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These enemies each lost a daughter to war … and became friends

Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin, Israeli and Palestinian dads and peace activists who met Pope Francis before the general audience on March 27, 2024.

Isabella H. de Carvalho / I.MEDIA

Rami Elhanan (left) and Bassam Aramin (right)

I.Media - published on 03/28/24

An interview with two fathers, a Palestinian and an Israeli, who both lost daughters in the conflict in the Holy Land, were able to meet the Pope.

On September 4, 1997, an Israeli father, Rami Elhanan, lost his daughter Smadar in a Palestinian suicide bombing. On January 16, 2007, a Palestinian father, Bassam Aramin lost his daughter, Abir, when she was killed by an Israeli soldier as she left school.

These two tragedies brought the two parents together and they have now become advocates for peace in the Holy Land with the association “The Parents Circle.”

Their story was told in the book Apeirogon by Irish-American writer Colum McCann, who met Pope Francis during a meeting with artists on June 23, 2023.

In turn, the two fathers – who were visiting Italy this week – were able to meet the Pontiff on March 27. Francis praised their commitment during the general audience, saying that “they do not look at the enmity of war, but they look at the friendship of two men who care for each other and have gone through the same crucifixion.” 

I.MEDIA spoke to the two fathers after the general audience. 

Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin, Israeli and Palestinian dads and peace activists, meet Pope Francis before the general audience on March 27, 2024.

You met the Pope on March 27, what did he say to you? 

Rami Elhanan: We met him before the general audience.It was the most amazing and exciting meeting that we have had in our entire lives. I am 74 years old and I have never had such a meeting. He was warm, compassionate, fatherly, and it really touched our hearts. We showed him the picture of our girls; he almost cried. It was a very human meeting.

What do you think about the Pope’s words on the conflict in the Holy Land? What impact have they had ?

Bassam Aramin: In fact, it is very important, it is very brave. He is a leader. Sometimes we expect more because what is going on there is a genocide, it is a mass killing, it is a massacre, people are dying there. We ask him to pray for us, for peace in the Middle East, for freedom and to have this ceasefire right now.

His words are very important and I hope they will touch millions of people to raise up their voice against violence in general.

Rami Elhanan: The Pope has influence, he is like a father to millions and billions of children and they look up to him, they admire and listen to him, and children should listen to their father. These atrocities that are taking place in Gaza, and the Middle East in general, must have a voice that says stop it, that this doesn’t go anywhere, that violence brings more violence. We always say that the Hamas fighters who did the massacre on October 7 were 10- and 12-year-old children in 2014 when the Israelis hit Gaza. 

Where will the next October 7 be? What will happen to the relatives of around 40,000 people who were killed? We need someone to say “stop it,” “stop it and change the music,” “change the thinking.” Violence brings more violence, we need to stop it, we need to restart, we need to redefine the reasons that we are willing to kill and die for.

Most of all we need to respect each other. Without respect nothing will happen. You have to be able to respect the guy next to you exactly as you want to be respected, no more and no less, and then start this journey towards peace and a reconciliation process.

It happens anywhere in the world, there are many places where ethnicities live together, in Belgium and the United States, or wherever you look. You don’t have to kill each other. You have to give up the victimhood mentality, stop looking back and digging into your wounds. You have to get rid of the superiority complex, the Jewish superiority complex, and you have to look at your fellow people as equal. 

Has your mission become more important since October 7? 

Bassam Aramin: It has absolutely become more crucial. We said we need to double our efforts to prove that our call for peace and to not kill each other is the right thing to do. Especially now, because we can see that there will be more hatred and more revenge to prepare another October 7. If we don’t make peace and stop this massacre right now and recognize we are going to live together, as Rami said, we will share the same land as two big graves. There is no peace without justice and we need to have peace.

Our friendship is more important now than any time before, especially in this madness and bloodshed, to prove that we continue to believe that we are brothers. This is our faith, it is up to us to change anytime, but we always say that when we talk we remind ourselves that we are human beings. 

If we don’t make peace and stop this massacre right now and recognize we are going to live together, as Rami said, we will share the same land as two big graves. 

Could you tell me more about how your respective losses brought you both together ? 

Rami Elhanan: We met each other in 2005 [eight years after the death of his daughter in a suicide bombing]. My son Elik, who is today a professor at New York University, was back then a combat soldier in the Israeli army and he became a “refusenik,” he refused to serve in the occupied territories. He and other Israelis and Palestinians created a movement called “Combatants for peace.” 

Bassan was in a meeting and I wanted to see this miracle of ex-Israeli war criminals and ex-Palestinian terrorists getting together and making peace. So we met then. He always says, and he is right, that I fell in love with him. The families got together, and we became very close. They came to our house and we went to their house.

Then on January 16, 2007, his daughter was shot by an Israeli police officer. Me and my wife immediately went to the hospital and we sat by her bed for two days. When she passed away for me it was like losing my daughter for the second time.

This created an alliance, a blood alliance, a treaty we can share. We feel each other, we don’t need words to understand each other, we look in each other’s eyes and we feel each other’s pain. This is the basic element of a friendship that is highly above the conflict. It is the most powerful connection between human beings possible.

Bassam Aramin: Whatever happens we will never be separated, we have our own state, we respect each other, we live in peace with each other. This is what we want to say, that we can be friends, we can be brothers, we can be real partners for peace and we can live in peace each side in his own or even together. 

Holy LandIsraelPalestinePope FrancisVaticanWar
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