Rami Elhanan is Israeli and Bassam Aramin is Palestinian. They formed a deep bond through the tragic death of their daughters. In 1997 Rami’s 14-year-old Smadar was shopping with friends when two suicide bombers blew themselves up and killed her and four others. In 2007 Bassan’s ten year old daughter Abir was shot with a rubber bullet by a member of the border police outside her school. Now Rami and Bassam are part of the Bereaved Parents Circle and travel together all over the world telling their story: ‘We are brothers. We have experienced the same. We lost our lovely daughters. Smadar and Abir are victims of the same conflict. Both of them were not guilty of anything and they were killed for nothing…it will not be over until we talk’.
Bassam grew up in Hebron. In 1985 aged 17, he was caught planning an attack on Israeli troops and spent the next seven years in prison. Jailed he experienced brutality and kindness. Torture and empathy. “Life in prison changed me from playing childlike games to an adult and a freedom fighter. But I also started to learn about my own history and that of the Palestinians, the Israelis and the Jews. And why things were the way they were. Still, I was full of anger and hatred toward the Israelis. But I also learned about the Holocaust, which started a process of feeling more sympathetic towards the Jews. I saw the film about the Holocaust, Schindler’s List…..” By the time of his release in 1992, Bassam was beginning to think that war solved nothing. By 2005 he believed that dialogue instead of armed struggle was the way forward and started to meet in secret with former Israeli soldiers. Bassam subsequently co-founded Combatants for Peace with the express purpose of remaining committed to non-violence under any condition. Little did he know that he was soon to be cruelly tested. In 2007 disaster struck. Bassam’s 10-year old daughter Abir was seriously wounded. She was standing outside her school with some classmates in Anata, a Palestinian village not far from Jerusalem. Border police of the Israeli Defense Forces were patrolling the school and an adjacent boys’ school. Clashes between rock-throwing students and border police using tear gas and rubber bullets are routine for Anata. But this time Abir’s life was lost. Just days after Abir died, Bassam joined the Bereaved Parents Circle and met Rami.
In 1997, the year that Abir was born, Rami lost Smadar. Two Palestinian suicide bombers blew themselves up and killed Smadar and four others on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. Rami’s sheltered life as a successful graphic designer turned upside down. Anger and revenge were in his heart. But then, like Bassam, he slowly began to think differently. To ask himself whether killing every other Arab will bring Smadar back? Would causing pain to someone else ease the unbearable pain that he is suffering? Did he have some sort of responsibility? A year after Smadar’s death he met a man who invited him to a meeting. A meeting of the bereaved: Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist. Together in one room. And the first time Rami had met Palestinians as human beings – not as workers in the street, not as terrorists. Rami began to understand that the grief that the Palestinians were feeling was the same grief that he was feeling. He began to see clearly that underlying the tragedy for them all was fear of the ‘Other’ that led to hatred and ultimately to more lives being lost.
Rami and Bassam made their choice. They talked together, got to to know each other and became firm friends. Now they consider themselves brothers and travel together all over the world. Their mission to talk to anyone who will listen so that the lives of their daughters help to prevent this unbearable pain for others. Bassam says ‘The year Smadar was murdered, Abir was born. But what I didn’t know when Abir was killed is that she and Smadar would keep on living. And we will not let other people steal their futures. Try shutting us up, it won’t work. Say anything you want. Call me a traitor, a collaborator, a coward ……It has nothing to do with collaboration, nothing to do with normalisation, it is just pure grief, the power of it, and, like Rami sys, it is atomic. To live on in the memory of others means that you do not die’.
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