Keeping Faith: A How To Guide

Keeping Faith in Peace with Robi Damelin and Laila Alsheikh (The Parents Circle Family Forum)

April 03, 2024 Women's Interfaith Network Season 1 Episode 2
Keeping Faith in Peace with Robi Damelin and Laila Alsheikh (The Parents Circle Family Forum)
Keeping Faith: A How To Guide
More Info
Keeping Faith: A How To Guide
Keeping Faith in Peace with Robi Damelin and Laila Alsheikh (The Parents Circle Family Forum)
Apr 03, 2024 Season 1 Episode 2
Women's Interfaith Network

What does it mean to keep faith in peace and reconciliation after unimaginable loss? How can we sit with disagreements and different worldviews to find our common humanity? What can we do to ensure women’s voices are heard and uplifted in peace-building work? 

Our conversation with Robi Damelin and Laila Alsheikh – both bereaved mothers and spokespeople for the joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation The Parents Circle Family Forum - encourages us to look again at the ongoing conflict through the lens of reconciliation and restorative justice. 

Sign up for their English Language Newsletter via the American Friends of the Parents Circle Family Forum

Follow the Parents Circle on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube

Keeping Faith: A How-To Guide is part of Women’s Interfaith Network's 2024 Keeping Faith Programme. Read more about the programme here and be the first to hear about upcoming events and ways to get involved by signing up to our newsletter. Views expressed on this podcast are the speaker’s own and may not reflect the views of Women’s Interfaith Network.

Hosted by Maeve Carlin

Produced by Maeve Carlin and Adam Brichto

Edited by Adam Brichto

Executive Produced by Lady Gilda Levy

Theme music composed by Jamie Payne

Logo and Artwork designed by Jasey Finesilver

Support from Tara Corry

Show Notes Transcript

What does it mean to keep faith in peace and reconciliation after unimaginable loss? How can we sit with disagreements and different worldviews to find our common humanity? What can we do to ensure women’s voices are heard and uplifted in peace-building work? 

Our conversation with Robi Damelin and Laila Alsheikh – both bereaved mothers and spokespeople for the joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation The Parents Circle Family Forum - encourages us to look again at the ongoing conflict through the lens of reconciliation and restorative justice. 

Sign up for their English Language Newsletter via the American Friends of the Parents Circle Family Forum

Follow the Parents Circle on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube

Keeping Faith: A How-To Guide is part of Women’s Interfaith Network's 2024 Keeping Faith Programme. Read more about the programme here and be the first to hear about upcoming events and ways to get involved by signing up to our newsletter. Views expressed on this podcast are the speaker’s own and may not reflect the views of Women’s Interfaith Network.

Hosted by Maeve Carlin

Produced by Maeve Carlin and Adam Brichto

Edited by Adam Brichto

Executive Produced by Lady Gilda Levy

Theme music composed by Jamie Payne

Logo and Artwork designed by Jasey Finesilver

Support from Tara Corry

Maeve Carlin: Welcome to Keeping Faith, a how to guide, a new podcast from Women's Interfaith Network exploring how women keep faith in ourselves, in each other, in a cause, or in religious faith so you can learn how to keep faith too.

I'm your host Maeve Carlin. And today we're speaking to Robi Damelin and Laila Alsheikh from the Parents Circle Family Forum, a joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation established in 1995 that today brings together over 600 families who have lost loved ones to the ongoing conflict. Through dialogue meetings, education programs, and international campaigning, they spread a simple but often contentious message: that reconciliation is a prerequisite for sustainable peace. 

Robi and Laila are both spokespeople and experienced facilitators with the Parents Circle, who joined after the loss of their sons.  Robi’s son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper while serving in the military in the Occupied Territories - service that he was deeply conflicted about, having already been involved in the peace movement. Laila lost her six-month-old son, Qusai, after she was held at a checkpoint for five hours while trying to take him to hospital in Bethlehem.  

