LETTING AN ENEMY off the hook by loving him, blessing him, and praying for him flies directly in the face of our aching human nature. But God, knowing that our humanity might get in the way of our calling, reminds us again and again to love Him and love others—even when loving “others” includes an enemy. But what if you were taught that your enemy was an entire people group? And what if that enemy killed your son? Could you still choose love? Would you even want to?
Robi, a strong Israeli woman with a heart for peacemaking, is faced with those decisions every single day. She lives in Israel, in the middle of one of the longest, most polarized, politically divisive, and theologically explosive conflicts in human history. The Jewish and Palestinian people, who are packed together tightly on land they both consider holy, both desperately want to protect what they feel is theirs. Israelis want a safe homeland and seek to protect the land they feel was promised from God. Palestinians call that same land home—where their forefathers farmed for centuries—and they too want civil rights and a sense of security.
Robi’s dedication to peace left her searching for a solution. She began to feel that unless Palestinians were free from Israeli occupation, Israel itself would never be free. Robi’s son, David, shared her interest in peace. When he was drafted as a military officer in the Israeli Defense Force, he and Robi determined the best strategy he had for pursuing peace was to accept his role and show those he was leading a better way. He would help them learn to look at the men and women on the other side as human beings, just like them. When his three-year mandatory service was complete, he was called up again. But this time, David was killed by a bullet from a Palestinian sniper. Robi was devastated. This conflict had now taken what she treasured most in this world—her son, the peacemaker—and she was forced to decide how she would respond. Was she still a peacemaker, or would she turn to anger and seek revenge?
Bassam, a Palestinian man who spent his youth hating and antagonizing the Israeli military that was occupying his hometown, ended up in jail. His anger was wrapped up in revenge and a demand for justice. But his time in prison brought an unexpected shift. Bassam made friends with an Israeli prison guard, and they gradually shared their stories. As the friendship progressed, for the first time, Bassam considered the other side of the Israel/Palestine narrative. By the time Bassam got out of jail, he was a changed man. He no longer wanted to fight Israel. He let go of his need to make others pay. He realized peace wasn’t going to come through force. Instead, peace was only going to be possible through changed human hearts.
Based on his own story, he thought the most effective tool to fight for freedom might just be friendship. Bassam, once a man filled with rage and hungry to get even, was now a father doing the hard work of peace. And then, just a few years after his decision to become a peacemaker, Bassam’s 10-year-old daughter, Abir, was shot by an Israeli soldier as she waited in line at school. Bassam, despite his shock and immense grief, decided to lean into his commitment to peace. Instead of trying to retaliate, he would let himself mourn. Bassam joined a support group, The Parents Circle, made up of hundreds of parents, Israeli and Palestinian both, who have lost children or close family members to the fighting.
At The Parents Circle, he met Robi. An Israeli mother and a Palestinian father, both changed forever by loss. That’s the miracle of The Parents Circle. People don’t come as Israelis or Palestinians—they come together as parents grieving unthinkable loss. Because of their shared pain, empathy and understanding are possible. The common ground of grief has paved the way toward reconciliation and provided a glimpse of hope in a seemingly hopeless place.