Two fathers united in grief work towards peace

Israeli Rami Elhanan and Palestinian Bassam Aramin have both lost daughters to the conflict, but they are devoted to peace-building.

Peace-builders Bassam Aramin (left) and Rami Elhanan will be touring Australia to promote their work.
Peace-builders Bassam Aramin (left) and Rami Elhanan will be touring Australia to promote their work.

Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin might appear to be on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but they are two fathers united by grief and together they have devoted their lives to working towards peace between their two communities.

Elhanan and Aramin met in 2005 at Combatants for Peace, an organisation created by former fighters from both sides to drive solutions for peace. Aramin was one of the co-founders of the organisation, along with Elhanan’s son, Elik.

“Our families got very close to each other,” Elhanan told The AJN.

“They came to our house, and we went to their house.”

Both men lost daughters to the conflict. Elhanan’s daughter Smadar was killed by Palestinian suicide bombers in 1997 and Aramin’s daughter Abir was killed 10 years later by a rubber bullet fired by an Israel soldier.

“On the 16th of January, 2007, I got a telephone call telling me that Abir, Bassam’s 10-year-old daughter was shot,” Elhanan said.

“And my wife and I went straight away to the hospital and I spent two days by her bed. For me, it was like losing my daughter for the second time.”

Later, Elhanan and Aramin became active in Parents Circle – an organisation for bereaved Israelis and Palestinians – and they began speaking to Israeli, Palestinian and international audiences about their experiences.

The relationship between Israelis and Palestinians is “not normal”, Aramin told The AJN.

“We just hate each other and we see each other as enemies,” he said.

But Aramin’s perspective – and his life path – changed when he watched Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

“It’s very difficult to recognise that your enemy is suffering,” Aramin said.

“You don’t want to know, because you are suffering from him, so you don’t want to know his suffering. So it took me many years, until I did my Masters degree in Holocaust Studies at Bradford University in 2010 and 2011. It’s not to become an academic or a professional student, only for myself.”

Elhanan, who is the son of a Holocaust survivor, said he knew nothing about the other side of the conflict until he was 47 and had his first real conversations with Palestinians.

“Suddenly I understood that they are people like me and they are not terrorists,” Elhanan said.

“They are not transparent – They have a story and they have a narrative.”

Both Elhanan and Aramin have faith that, through dialogue, peace between their communities is achievable.

“Combatants for Peace is very important to raise the flag of dialogue and moving beyond dialogue to take action,” Aramin said.

“We cannot continue living like this. We cannot continue living under the Israeli occupation and we cannot continue killing each other and fighting each other.”

Elhanan and Aramin are in Australia for two weeks, their tour sponsored by Plus61J Media, and their message to their audiences will be for them to simply be “pro-peace”.

“We don’t want people to be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian,” Elhanan said.

“We don’t need people to import our conflict to their society, you already have problems of your own. We demand of you to be pro-peace, to be against injustice, and against this situation in which one people is dominating the other. It must be changed, it can be changed. This is the essence of the conflict.”

Elhanan and Aramin will be at the Sydney Jewish Writers Festival on Sunday, May 21. Book:

Melbourne Jewish Book week and King David School are hosting a joint event with Elhanan and Aramin on Wednesday, May 24. Book:



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