We are painfully aware that the cycle of violence continues today. Robi shares the recent loss of her friend and fellow peace activist Vivian Silver, who was killed on October 7th, while Laila's family are facing the constant threat of rockets without a shelter to keep them safe.  Robi and Laila were kind enough to speak to us on Zoom from their homes in Israel and the West Bank, so audio quality may not be perfect. Their stories and their commitment to restorative justice are both incredibly moving and may also be difficult to hear.  All we ask is that you listen with an open mind.

Maeve Carlin: Robi and Laila we're so honoured you made time to speak to us today. The Parent's Circle demonstrates how creating space to really listen to each other, in turn, creates space for incredible change and transformation. I know that storytelling is at the heart of what you do, so I can't think of a better way to start than to ask you both to share your stories of how and why you became involved with this work.

Lailla Alsheikh: So thank you for inviting both of us to share with you and speak to you about our experience and about our, our organisation. It's our pleasure. My name is Laila Alsheikh. I'm 46 years old. I'm a Muslim Palestinian mother. I was born and raised in Jordan. My family originally, they are from Bethlehem, from the West Bank, but they went to Jordan because my father went to teach the children in the camps in Jordan.

And after that, the war was started in 1967. And after that, the Israeli government take a decision to close the border. So because of that, my parents lost their citizenship as a Palestinian and become Jordanian. Um, I heard a lot of stories from my father about Palestine. So I love Palestine from what I heard from my father.

And it's become like a dream for me to visit Palestine. In 1997 I met my husband in Jordan. He's originally from Bethlehem too. So we get engaged in 1999. I came to Palestine to get married and continue my life here. And for me, it was a dream come true. And I was really so happy to be here and to live here.

And, um, after like two years, we have two children, girl and boy, and we become Much happier to have both of them and we start to plan for their future but that happiness was ended 11th of April 2002. During that time, it was the second uprising.

And, uh, my son Qusai, he was just six months old when the Israeli soldiers came to our village and they threw tear gas um, , his lungs couldn't handle that. So when we tried to take him to a hospital inside Bethlehem, because we live in a village outside, uh, the Israeli soldiers prevented us for more than, like, five hours.

And when we finally reached the hospital the doctor said it was too late to save his life. At the end of that day, he died. And, uh, for me, that was something shake my whole world. I felt that, um, the building was like crash upon my head and I didn't know what to do, start screaming, cry like crazy. And then I start to pray to God just, um, or start to think, convince myself that this is just a dream and I will wake up and everything will be good.

But unfortunately that was the truth. And, um, from that day I was filled with hatred, anger against all the Israelis because for that, for me, all of them were responsible about his death. But at the same time, I didn't think to take revenge because revenge will never bring my son back. But I take another decision that I don't want to have any kind of relationship with any Israeli person. And, uh, after that, my husband started to convince me to have other children and I refused for more than three years. And when my family and all the people start to ask me, even my doctor, I said, I don't want another children. And one day my doctor said to me, why you didn't want other children?

I say why I will have them if finally I will lose them? They will be part of the cycle of violence. Even if I don't want to. Well, finally, we, um, have another boy and we give him the same name because I didn't want to forget any details. I didn't want to forget everything happened to him. So time passed and you know, we continued our life, but it wasn't a normal life because I always felt there was something missing in my life and my soul and my heart.

And, uh, after 16 years, I met a friend of mine and he started talking about his life, about, uh, organisation that he participated in called the Parent's Circle Family Forum for bereaved families from both sides. And I said to him, You're crazy. I am the last person that you could talk to about something like that.

You know what happened to my son? And he said, because I know what happened to you, I want you to be part of this amazing organisation. And he started to talk to me about, um, uh, the organisation and he, and he said to me, I want to ask you a question. Why until now, you didn't tell your other children about what happened to their brother? I said because I don't want them to be part of this cycle of violence because if they know they start to think maybe to take revenge and I lost one of them and that was much more than enough for me. I can't lose another one. 

So then he said to me, maybe this will be a good chance for you and not just to protect your children, but maybe other families, but to be honest, I wasn't really convinced about what he's talking about. And I thought he's crazy, because in my whole life I didn't hear about this kind of organisation.

And he keep calling me every three days, four days to talk and to speak about the Parent's Circle, to convince me. But one day, he insisted, and he said, there's a conference in Bethlehem and you should come. And I went with him just to make him stop talking about this.

