Doves in Jerusalem

Our Message Can Also Be Adapted to a Polarised World

Interview with Robi Damelin & Layla Alsheikh

Robi Damelin and Layla Alsheikh have both lost a child to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead of hating the other side and seeking revenge, both have chosen dialogue. Both ladies are active members of The Parents Circle — Families Forum (PCFF), which brings together families from both sides who have lost a loved one to the conflict. The aim of the association is to promote dialogue, tolerance, reconciliation and peace. Robi and Layla are sharing some brief insights here and now and will then be present in Sassari, where they will talk more about their personal experiences.

The interview was undertaken through emails by Claudia Christen-Schneider, as a part of the "Meet the keynote speakers" Blog series. You can read the interview with Giovanni Grandi here

Robi Damelin

Robi, your 28 year old son, David, was shot by a sniper while serving in the Israeli reserves. You said in an interview that the first words you said when you heard that he had been killed were ‘do not take revenge in the name of my son.’ Do you understand today where this reaction came from? What prompted you?

Robi Damelin: One of my first reactions to hearing that my beloved son David had been killed by a Palestinian sniper was ‘you may not kill anyone in the name of my child.’ This is probably because I grew up in South Africa and was very influenced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Also, all my life I have been involved in peace causes.

Layla Alsheikh

Layla, you lost your six month old son because the Israeli army prevented you from leaving the restricted zone to bring him to the hospital. However, you also never thought of revenge, why do you think this was?

Layla Alsheikh: I didn’t think of taking revenge because that would never bring back my son, and I tried to take care of my other daughter.

When did each one of you first hear about restorative justice?

Robi: My first encounter with restorative justice was a life-changing meeting with Professor Mark Umbreit from St Paul University in Minnesota. He invited me to a conference where I met people who had experienced restorative justice. He also offered to mediate with the man who had killed David. However, I preferred to have a Palestinian as a go-between because of the language and the culture.

Layla: It was in September 2017 at a conference of The Parents Circle — Families Forum (PCFF) in Bet Jalah. It was the first time I heard about the personal stories of Israelis who had lost their loved ones.

The Parents Circle — Families Forum is the only organisation that does not actively seek new members

Robi and Layla, you both are very involved in The Parents Circle — Families Forum, could you tell us a bit more about it?

Robi: The Parents Circle — Families Forum is a non-governmental organisation consisting of more than 600 Palestinian and Israeli bereaved families, all of whom have lost an immediate family member in the conflict. Our vision is to create a framework for a reconciliation process that will be an integral part of any future political peace process. All the work we do on the ground, both in Palestine and in Israel, is geared towards this vision.

Layla: The Parents Circle — Families Forum is the only organisation that does not actively seek new members because the price of joining the membership is not monetary. People who become members have lost a loved one - and that price is far too high. Nothing is as costly as losing a beloved relative.

We try to find every opportunity to give both sides a chance to talk face to face about anything they want, because the entire conflict will never end until we talk to each other.

Next week you’ll also be at the conference in Sassari. What is the message you’d like participants to take back home with them?

Robi: The message we want to spread internationally is that our message and work is not only local, but it can also be adapted to a polarised world. Our programmes are easily adaptable and can be used to alleviate conflict and polarisation.

Layla: The message I have been reflecting on is that we should have hope. This hope will give us the passion to continue whatever has happened. Our message, as Robi said, is not local but global.

Published on 13 June 2022.