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Fathers from both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict united by ‘unbearable pain’

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Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin share an unlikely friendship.

They are from opposite sides of the deadly conflict that has engulfed their homeland for generations.

Mr Elhanan, 73, is the son of a Holocaust survivor who once served in the Israeli army.

While Mr Aramin, 55, is a former Palestinian freedom fighter, jailed at age 17 for throwing a hand grenade at Israelis.

Yet the men consider one another as brothers — an intimate bond forged through unimaginable grief.

Each has lost a daughter to the ongoing violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

The pair first met in 2005 at Combatants for Peace, a not-for profit organisation created by former fighters from both sides.

Eight years earlier, Mr Elhanan had lost his 14-year-old daughter, Smadar.

She was killed by three Palestinian suicide bombers while out shopping with friends.

“At first when you hear there was an explosion, you keep hoping that maybe this time, maybe, that this finger will not turn towards you,” Mr Elhanan told the ABC.

“And then gradually you find yourself running in the streets trying to find her.

“You go from hospital to hospital, from police station to police station, many long frustrating hours pass until eventually, very late that night, you find yourself in the morgue and this finger is stuck right between your eyes.

“And you see this sight which you will never, ever, ever be able to forget for the rest of your life.”

In 2007, Mr Aramin lost his 10-year-old daughter, Abir, when she was hit by a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli soldier.

“She passed away at Hadassah Hospital in the same hospital where she was born,” Mr Aramin said.

The tragedy was also overwhelming for Mr Elhanan. He and his wife spent two days by Abir’s side.

Soon after, the men become active in The Parents Circle, an organisation for victims of the conflict.

“I was familiar with this noble organisation but in my worst dreams, I don’t want to join,” Mr Aramin said.

For Mr Elhanan, joining the organisation was a life-changing decision.

“I was 47 years old. It was the first time I met Palestinians as human beings, not as workers in the streets or terrorists,” he said.

“Human beings who carry the same burdens as I carry, suffer like I suffer.”

Since then, the men have dedicated their lives to using their deeply personal stories of loss for positive change.

“It’s a mission to use this unbearable pain in order to show people that there is another way, that it is not too difficult to love your enemy,” Mr Elhanan said.

Over the past decade, they have travelled to dozens of countries speaking at conferences, school events and community forums attempting to end the cycle of violence in their homeland.

They are currently in Australia on a two-week tour meeting community groups in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

“It is not our destiny to keep killing each other. The only way to change is simply by talking to each other,” Mr Elhanan said.

“You have to respect the guy next to you, exactly the way you want to be respected. No more, no less.”

He admits audiences are not always receptive to their message, particularly when speaking at an Israeli or Palestinian school.

“You are walking into the open mouth of an active volcano and the earth is shaking.

“Most of them have never seen an Israeli or Palestinian who are calling each other brother, who are not putting their pain on the table and trying to compare whose pain is bigger, who started what, who’s to blame.

“We put a little question mark, we put a little doubt and no one can listen to us and remain the same.”

Despite the ongoing conflict in their homeland, Mr Aramin believes a resolution is achievable.

“One day we will live in peace and we will see the crimes and atrocities taking place now as part of history.”

For Mr Elhanan, there is no alternative but to follow the path of peace.

“I have the feeling that Smadar is standing behind my back and pushing me forward,” he said.

“I know she would be positive about what I am doing.”

Article link:
Article source: ABC | Lydia Feng |27.5.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

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