And when we arrived, there were just Palestinian. I sat with them. We started to talk about everything, you know, and I heard their stories and most of their stories I know I heard about before. But when the Israelis started to enter that room, I tried to leave. I felt something acting in my chest. I didn't want to be with them in the same room.

And then he start to argue with me to convince me to stay. But when I stand up and try to leave, I saw something amazed me when I saw the Israeli and Palestinian hug each other, kiss each other like a family members, not just as a friend. And I said, oh my God, they are so crazy, how they could do that?

But when I listen to the Israeli and how they lost their beloved ones, I was really shocked because that was the first time I heard this kind of stories and to hear it from the people who lost their family members, that was something touching and moving. And I felt that we shared the same pain, we shared the same tears, even if we had different circumstances, but we still human. That was the first day I looked to them as a human, like me, not as an enemy. Um, after that, I decided to participate in one of the projects to know and to learn much more about the Israeli and that project called, Parallel Narrative project, which we met for eight times and we have many activities and we have two professors who spoke about.

The history of the two nations, and we visited, uh, Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem to learn so much more about the Holocaust and what happened. And we even went to visit, uh, Palestinian village was existed before 1948. It's not about comparing the pain, it's not about who's first, who's second, who's right, who's wrong, but it's a chance for both sides to sit, to listen, to understand each other.

And, um, that was the first time for me to sit with, um, Israeli woman face to face and spoke about, uh, what happened to my son. I couldn't complete the story. I started to cry and there an Israeli woman, she came to me and she started to, uh, apologize and she said, yeah, I didn't hurt you, but the people who hurt you from my own people, I'm a mother too, I can understand your pain.

I could understand even the word that you couldn't say, and she came and hugged me and both of us started to cry. She didn't know that day, but by her simple word, she returned me back to life. She returned me back even to my beliefs. As a Muslim mother, I believe in the Qur'an, I believe in all the scriptures.

And the scripture said, you can't judge all the people because of mistake of one person. I know it, I believe in it, but I didn't work with it because I was filled with hatred and anger. Um. So I start to think to be a member of the forum to be active members there to give lecture inside Israel, Palestine, travel around the world to spread the message of peace and reconciliation.

And that was so easy to convince people about these lovely words and to speak about that. And I thought I make a great job and this is it and everything become perfect. But life give me another test. A year ago, I've been with Robi in Jerusalem and, um, with other people from other organizations. And after we spoke about our, uh, stories, there's an Israeli man who stand up and he started to talk about his personal story.

I know him like three years, but that was the first time I listened to him. And, uh, uh, he started to talk and then he mentioned that he was a high officer in the army and he served in my area. And he mentioned that he, uh, prevented a Palestinian car which have sick children from going to a hospital.

And I felt like someone slapped me in my face. I didn't know what to do or to say. I couldn't breathe. I didn't know what to do. But after a few minutes, I started to cry and, uh, I left the room. And then Robi asked all of us to go outside to speak about what's going on. 

And then he said to me, um, my son was. Um, sick and he was in critical condition. And when we tried to take him to a hospital, the guard stopped us and he want to ask us a few questions and I was in a hurry and then I realized what I did to the Palestinian.

Then he said, I quit from the army and he jailed because he refused to serve in the army again. And, uh, he established a new organization with ex Palestinian prisoners and fighters. Which they named it Combatants for Peace. And then I looked at him and I said, look, this is hard for me to listen to your story, but at the same time, I want to thank you because if I know that part of your story was there and you didn't tell me, I will never forgive you, but because you Being honest, you have that courage to spoke in front of me and you even didn't apologize about that. I could forgive you.

Then I realized this is the real reconciliation. It's easy to spoke about it, but did you really meant it? Did you really meant every word or everything that you did from that day? I take much more power to continue, especially in these hard times from the 7th of October until today. We've been in, um, maybe the worst time ever. 

Especially all the people, they know what's going on in Gaza. They saw videos, they saw many things. But no one understand what happened in the West Bank. Since the 7th of October until today, all the Palestinian territories under closure. All the people who work inside Israel, they lost their jobs.

