much a leader in the student uprisings,” Damelin said. “He cared about social change. He went to jail about eight times.”
She called his death a “waste” and wondered, “What was achieved?” But rather than turn to anger, she tried to understand her son’s killer and wanted to meet him. “I learned that he had seen family killed violently in front of him as a boy. He was on a path of revenge,” she said.
Bassam Aramin lost his 10-year-old daughter when Israeli soldiers shot and killed her outside her school. He related his own history in the video, talking about spending seven years in Israeli jails, beginning at age 17, from 1985 to 1992. “I didn’t see Israelis as human beings, not as individuals,” he said. But he spent time studying and trying to understand the senselessness of it all.
In 2005, he formed a group called Combatants for Peace, comprising Israeli and Palestinian soldiers who want to serve but not fight against each other. “The group’s aim was to know the enemy,” Aramin said. “We discovered we are the same. Conflict cannot be solved with military solutions. We have been fighting for 100 years.”
Aramin’s invitation to join the PCFF came from an Israeli man who lost his sister in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. “I became part of the Circle. We cannot keep silent,” he concluded.
Robi Damelin made it clear that there is no difference in the pain felt by an Israeli or Palestinian parent who has lost a child due to the conflict. “The color of the tears on the pillow is the same.”
Indeed, as Dean Daniels explained, Damelin and Aramin “were part of the hatred and are now part of the reconciliation.” More specifically, Dean said, “Personal reconciliation is a way for you to listen to someone else’s story and perspective. You may not agree with it, but in situations like this, where both have not been fed the complete story, it gives people insights. Once they hear the other side, they gain understanding.
“They recognize their similarities and are open to hear more. And more unites them than their differences. They can wallow in their grief or seek revenge…or honor the person they lost. These are people in horrible situations coming to a moment of clarity.”