Posted on October 29, 2012 by Akashma Online News
There is no mistake, I purposely titled this article with the name of Rami Elhanan. The life of these two fathers, Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan are bonded by their daughters memories. Abir Bassam and Smada Elhanan
Bassam Aramin became involved in the Palestinian struggle as a boy growing up in the ancient city of Hebron. At 17, he was caught planning an attack on Israeli troops, and spent seven years in prison. In 2005, he co-founded Combatants for Peace, an organisation of former Israeli and Palestinian combatants leading a non-violent struggle against the occupation. Since then, Bassam has not once picked up a weapon – not even when, two years later, his ten-year-old daughter Abir was gunned down and killed.
As a child I fought the occupation by raising the Palestinian flag in our playground. We never felt safe. We were always running from jeeps to avoid the soldiers beating us. Our homes were invaded and children were killed. At the age of 12 I joined a demonstration where a boy was shot by a soldier. I watched him die in front of me.
From that moment I developed a deep need for revenge. I became part of a group whose mission was to get rid of the catastrophe that had come to our town. We called ourselves freedom fighters, but the outside world called us terrorists. At first we just threw stones and empty bottles, but when we came across some discarded hand-grenades in a cave, we decided to hurl them at the Israeli jeeps. Two of them exploded. No one was injured but we were caught, and in 1985, at the age of 17, I received a seven-year prison sentence.
In prison we were treated like heroes by other prisoners, but our jailers taught us how to continue hating and resisting. On 1st October 1987, all 120 of us – all teenage boys – were waiting to go into the dining room when the alarms suddenly went off. Over a hundred armed soldiers appeared and ordered us to strip naked. They beat us until we could hardly stand. I was held the longest and beaten the hardest. What struck me was that all the soldiers wore smiles on their face. They were beating us without hatred, because for them this was just a training exercise and they saw us as objects.
As I was being beaten, I remembered a movie I’d seen the year before about the Holocaust. At the time I’d been happy that Hitler had killed six million Jews. I remember wishing that he’d killed them all, because then I would never have been sent to prison. But some minutes into the movie, I found myself crying, and feeling angry that the Jews were being herded into gas chambers without fighting back. If they knew they were going to die, why didn’t they scream out? I tried to hide my tears from the other prisoners: they wouldn’t have understood why I was crying about the pain of my oppressors. It was the first time I felt empathy.
So now, walking between the soldiers who were beating me, I remembered the movie and I started screaming at them: ‘Murderers! Nazis! Oppressors!’ And as a consequence, I felt no pain.
The incident with the soldiers made me realise that we had to preserve our humanity – our right to laugh and our right to cry – in order to save ourselves. I also slowly realised that the Israeli oppression was because of the Holocaust, and I decided to try and understand who the Jews were. This led to a conversation with a prison guard. The guards all thought of us as terrorists and we hated them, but this guard asked me, ‘how can someone quiet like you become a terrorist?’ I replied, ‘no, you’re the terrorist. I’m a freedom fighter’. He really believed that we, the Palestinians, were the settlers, not the Israelis. I said, ‘if you can convince me that we are the settlers, then I’ll declare this in front of all the prisoners.’
It was the start of a dialogue and a friendship. We discovered many similarities and some months later the guard said he understood now that we were not the settlers. He even became a supporter of the Palestinian struggle. From then on he always treated us with respect, and once even smuggled in two big bottles of Coca Cola, which I shared with all the other prisoners. Seeing how this transformation happened through dialogue and without force made me realize that the only way to peace was through non-violence. Our dialogue enabled us both to see each other’s purity of heart and good intent.
When I was released it was the time of the Oslo Accords, and there was a great feeling of hope for a two-state solution. But it never happened because the politicians said we weren’t ready for it. I think if I hadn’t had such strong beliefs and principles, anger would have taken over. It wasn’t until 2005 that some of us who believed in non-violence started meeting in secret with former Israeli soldiers. We were meeting as true enemies who wanted to speak. The Israelis were refusing to fight, not for the sake of the Palestinian people, but for the sake of the morals of their society. We too were not acting to save Israeli lives, but to prevent our society from suffering more. It was only later that we both came to feel a responsibility for each other’s people.
There is a much darker side to my story. On 16th January 2007, my 10-year-old daughter, Abir, was shot in cold blood by an Israeli soldier while standing outside her school with some classmates. The children hadn’t even been throwing stones. I have been appalled by the details of what happened, not least that she had just bought a candy at the store and hadn’t had time to eat it.
The case is not yet closed, but it is unlikely that justice will be done. The position of the state is shameful, and in court no humanity was shown. The soldier responsible has not even been identified. For there to be reconciliation, and for me to consider forgiveness, Israel has to recognize such crimes.
Abir’s murder could have led me down the easy path of hatred and vengeance, but for me there was no return from dialogue and non-violence. After all, it was one Israeli soldier who shot my daughter, but one hundred former Israeli soldiers who built a garden in her name at the school where she was murdered.
My name is Rami Elhanan. Thirteen years ago, on the afternoon of Thursday the fourth of September 1997, I lost my daughter, my Smadar, in a suicide attack on Ben-Yehuda street in Jerusalem. A beautiful sweet joyous 14 year old girl. My Smadar was the granddaughter of the militant for peace, General (Ret.) Matti Peled, one of those who made the breakthrough to Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. And she was murdered because we were not wise enough to preserve her safety in Matti’s way, the only correct and possible way – the way of peace and reconciliation.
I do not need a Remembrance Day in order to remember Smadari. I remember her all the time, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 60 seconds a minute. Without a pause, without a rest, for 13 long and accursed years now, and time does not heal the wound, and the unbearable lightness of continuing to exist remains a strange and unsolved riddle …
But Israeli society very much needs Remembrance Days. From year to year, like clockwork, in the week after Passover, it is drawn into the annual ritual: from Holocaust to the Rebirth of the nation, a sea of ceremonies, sirens and songs – an entire people is swept into a whirlpool of addictive sweet sorrow, eyes tearful and shrouded; mutual embraces accompanied by `Occupation songs` and sickle and sword songs against the background of images of lives that were cut short and heart-rending stories … and it is hard to avoid the feeling that this refined concentration of bereavement, fed directly into the vein, is intended to fortify our feeling of victim hood, the justice of our path and our struggle, to remind us of our catastrophes, which God forbid we should forget for a single moment. This is the choice of our lives – to be armed and ready, strong and resolute, lest the sword fall from our grasp and our lives be cut short.
And when all this great sorrow is dispersed with the smoke of the barbeques, when Israelis return to their daily routines, I am left enveloped in great sorrow. I miss the old good Land of Israel that never existed, and I have feelings of alienation and estrangement that keep increasing with the passage of years, from war to war, from election to election, from corruption to corruption.
Abir Aramin, Palestinian girl, killed at age of 10 by an Israeli sniper in January 2007 and Smadar Elhanan, Israeli girl killed in 1997 at age of 13 in a bomb attack in Jerusalem. Their fathers founded Combatants for Peace and are active in Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF), a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis. The PCFF promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.
Read the other side of the story; I m Bassam Aramin-Palestine.