Most of the children couldn't go to their schools. Um, we even didn't have shelters in our area. When, when, uh, um, the rockets fell down in any area, we didn't have shelter to, to run to. Like in my village, we have 10 rockets fell down. We didn't know if it's from Hamas or even from the Iron Dome.

And, um, my children were really terrified and especially my youngest daughter, she's eight years old. Even when I, when I have zoom, she sits in the same room. She didn't want to be alone or she didn't want to be away from me. This is hard too, and especially when even the settlers attack the Palestinian, they attack them daily now. They're burning their cars, their houses. They attack them in the street. Um, and no one could ask them why, but at the same time, the soldiers, like, um, encouraged them to do something like that. Three days ago, my oldest son, he's 20 years old, he went to Hebron, the next city to Bethlehem.

And when I called him, he said, Mom, there was an accident happened between a Palestinian man and Israeli man, and he tried to stab him. And he stopped from 12 o'clock in the afternoon until nine o'clock in the evening. And he said they threw tear gas all the time and we didn't know where to go. And he stayed in the car and I was really terrified.

And imagine you live like that every day. I don't know if my son will come back or one day I will have that phone call again to tell me that I lost my son. So this is not an easy life. We can't lose hope, not because of us, but even because of our children, our, um, grandchildren and all the generation who came after us.

And they said what happened and what they did to change this conflict or this occupation. And I will tell you the last thing about, uh, after I become a member, I, I remember a dream that I have. When my son died at the same day, I saw a white dove came and stand on my shoulder and say to me, mama, don't cry, I’m so happy.

Of course I couldn't stop crying from that day until today. And, uh, I know that he's happy with God because he's just six months old, but I didn't understand at that time why he came as a white dove. But when I became a member in the forum, I started to realize that it was kind of message from God, but I didn't understand it at the same day.

And, uh, as you know, the white dove is the symbol for peace. It was a guide, a message from God to tell me, this is your new mission. And he didn't want the death of my child went without achieving something. And that even gives me hope to continue. Thank you so much for listening. 

Robi Damelin: Three days ago was the anniversary of David's death, my son. And I went to the cemetery, and I saw hundreds of new graves. And I thought to myself, this is insane. You know, for what? For what? It's not about the people that die, it's about the people that get left behind. What's going to happen with all these families now, both in Gaza, in the West Bank, and in Israel? Both nations in total trauma. And I can tell you that My heart just broke on, on Sunday. It was too, too heavy to carry. 

I remember after David was killed, I had to change the world overnight.That was kind of dealing with grief. So when the army came to tell me that David had been killed, one of the first things I said is you can't kill anybody in the name of my child. So that was very predictive of what I was going to do. And the parent circle found me, um, and reluctantly I went to a weekend. with Palestinian and Israeli bereaved parents because I thought I can't have more pain on my shoulders. It's enough. But I didn't realize then that these were the only people that could really understand me and that's what's pushing me now to know that we have to do as much as we can with the newly bereaved families because we understand what, what they feel.

And so, um, that weekend was extraordinary because I looked into the eyes of the Palestinian mothers particularly and thought to myself, wow, what an incredible force we could be if we could stand on the same stage like Laila and I are doing now and talk in the same voice. To bring hope and to understand that there has to be a reconciliation process. There has to be no violence and the occupation needs to end.

And so, after that weekend, it was a kind of turning point in my life also. I closed my office and I started traveling all over the world, and I was very pleased with myself. I mean, after all, I could speak English.

The Americans thought I was British, and the British, of course, killed themselves laughing because of my South African accent. And, um, I too thought I was very important. You know, traveling and being able to talk and I was invited to the UN, to, I don't know, Congress, the House of Lords, you name it. And one night I was sitting at my computer and there was a knock on my door and I opened the door and there were three soldiers there. And when there are three soldiers it can only mean one thing. So I simply slammed the door in their face. And they continued to knock and knock and knock and then I opened the door and they said we came to tell you we caught the man who killed David. Now, thinking that I would be delighted. 

