Two peace activists representing groups for Israelis and Palestinians discussed promoting peaceful resolutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last night at an event in the Michigan League Ballroom.
The event, titled “The Parents’ Circle Family Forum: Overcoming Pain to Work Towards Peace,” was unprecedented because it was the first time two campus groups often at odds — the American Movement for Israel and Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a pro-Palestinian group — have collaborated on an event. The Union of Progressive Zionists also sponsored the talk.
The speakers, Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad, each delivered a prepared speech and took questions together from an audience of about 200 people.
Damelin, who spoke first, asked audience members to remove their labels of religion and ethnic identity and instead to “talk to each other’s hearts.”
She then told the story of the death of her son, David, who was killed by a Palestinian sniper while he was a 28-year-old student at Tel Aviv University. Damelin read aloud to the audience a letter she wrote to the parent of this sniper.
“Each of us will have to give up our dreams for the sake of our children,” Damelin said. She later emphasized that reconciliation and a non-violent solution is “the only way” to solve Middle East conflicts.
Awwad then gave his prepared remarks, saying his brother’s death was one of the main reasons he joined the Parents’s Circle Family Forum.
“I didn’t want to be part of the system or to be someone else’s victim,” he said. “I refuse to be broken.”
Throughout his speech, Awwad continuously urged the audience to act and encouraging them to try to make a difference, regardless of whether it was something with which he personally agreed.
Despite audience members asking that two protesters with signs standing at the front of the ballroom be escorted out, the speakers countered by saying that the protesters be allowed to stay so long as they did not interrupt the evening’s events.
But while both speakers took questions from the audience, the two protesters instead loudly voiced their opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and were soon after escorted out by policemen.
Afterward, the organizers of the event said they thought it was successful and found the speakers interesting and insightful.
“I think it went really well, “ said LSA junior Bria Gray, co-chair of the Union of Progressive Zionists. “I’m really happy with the way the speakers responded to questions; I just wish more people were here to hear the message.”
Audience members and organizers of the event both agreed that the message of the evening was an important one that should be more widely spread.
“There are a lot of events that go on with people often promoting one side of an issue, and it was good for everyone to hear the promotion of reconciliation and actually addressing things,” LSA junior Oren Brandvain said. “I think promoting openness is really a beautiful thing.”
“I thought the event was important to have and that the message of peace and understanding on both sides was very important to get across,” said Business School junior Sasha Gribov, the chair of AMI.
The leaders of AMI, SAFE and UPZ said the success of this event could lead to future collaborations.
“I think this really has only opened a door, and it showed people that collaboration doesn’t necessarily only mean with groups you agree with,” said LSA junior Lizzy Lovinger, chair of UPZ and central organizer of this event. “It’s easier to find common ground with people than you think.”