The loss of a child is the most devastating thing a parent can suffer. When that loss has come about not through natural means, for example an illness, but through conflict, the pain is infinitely greater.

An audience of more than 120 people comprised of Jews and Christians heard from two people who have endured such a tragedy.

An Israeli mother, whose 28-year-old soldier son was killed by a Palestinian sniper, and a Palestinian father, whose 10-year-old daughter was shot by an Israeli soldier, spoke of their loss, their pain and their hopes that the suffering of families on both sides of the conflict might one day end. As Palestinian father Bassam Aramin said: “It’s not written anywhere that we will kill each other forever.”

Aramin and Robi Damelin spoke at Hampstead Synagogue in north-west London at the first of a series of events called ‘Invest in Peace’ organised jointly by the Board of Deputies and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. It is the first initiative to bring together Christian and Jewish communities in Britain with the aim of lending support to projects promoting peace between Israel and Palestine.

Both Aramin and Damelin are members of the Parents’ Circle – Families Forum (PCFF), a joint Israeli-Palestinian group now with more than 600 families who have lost a close member to the conflict.

Aramin, who revealed that he had served seven years in prison in Israel as a young man after finding a cache of old weapons in a cave, said that most Palestinians and Arabs think the Holocaust “is a bid to bring more support from Europe and America”.

He told how he wanted to enjoy watching a film about how Hitler had killed six million Jews. “But after a few minutes I was crying because
I couldn’t believe people could be so inhuman towards each other,” he said.

After prison, he still believed in the armed struggle and sought justification for killing Israelis in the Koran but could not find any reference.

He persuaded his son “not to be a hero like me. He won’t throw stones. We need to change our ways to achieve our goal”.

Speaking of his late daughter, his third child of six, he said: “She was only 10. She was not a fighter and didn’t know about the conflict. The ticket to join this organisation is very high and I don’t want to lose more family to join this organisation.”

South African-born Damelin came to Israel as a volunteer after the Six Day War and stayed. After the death of her son, David, she went back to the land of her birth to find out as much as she could about the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up after the fall of apartheid.

“What we (PCFF) believe is that in any future peace agreement, if ever there is a political agreement, there must be a framework for a reconciliation process. If not, there won’t be peace,” she said.

Eighteen months after her son’s death, Israeli army officials told her they had captured her son’s killer.

She wrote him a letter.

“After I wrote the letter, I realised I was no longer a victim of circumstances,” she said.

While in South Africa, she met an Afrikaans woman who had been to the commission and forgave those who killed her daughter. Damelin explained: “The woman said by forgiving the killer, it was giving up the right of revenge.”

Damelin said the PCFF goes into schools and youth groups in Israel and Palestine, as well as with women’s groups in the West Bank. It also runs a summer camp for Palestinian and Israeli youngsters.

Aramin added: “It’s our struggle to teach freedom and democracy on both sides. We have this experience because we have already paid the highest price.”