But actually what happened was, this is the same test as Laila faced. Because now there's a face. It's not some anonymous character, you know, who would be arrested or not. And so I didn't know what to do with all of that story. You know, I didn't think I could continue to work in this organization if I wasn't willing to walk the talk. So I wrote a letter to the family of the sniper whose name is Yahya, in which I told them about the parent circle, that we are 700 families who've all lost an immediate family member and that we are working to create a framework for a reconciliation process, which must be an integral part of any political future peace agreement, because without that, all we have is a ceasefire until the next time. And, um, I told them about David, that he was a student at Tel Aviv University, and he was studying for his master's in the philosophy of education.

And that he was part of the peace movement and that he didn't want to serve in the occupied territories. But we all think we know the person behind the gun and we all don't realize the quandary that Israeli kids grow up with this sense of loyalty that they have to go, you know, and he really was very anti the occupation. Um, I didn't want him to go. I was filled with a sense of dread. But, um, he went nevertheless. And so, I also told the parents of Yahya that we needed to meet. We owed that to our grandchildren and children. And, of course, I'm not the most patient character in the Middle East. I imagine I will get a letter back like the next day, more or less. It took three years. In which he told me that I'm crazy and that I should stay away from his family and that he killed 10 people to free Palestine. 

But you see, here's the understanding why. Because I heard from his parents that when he was a little boy, he saw his uncle violently killed in front of him and he lost two further uncles in the second uprising. So I think this was a road to revenge. 

And so, um, this was another turning point in my life, receiving that letter. What it did was to free me from being a victim. I don't call myself a survivor. I think that I'm a victor. 

And so I went to South Africa and we made a film about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and about what forgiving means.And I will just give you two definitions of forgiving that I got from two people who were, um, were part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and they said this woman whose daughter was killed by three guys came to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and she said I forgive you. And the man who had sent the children I also met.I went to meet her and I said to her, what do you mean when you say you forgive? And she said, for me, forgiving is giving up your just right to revenge. And then the man who'd actually sent the people who killed her daughter said, by her forgiving me, she released me from the prison of my inhumanity. And that was a real extraordinary statement, you know, and, and I so believe in restorative justice today.

So I came back to Israel and tried to meet with the sniper, but the law says that he has to actually ask to meet me. And so it's kind of stuck between lawyers and trying and, and it's not that important anymore. 

What Laila is telling you about her daily life is just one of so many women in our group. I’ve been traveling since the 7th of October non-stop. I've been to America twice and to London once and to, to Italy now.And that's a lot of travel for an old lady like me. But There's something that forces you because you have to tell people what the situation is. And the night before I went to America, I, um, I had a Zoom with many of the women from our women's group in the parent circle, the Palestinian women. And I promised them that I would tell you, anybody that I spoke to, what their daily life is about.Because people are ignoring the West Bank. And that is a cauldron just waiting to boil over. So we can't say, let's not do anything, it's too much. We have to continue with this work

I know that there are some remarkable people that have come out of October the 7th who are already talking out for stopping the bloodshed and stopping the war, and these are people, for instance, Mazoz Inon, whose parents were burned to death. He's talking about peace. Or the son of Vivian Silver, a name that's very familiar to everybody, has also joined the parent circle. And the extraordinary thing is that, you know, Vivian was my friend. I thought that she would come out. We thought she was a hostage. And that she would come out because she used to drive kids from Gaza to hospitals in Israel and back again. And she started Women Wage Peace. And she was, worked very hard with the Bedouin community. So she was a very special woman. And I thought, well, if she's a hostage, she'll come out. And she'll be the leader of the next peace movement. And it turns out that she got burnt in her cupboard. 

I mean, you know, these are things that are so difficult to come to terms with.To come to terms with the mothers in Gaza having to run away with their kids with no shelters. Coming to terms with what it's like. Two hundred thousand people are also displaced in Israel. I'm not into comparison of suffering. But what I'm saying is about understanding why. 

Once I understood why and once I understand what's happening in Gaza with these kids who grew up age, start from the age of about 12, every two years there's a war.Every two years there are bombs. They don't know where to run. They have no shelters. They have no hope. They have no freedom of movement. So what kind of adult will you grow up to be? And then I look at these kids on the kibbutzim who thought they were invincible before October the 7th because they had houses that were rocket proof.

