Mother of terror victim chooses reconciliation

"My life is not contingent on the man who killed my son. He doesn’t have to say 'I’m sorry' for me to move on."

demo against Schalit swap_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
demo against Schalit swap_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Robi Damelin has been involved with reconciliation work between bereaved Palestinian and Israeli families for the past decade, almost from the moment when her son David was killed by a sniper while serving in the reserves on March 3, 2002.
But the real test of her commitment to the idea of reconciliation was tested on Thursday, when she heard on the news that her son’s killer was being released as part of the prisoner swap to bring home kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit.
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“It is the most alone moment you can ever experience,” she said on Monday, recalling hearing the name of the man who killed her son announced on TV.
“That was the real test, after nine years of working on reconciliation. Do I believe what I say?” she asked.
In the frenzied atmosphere of the courtroom on Monday during the appeal against the Schalit swap, raw emotions ran high as painful wounds of the relatives of the victims of terror were ripped open.
Out of the craziness, Damelin exuded calm and acceptance. Like many others, tears came to her eyes frequently during the day as she remembered her son, who was in the midst of studying for his masters in the philosophy of education when he was killed.
On Thursday, when faced with a true test of what it means to forgive and move on, Damelin decided to continue with her faith in reconciliation: Support the prisoner swap, though it came at a high personal cost.
“I believe there’s nothing more important than the sanctity of human life, nothing more important than any petty demands that I have for making a man stay in jail for the rest of his life,” she said.
“My life is not contingent on the man who killed my son. He doesn’t have to say ‘I’m sorry’ for me to move on. My part of reconciliation is not contingent on him, or else I might be stuck for the rest of my life,” said Damelin, a South Africa native who now lives in Tel Aviv.
Damelin is now the spokeswoman for the organization Parents Circle, a support group for bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families that promotes tolerance and understanding between families who could so easily turn to hatred.
Damelin says she can understand the victims of terror who did not support the prisoner swap.
“I understand, because the pain of losing someone is so immense some people never get it back,” she said.
After the court hearing, in an emotional exchange with Meir Schijveschuurder, who lost both his parents and three siblings in the Sbarro attack in 2001, she urged him to stop seeing himself as the victim and holding on to so much hatred.
She dismissed the notion that because Schijveschuurder had lost so many family members he could never forgive.
“Should we compare suffering?” she asked.
Ten members of Parents Circle stood outside of the court and held signs in support of the swap before entering for the hearing. Parents Circle also filed a motion in support of the swap, and tried engaging with some of the terror victims at the hearing about the difficult idea of acceptance and reconciliation.
Upon hearing the news that her son’s killer would be released, Damelin wrote a moving poem in which she paid tribute to her son.
After the army, after world traveling, after studying, “I always knew you would come back,” she wrote in the poem’s chorus.
“The man who made a hole in your heart, and mine, may be free to go, and I agreed to free him and Gilad can now come back,” she said in a shaky voice at the end of the poem.
“We both said, nothing is more sacred than human life, so Gilad will come back, but you are never coming back.”
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