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Cartooning in Conflict
Chicago Nov. 4-6


Every right to question

Robi Damelin

To my fellow bereaved parents - especially those who filed their own report last week on the Second Lebanon War: Do you sense the rumblings in the ether hinting that we would do well to keep our noses out of political affairs? That efforts have been made to sideline your report, entitled "How the Courageous Fell"? We must not interfere with the running of the country, they say, just mourn our losses quietly and let the wisdom of Winograd and the other powers-that-be decide Israel's future. In return, the politicians will show up at the graves of our children on Memorial Day and offer endless platitudes about "understanding," pain and collective sacrifice.

If I had been swayed by the manipulations and political machinations of the "powers-that-be," I would have taken a back seat and remained silent after my beloved David was killed, together with nine other Israelis, while guarding a West Bank roadblock in 2002. It would not have been true to the memory of my child and to all those who gave their lives for the cause. Would it have been correct not to challenge the army's report on how my child died, when the families of those shot dead had completely different information about the event from the facts provided by the army? Would it have been correct to disappear into a shell and not take a stand, or to try to obtain some justice and some knowledge after 10 lives were lost because of careless mistakes and arrogance? If two investigative journalists, Ronen Bergman and Gil Meltzer, had not been compelled to do their own research after hearing our story, would the army chief of staff have allowed us to return the report and then ordered a new investigation?

In questioning the official version, we were not undertaking an act of personal vengeance against the army: We were simply insisting that the army, our army, learn from its mistakes. And in the end, we were successful in causing the army to change the way in which it carries out its investigations of soldiers' deaths and in shortening the period within which they have to report to the parents. This result served as clear evidence that our actions could make a difference, and perhaps even protect other soldiers' lives in the future.
We at the Parents Circle-Families Forum of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members in the conflict, as well as all other bereaved parents, should not have to bear our losses in silence. In our case, we intend to use our experience of the consequences of squandering opportunities for peace to send the public a wake-up call. We wish to change attitudes on the ground so that when sense prevails and agreements are signed by the politicians, the two respective peoples will be ready to reconcile.

The attitude of "the greater good of the country requires sacrifices" prevailed for many years, while those who lost their loved ones accepted their fate without question. This is no longer the case. Bereaved families from the Second Lebanon War, or from any other battle, for that matter, have every right to question. We who have paid the highest price have every right to ask for explanations of military and political decisions, for our losses are the result of those decisions. We must, with the help of the media, alert our fellow citizens to the casualties of war, to influence future calls for battle.

I can only say thank you to those members of the media who gave a voice to the Orna Shimonis of this country, and the other mothers who helped create an atmosphere that led to the troops being brought home from Lebanon the first time, in 2000. Think of how many additional graves would be inhabited, with families gathering around them on Memorial Day, if she had been ignored.

Lately we hear that bereaved families have no extra rights when it comes to politics. I say once again: We are not asking for special privileges, just the same privilege every citizen in a democracy is entitled to: to question, to speak out, to demand change. Lately there have been whispers that we are being manipulated by politicians for their own purposes, to which I can only respond: Trust us to clearly understand the sanctity of life, and don't deny us the right to act to protect it.

Finally, we have no need of celebrity. In the group in which I am involved, vengeance does not enter into the equation of our work. Our aim, rather, is to prevent further suffering and death, and our preference is not to see our images spread out in newspaper stories, nor the pictures of our children on the desks of politicians. Every parent and family, regardless of their political beliefs, has the right to express their thoughts and opinions.




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