But all of a sudden, you know, Israel was defeated on October the 7th by the Hamas. And these kids are in trauma and then they're the kids who live in the villages like Ashkelon, Sderot, Ashdod, which border on Gaza. These kids have also only known rockets for years and years and they're wetting their beds at the age of 12.

So what kind of adults are they going to be? So you can imagine just how much the work is cut out for us because you have to understand why. Then you can start to correct. And you can't kill an idea. So you kill all the leaders of the Hamas. But if you don't change the circumstances of that 14 year-old boy, nothing will change. And this is the lesson that has to come out of this. And this is what the world has to force us, Palestinians and Israelis, to come to the table. Because if we don't do that, we will share this land with two graves everywhere.

Maeve Carlin: Robi and Laila thank you so much for sharing those stories with us, I'm profoundly moved and I'm also so grateful that we have the opportunity to remember your sons, David and Qusai, and this incredible legacy that you've created for them. It's also so clear that the cycle of violence that brought you into this work continues today and I hope that the lessons, hard won lessons, that you've been able to share with us will, will resonate with people.

I would love to talk more about the Parallel Narrative Project, which you touched on Laila bringing Israelis and Palestinians together to explore the parallel narratives, often diverging narratives, that each community has about the land they call home.

What feels so radical about this project is it's not about proving anyone right, as you said, Laila or resolving that disconnect, but actually sitting with complexity. I'd love to hear what you've learned about how we can come together to find common ground when common ground feels impossible.

Lailla Alsheikh: Um, I remember the first meeting. We've been a woman group, the Palestinian on the right side and the Israeli on the left side. And we look to each other like we're afraid from each other. We didn't know what will happen. We didn't know what we will hear. But at the end of that day, we've been dancing together, laughing together like we know each other from a long, long time. I think every person needs just one moment to change his whole life. We didn't have that walls of cement. We have walls of hatred, but when you give a chance to any two people who have argued or, or have any kind of problem and you could give them a chance to talk about this. At the beginning, I think they will be angry and then they will start to understand and then I think they will start to respect each other. Even we are not 100 percent like agree about everything as Israeli and Palestinian, but we still respect each other. We understand why. Like when Robi do something, I would say something, even um, if I didn't like it. I could understand why she said that, and I respect it because this is her opinion. 

But It's kind of understanding each other, respecting each other, start to understand where they came from. Because when you understand where every person came from, you maybe start to understand why he acts like that, why he will say that, because we have a different religion, we have a different culture, we have different everything. But the thing that make us, um, so close to each other, humanity. And this is the first thing that will, um, let any two people like any other people to start to understand or listen because we can't live all the time as Robi said every two years have another war and every three years.

Imagine children live like that, what they will think about when they become like 23 or 25? This life will be so difficult for them, and we will wait, like, for more than 75 years to change this, but nothing happened. And we believe that women could do something, and they have power to change. And now is the time for women to be leaders, and to let their voices be heard from all the people around, even our leaders. They should listen to us as a mother, as a people who under occupation, we daily suffered from this occupation. We want to end this. From both sides. 

Robi Damelin: I think something about the narrative project, it started out of a feeling that we shared within the parent circle that we shared an innate sympathy for each other, but that didn't mean that we agreed with the way we saw history. And so really what we're saying when Laila says two professors come, she should qualify by saying one Palestinian and one Israeli professor, who see the milestones of our history from completely different points of view. 

So it's about, even if you don't agree, what's 1948 for Israel? That's the state of Israel, but for the Palestinians, the Nakba, the catastrophe, and all the dates that follow. So it doesn't mean that you become Martin Luther King. It means that you can listen without, with empathy, even if you don't agree. And to listen to two professors telling the story of all the milestones is an incredible experience because it teaches you to listen with empathy and it teaches you that you too can, you know, can start a conversation with people you don't agree with.

