Bereaved Fathers Unite to End Killing of Children
“Understand this: Bassam who was in an Israeli prison for seven years, starting when he was 17, and Rami, son of a Holocaust survivor and who fought in several wars with the Israel Defense Force, were enemies. They were willing to kill and be killed for their people. They are now best friends. Got it?”
Bassam Aramin’s daughter Abir was ten years old, walking home from school, a block away from the Israeli soldiers who were angry at adolescent boys throwing stones at their armored vehicle. They were just outside East Jerusalem in the village of Anata in the West Bank. Abir had stopped at a store to buy candy to bring home to her sister.
The rubber bullet hit her at the base of her skull. The operations to save her were performed at an Israeli hospital in West Jerusalem. They were unsuccessful.
With Bassam, at Abir’s side over three days of waiting, were Israeli members of Combatants for Peace, which Bassam had co-founded along with other former Palestinian fighters and members of the Israeli military. When Abir died his Israeli “brothers” wanted to attend her funeral. He told them No, that he couldn’t guarantee their safety.
That is where I met Bassam, at Abir’s funeral. I wasn’t Palestinian or Israeli, I was a woman from the U.S. allowed to go into the West Bank, allowed to travel the region. I was free, not hindered by the Israeli laws that prohibit Israelis from going to the West Bank and put Palestinians behind a 12-feet concrete barricade and rarely provide the permits Palestinians need to leave.
I saw Bassam in the deepest of grief, the loss of a beloved child.
The public funeral, perhaps what we in the Western Christian tradition would think of as a post-funeral visitation, was held in two huge tents – the women in one colorful tent, the men in another across the street. People sat, they talked quietly, and just outside the edges of the tent they protested into the recorder of my Peace X Peace companion.
They took me into Abir’s school where the principal showed us baskets of canisters of gas bombs and sound bombs, and rubber bullets that had been gathered from the schoolyard after being shot at adolescents.
Then we went to the men’s tent, where we were taken to be with Abir. We were served lamb pilaf. It was delicious. I remember.
We went to a small nearby room and I asked Bassam, “You who have worked so hard for peace, who was a founder of ‘Combatants for Peace,’ now your daughter has been killed. Do you have any hope left?”
He looked at me and said, “I must have hope, now more than ever. I must hope my daughter is the last child to be killed.”
Six years later, yesterday, I met Bassam again. Since the beginning of Israel’s 15-day bombardment of Gaza at the end of 2008 until November 2012, 383 Palestinian minors have been killed by Israeli security forces and 6 Israeli minors have been killed by Palestinians, according to B’stelem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
I asked Bassam, “Do you remember where we first met?” He looked at me and said “On Facebook?” I said, “No, it was at Abir’s funeral.” He studied me and said, “There were two women, tall.” I said, “Yes, I was one of them.” He looked again and said, “… ah.”
Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan, whose 14-year-old daughter Smadar was killed by a suicide bomber in a mall in West Jerusalem in 1997, will be in the DC area February 21st to February 27th for screenings of Within the Eye of the Storm, a new documentary on their friendship. Shelley Hermon, the film’s director, will be with them. Peace X Peace is the sponsor, and the venues are as diverse as a church, a mosque, Capitol Hill, a university, and a popular activist restaurant.
Bassam and Rami, who is Israeli, are best friends. Understand this: Bassam who was in an Israeli prison for seven years, starting when he was 17, and Rami, son of a Holocaust survivor and who fought in several wars with the Israel Defense Force, were enemies. They were willing to kill and be killed for their people. They are now best friends. Got it?
Bassam said one Israeli soldier shot his daughter, but 100 former Israeli soldiers built a garden in her name at the school where she was murdered.
Do not say peace is impossible, because peace is the natural result of understanding and empathy.
Bassam told me, “When I discovered the humanity in the other, I discovered my own humanity.” He saw Schindler’s List while in prison, hid his tears from the other prisoners, and began the slow process of befriending his guard, who saw him only as a terrorist. It was a start.
There are 600 members of The Parents Circle – Family Forum, Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members, usually their children. They say “NO more retaliation. No more killing. Not in the name of my child.” They are masters of the nuances and salvation of forgiveness.
If they can do it, then we all can examine what we do in our lives and our societies that allows – and leads to – the killing of children. You know the list of steps to stop it: gun control, help for the mentally disturbed, ways to meet and communicate with the “enemy,” changes in text books and school curriculum, and an end to glorification and normalizing of violence in entertainment, media, and video games.
If you want to see the power of reaching across wounds to find the humanity in others, and therefore yourself, join us between February 21 and February 26 in Washington, D.C. area venues to screen the documentary Within the Eye of the Storm, along with Bassam Aramin, Rami Elhanan, and film director Shelley Hermon.
If you want to study forgiveness and possibility face to face, show up and watch it in action.
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