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Rami and Bassam: ‘It’s a competition of victimhood … no-one will win’

Ittay Flescher
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Rami and Bassam: ‘It’s a competition of victimhood … no-one will win’

Published: 24 October 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

The Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders tell ITTAY FLESCHER the war has only reaffirmed their beliefs that the Middle East must move beyond an eye for an eye.

In a moving call for peace last week, Kooyong MP Monique Ryan shared how touched she was by an encounter with two brave peacemakers.

Rising to speak before federal parliament, she said: “Earlier this year I met with Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan when they came to Melbourne. These two inspirational men have both lost children to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One is Muslim, one is Jewish. Together, united by grief, they were travelling the world advocating for peace. They said: “We cannot keep living like this … we cannot continue killing each other and fighting each other.”

At a time when there are countless stories from people on what remains of the Israeli left questioning their beliefs about peace, the first question I asked Rami when I interviewed him for The Jewish Independent in the wake of October 7 was whether the events of that day made him reassess his thinking about the possibility of co-existence. “Not for a single second,” he answered, “If anything, it even strengthened my belief that we must find a way to share this land, or we will continue to share graveyards.”

I asked Bassam the same question. He gave the same answer without hesitation.

"It strengthened my belief that we must find a way to share this land, or we will continue to share graveyards."

Rami Elhanan

Rami woke up in his Kiryat Yam home on October 7 glued to his phone, as was the rest of the country, but for him this wasn’t just another news story. His wife Nurit’s family lived in Kibbutz Be’eri, which borders the Gaza Strip. Together they were receiving a live transmission from the kibbutz of the horror that unfolded. Sounds of shooting, hearing their family speak from their safe room as gunmen prowled around their home. It was a terrible experience, for everyone.

This week, Rami and Nurit visited their family who, thankfully, survived. They are currently holed up in a Dead Sea hotel, together with thousands of other survivors of the kibbutzim in the south. 

Tragically, 108 members of Kibbutz Be'eri were brutally murdered that morning, while many other members are still missing or have been kidnapped and taken hostage to Gaza.

Bassam woke up at around 9am on the morning of October 7 in his Jericho home. As soon as he turned on the TV, he felt like he was watching another September 11. The first person he called to check on was his dear friend, Rami.

"We as Muslims must care about religion more than nationalism. Those who kill babies are choosing a special place in hell."

Bassam Aramin

He felt angry when he read that infants had been killed. “This is against the Koran,” he said. “This doesn’t work; we as Muslims must care about our religion more than nationalism. Those who kill babies are choosing a special place in hell.”

While Bassam wasn’t surprised by the attack, having felt for a long time that something of this nature could blow up if the occupation wasn’t ended, he was still shocked by the intensity of the violence against innocent Israelis.

Asked what he would say to the terrorists who carried out the attack, Bassam said, “I would tell Hamas that even if they beat women and children, they are not our example. We should not do to them what they did to us. We will just face more violence, brutality and revenge. No-one will win this war. I am against harm to any civilian.”

Bassam also revealed that their situation in Jericho has been frightening since October 7. He and his wife do not leave the house after dark. His fear was especially heightened after his 26-year-old neighbour went out at night to buy something from a supermarket, where IDF troops shot him in the head and his brother in the leg, despite there being no curfew at the time.

Rami and Bassam addressing students at Bialik College in May
Rami and Bassam addressing students at Bialik College in May

Despite the Palestinian city being in Area A, Israeli forces have been entering every night, with several Palestinians killed in clashes with IDF troops.

UN monitors said the first week of the conflict with Gaza was the deadliest week for Palestinians in the West Bank since at least 2005, with 81 Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli troops, arrest raids and attacks by Jewish settlers, according to the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry.

Regarding the fighting between Israel and Hamas, Bassam said that all the violence around him has only made him more determined to raise his voice in opposition to every drop of blood that is spilled.

Referring to the many Jewish fears of what may happen if Israel doesn’t win this military conflict, Bassam said: “I know why you are scared and why you feel the need to fight. I also know you will continue to be scared until my people have security. To overcome your fear, you must release me from your jail.

“If Palestinians have equal rights in their own country, I promise you all the fighting will end tomorrow. And after there is peace, the long process of reconciliation will need to begin.”

Reflecting on his time in Australia, Bassam shared that he was very moved to be invited to Zionist schools, where in some cases he was the first Palestinian that students ever met in person.

Asked what he would say to those students today, he said that he wanted them to know that this is a very difficult time for all Palestinians and Israelis, and that taking revenge is not the solution, because when we take revenge we only lose more.

“I feel for all the bereaved parents who will never meet their loved ones again, and I hope that after today all Jews and Muslims across Australia will come together to raise the flag of peace and justice for all of us.”

Rami echoed a similar narrative, saying while he has no sympathy for Hamas, who are the killers of his daughter, “You cannot hold two million people in a boiling pot of water and expect nothing to happen,” adding that “we are living in a competition of victimhood, blinded by the reality where our feelings overcome our rational senses. Diving into a sea of blood is not the answer.”

When asked what he felt the alternative was, he said that like a computer that constantly malfunctions, Israel and Palestine need a restart. “Perhaps I am naïve, but I believe in the spirit of human people, and that when they have peace, they will have no need to resort to violence. Someone who has something to lose will not kill for the sake of killing. To get to that point, if I had to put it in one word, the most essential thing we need is 'respect'.”

’The entire country is in post-traumatic disorder’: Etgar Keret, Israel’s bard, on life after (Forward)
WATCH: Mandy Patinkin on war, peace, and playing Tevye — in Hebrew.

Picking up the pieces of our grief (972)
As Israelis and Palestinians retreat inward, it is extremely difficult for those of us who are trying to hold both peoples’ pain. But we must try.

Photo: Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin speaking at a The Jewish Independent event in May (Daniel Katz)

About the author

Ittay Flescher

Ittay Flescher is the Jerusalem Correspondent for The Jewish Independent. For over twenty years, he has worked as an educator, journalist, and peacebuilder in Melbourne and Jerusalem. He is the co-host of the podcast ‘From the Yarra River and the Mediterranean Sea' and the author of the upcoming book ‘The Holy and the Broken.’ He is also the Education Director at a youth movement that brings together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers who believe in building equality, justice, and peace for all.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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