Maeve Carlin: Thank you both. I, I think that that idea of listening with empathy and what you were saying, Laila about fundamental respect for each other, that comes first. I think that's, very much what a lot of our conversations are lacking right now. And Laila you were talking about, uh, the women's group that you were involved in.

And our work at WIN is rooted in this idea that regardless of whether or not we hear about it, women are doing critical work as change makers and leaders in their communities. And in peace building and reconciliation work, we often don't hear about the work women are doing, or we see women excluded from decision making and negotiating roles.

Can either of you share a bit of your experience as women peace builders, if you've come up against any of these issues, and how the Parents Circle is trying to tackle these dynamics. 

Lailla Alsheikh: Um, we have women's group inside the Parents Circle, because we believe, as I told you, that women could do something. And I will tell you, about one of the projects for women.

And I will tell you a short story about my oldest daughter. Uh, when I become a member in the forum, she were against that because she's the oldest, she knows the whole story. And she asked me many times to quit, but it was hard for me, how to explain that for her. It wasn't easy, even for me. 

So we have a Memorial Day. Every year a ceremony to remember our beloved ones who lost in this conflict. It's kind of international message to all people around the world of free other people who daily suffered from this conflict could stand up side by side and put our effort together to do something good or to change. And to end this education, everything could be possible. So we have two, uh, Palestinian speakers and two Israeli speakers, and I've been one of the Palestinian three years ago. 

So when I returned back home, I was really terrified because I didn't know what her reaction will be. And, uh, when I arrived, she came forward and she said to me, now I just understand why you did this. And I'm so proud of you. And she came and hugged me. Both of us started to cry. And that was give me another power to continue. If my children could understand why I did this, everything will be easier for me. And now she become member of the forum. She's, um, member, um, in the women's group. 

So I will tell you about one of the projects. We called it Wedding Planners. One day, Robi came to our office in Bayt Jala and she started to ask all women, what did you would you do like to do in your life? So everyone start to talk about what she wants to do or what she already did in her life. So some of them, they said, they wanted to make cakes or cook or make decoration or, uh, even, um, makeup artists or, um, designing dresses. So she came up with that idea. If we could give those women courses to learn everything that they like. And we have that project called, um, wedding planner. So all of us together could do wedding, and make a project, all of us. So it's like kind of puzzle. Every one of us will connect to the other. 

So all the women start to take their courses. to learn the things that they love. And, uh, last year we, um, have a ceremony to give them the certificate and we've been really so happy. You can see the joy in their eyes and how they become so happy to do something. It's not about just the money. It's about the passion. They want to do something. Most of them, they are educated, but they didn't have a chance to work. And now when we help them to learn something like that. They start work from their houses. They even, um, um, let their Children to join in their project and they become part of it. They start to teach them and some of them, they already start to do their own project in their houses and they start to teach other neighbours and they become part of their, uh, project too.

So this is kind of the thing that we want to help women, not just to invite her just to talk and to, to share and to speak, but they want to do something in their daily life. And we even asked from, uh, Israeli women, if any one of them know anything about this, you could even came and help us and we could share with each other and do something.

But the war started and all the idea, you know, changed now. 

Robi Damelin: But what she didn't tell you is that her daughter did a course in making cakes and just sits and waits till Lila goes away somewhere so that she can make masses of cakes and make a big mess in the kitchen. So, but I've seen some of these cakes and I'm waiting to taste them.

Maeve Carlin: These cakes sound delicious. I, I wish we could teleport one to London. 

I feel like what that story taps into is all the different ways that women find their resilience and finding different pathways to do amazing things when it seems like perhaps there’s not a lot of room to create amazing things. 

Robi Damelin: Well, it would be nice if, if more women would come to the table, and that's the long-term goal here too, because you can't ignore, men are making decisions that affect our lives all the time, and where are the women in the war cabinet, and where are the women in parliament? So, it's time, you know, and whatever education we can, try to create, because there's a young generation now who are more educated.

All we need to do is to find an outlet for them to work. This is what's so difficult. So one has to look at these things and understand that what we do in the women's group is to make women understand the importance of themselves. You know, I remember the first meeting we had, it's a very long time ago that I came to the parent circle and all the men were sitting inside and all the women were outside with their children. And I thought, oh no, this is not good enough for me. 

