The two men highlighted in this blog should have been enemies. Instead they formed Combatants for Peace. I address the hideous effects of suicide bombers in my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides.
Bassam Aramin is co-founder of Combatants for Peace, a movement started jointly by Palestinians and Israelis who have participated in the cycle of violence: Palestinians as part of the violent struggle for Palestinian freedom and Israelis as soldiers in the Israeli Army. The group started with four former Palestinian fighters and seven Israeli soldiers. Today they number 400.
Bassam is also the father of slain ten-year old Abir, who died instantly when an Israeli soldier fired a rubber bullet into the back of her head. She was a block from her home, laughing and talking with her sister and two friends, her hand inside her book bag about to retrieve some candy to share with her friends, when she fell to the ground.
After the death of his daughter, Bassam, a former Palestinian fighter, made the decision to seek justice rather than revenge.
“One Israeli soldier killed my daughter,” he said. “Four hundred Israeli soldiers came to her funeral and planted a garden in her name.”
Rami Elhanan is the father of Smadar Elhanan, who was killed in a September 1997 Jerusalem suicide bombing. She was sixteen years old. Rami is Bassam’s co-founder in Combatants for Peace. In April of this year, Rami and Bassam were invited to Warsaw to attend the Polish premier of a new documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their organization.
“I was excited,” said Rami. “I knew that together we would be able to convey a message of hope to people who, for the most part, had not the faintest idea about the conflict. I knew that by virtue of our shared grief, people would listen to us—perhaps even talk about peace. In my naivety, I completely forgot that Palestinians can’t just get up and travel wherever they please, like free men. And despite a barrage of phone calls and urgent pleas on the departure date, Bassam never received his visa to travel.
That was why Rami found himself the following evening on the stage of the Polish National Theatre, together with two ambassadors, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, and an empty chair. The film began with heartbreaking stories of unbearable human anguish, without political demands, without attempts to quantify suffering, just stories of bereaved families, both Israeli and Palestinian, reaching out to each other, a hug, a compassionate smile, a profound understanding, a bud of hope.
The Israeli Ambassador, after the filming, stood up from his chair, furious. “There is no comparing the pain of someone who was hurt by terror,” he said, “with that of someone who was hurt as a result of others acting in self-defense.” He then walked off the stage. Embarrassed, Rami stood up.
“I am Bassam Aramin,” he said. “I am here to represent the missing character, this brave and noble combatant for peace. That Palestinians are missing from nearly every international forum about the conflict, because they are not issued travel documents, is a source of embarrassment. This absent bereaved father, this ex-prisoner who chose the path of reconciliation and peace, is a powerful voice against the claim that we Israelis have no partner to talk peace with, yet he and others like him are repeatedly silenced.”
This book is available for purchase here.