So that's when we started the women's group. And I think today I would say the women's group is the most important in the parent circle. We've done a lot of projects, which you can find on our website. And, um, if, if anybody wants to get a newsletter, we have one in English which comes from the American Friends of the Parent Circle. And I think they would love to get news of our trips, wherever we go. And also they might want to watch some of the material that we've created. 

Maeve Carlin: We'll definitely make sure we share those links and make them available. 

So, with the violence that's unfolding around you now, we're in the middle of what is undeniably a large-scale trauma, which will have intergenerational impact, as you've both been saying, and what also feels like large-scale radicalization as people's grief and anger takes them to incredibly dark places. We also know that your message of peace and reconciliation has often been met with resistance, even more so in recent months.

So can I ask you what you would say to someone facing their own test of faith -watching what is happening in Israel, Palestine and the fallout around the world, the barriers being placed in the way of this work for peace and reconciliation - who is struggling to keep faith in dialogue and our ability to come together?

Lailla Alsheikh: We believe that every soul is so precious and everyone had right to live in a normal life and dignity and secure. So I know it's not easy for people who are around the world, when they saw what's going on here. Um, I don't know, but sometimes I could say to them, pray for us, try to convince your government not to send weapons because this is not what we need. What we need is to convince our leader to sit and to find solution. We don't want just ceasefire. We want to end this problem. I don't know what the solution will be. I don't think even about it. What I think about that, I don't want to have that phone call again.

This is what I want, not just for me, but even for any mother from both sides, because our children have right to live a normal life. And I feel sorry about all of this. People who lost their lives during this, uh, conflict. And what make me feel sad when I listen to those stories. Maybe me and Robi have a chance to tell our stories, but there's thousands of people who didn't have a chance and maybe they will not be able to talk about what happened to them.

And I think, and I want to tell people who listen to us from all over the world, please be human and talk to us as human like you. Don't pro-Israel, don't pro-Palestine, just pro-peace, because this is what we want.

Robi Damelin: I think firstly that everybody wants instant solutions. We have to give people time. This is like five months. And we're still at war. And what are we waiting for? Like somebody tomorrow morning, everything's going to change? There are two nations here that need to grieve, that need to breathe, that need to have time to, to look at who they are and to let go of some of the anger and this need for revenge.

You know, um, I think about Israeli men and, and their self-image. After they couldn't protect on the 8th of October, how they couldn't protect their people, the humiliation of that, people don't see that. But if you understand the ego of men in the army, then you will begin to understand how difficult it must be for some of those soldiers that they're taking revenge.

So what is that helping anybody? It's just increasing the cycle of violence. But let's wait. Let's not give advice. Try and just let people grieve. Can you imagine how many deaths, I told you about going to the cemetery and every morning you hear the names of people who've been killed and Laila hears the stories of children in Gaza.

So what do you expect? Your belief system can be shaken up. But I'm not going to give up, ever, because I believe in what we're doing and I don't care how many people are angry with me or think that I'm naive. I don't think I'm naive. I think this is the only way that we can continue to survive without this mad cycle of violence.

Maeve Carlin: I can't think of a better note to end on. So thank you both so much for your time.


Keeping faith, a how to guide, is part of Women's Interfaith Network's twentieth anniversary keeping faith program, a year-long conversation bringing women together to unpack what keeping faith means to them. We'll be sharing more about the program in future episodes so watch this space.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Keeping Faith: A How To Guide. Subscribe now on your podcast app to be the first to hear about our upcoming episodes, and please leave a review or share with a friend to help more people find us. To find out more about the podcast, the 2024 Keeping Faith Programme or to get involved with the Women’s Interfaith Network, you can follow the links in our show notes or go to Until next time, Keep Faith!


Keeping Faith: A How-To Guide was created by the Women's Interfaith Network. The podcast is co-produced by me, Maeve Carlin, and Adam Brichto. Our executive producer is Lady Gilda Levy. Theme music was composed by Jamie Payne and our logo was designed by Jasey Finesilver. Additional Support from Tara Corry.