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Two weeks, two fathers and one united message for peace

Sharon Berger
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Australia tour reaches over 2600 people

Published: 9 June 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Catch up with the full reports and audio from the powerful peacebuilding tour by two bereaved fathers Israeli Rami Elhanan and Palestinian Bassam Aramin.

During two weeks on the ground in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin managed to touch the hearts of more than 2600 people, often bringing audiences to tears.

They spoke to school children from six Jewish day schools, young adults from youth movements, university students and staff, at sold-out public events in all three cities and at meetings with politicians from the Liberal, Labor and Greens parties.

For those who missed out, a recording of Rami and Bassam at Melbourne's Wheeler Centre is available to watch until 18 June for $10.

Rami is a Jewish Israeli who lost his daughter Smadar, aged 14, in a Palestinian suicide bombing. Bassam is Palestinian, and his daughter Abir was killed, aged 10, by an Israeli border police officer.  

The Jewish Independent brought the pair to Australia to share their message of peace and resilience, despite deep loss.

Jewish youth from across Sydney hear peacebuilders' optimistic message of hope

On the first day of their visit, Rami and Bassam shared the stories of the untimely deaths of their respective daughters with media and students at ABC News, SBS, Moriah College, AUJS and youth movement leaders in Sydney. Their focus was the need for both sides to change their attitude to violence.

The Jewish Independent

Bringing Muslims and Jews together

One of the most important messages they shared, especially with audiences who wanted to know how they can make a difference was: “We don't want you to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian but we demand that you are pro-peace and against injustice.”

The exceptional friendship between Rami and Bassam inspired Sydney Jews and Muslims to meet and get to know each other better, after hearing this powerful story.

The Jewish Independent

‘Don’t remember our names, just remember our stories’

A full-house at ARA Darling Theatre in Sydney heard Rami and Bassam in intimate conversation with Michaela Kalowski about loss and listening.

“I have a feeling that every time I tell my story that Smadar is standing at my back, pushing me forward. This is a way to give meaning to a meaningless killing of an innocent child,” Rami said.

“Time does not heal anything. This is a burden you have to carry. It’s 59 seconds out of every minute. You go to sleep with it, you wake up with it. You can use the energy to bring darkness and destruction, or you can use it to bring light and hope, and this is the essence of what we are doing.”

“Our message is for everyone,” Bassam added. “We can look at our pain in a different way. When you decide to give up your victim mentality, when you decide to make peace with yourself, you have no enemies. But the struggle continues because you live under the same conditions, the difference is that you are more determined … I don’t want my kids to grow up as victims.”

Screening of The Narrow Bridge at Ritz Cinema, Randwick.
Screening of The Narrow Bridge at Ritz Cinema, Randwick.

Viewers moved at screening of The Narrow Bridge 

Esther Takac's film The Narrow Bridge follows the courageous stories of four members of the Parents Circle Families Forum, including Rami and Bassam. After the film screening in Sydney, the audience enjoyed a vibrant discussion with Rami and Bassam, moderated by Jo Kalowski. 

Rami and Bassam also spoke to students at Emanuel School and Moriah College earlier in the day, fielding robust questions from the audience.

Peacebuilders message resonates with interfaith audiences

An interfaith event brought Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Indigenous leaders together to hear Rami and Bassam’s powerful story. They were interviewed for ABC radio, and spoke with students at Masada College.

Sold out session in Canberra

After speaking at Emanuel Synagogue, Rami and Bassam then headed to Canberra where they spoke to a capacity crowd at the Australian National University, in a session organised by the Freilich Project for the Study of Bigotry, the Centre for Arab & Islamic Studies and the Research School of Social Sciences.

The Jewish Independent

Campaigning in the Capital

In Canberra, Rami and Bassam met separately with Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham and Greens Senator David Shoebridge. They shared their stories and emphasised the important work of the Parents Circle Families Forum. Organisations like the Parents Circle work tirelessly with Israelis and Palestinians to prepare the ground for any future peace agreement.

They also made a short stop at the National Museum of Australia to learn more about First Nations peoples, history and culture, ahead of Australia's National Reconciliation Week.

Tears, questions and the need for change

Another whirlwind day began for Rami and Bassam as they kicked off the Melbourne leg of their tour. They spoke to students about the Arab-Israeli conflict at Monash University, and then with Years 11 and 12 students at King David School. Both sessions ran overtime from the deluge of questions fielded from students.

Continuing their political engagement, the pair held a joint Zoom call with Jewish Greens, the Australian Jewish Democratic Society and Multicultural Greens from across the country.

Australians embrace message of hope and reconciliation

After a sold out screening of The Narrow Bridge at the Classic Cinema in Elsternwick you could hear a pin drop while Rami and Bassam spoke with film director Esther Takac and moderator Julie Szego about choosing to talk rather than continue the endless cycles of violence.

In the evening they also spoke to students from the University of Melbourne AUJS as well as a brunch for The Jewish Independent supporters and writers. Bassam shared his story of becoming a peace activist and the need to resolve conflict through non-violent means.

“Our blood is exactly the same colour, our pain is exactly the same. Our tears are just as bitter. If we who have paid the highest price, we who have every reason on earth to want to kill each other, if we can call each other brother, anyone can. Everyone should,” said Rami.

The Jewish Independent

Wheeler Centre audience inspired by message of friendship and hope

In conversation with Rami and Bassam at the Wheeler Centre, writer and broadcaster Sally Warhaft deftly explored how their daughters' tragic deaths have inspired them to work relentlessly towards a legacy of peace and change in what seems like a never-ending conflict.

Besides the Wheeler Centre event they met with Dr Monique Ryan MP in the morning, did an ABC radio interview with Josh Szeps.

They also spoke to high school students at Mt Scopus. Bassam shared with the students one of the profound messages which is at the core of what they have been saying throughout their stay in Australia. “What Israelis want is security after 3000 years of victimhood. What Palestinians want is freedom. Israel will never be secure until there is freedom for the Palestinians. There will be no freedom for the Palestinians until there is security for Israelis.”

Students hear Rami and Bassam's message of hope

Their final day in Melbourne included speaking to Years 8-10 at Bialik College followed by a meeting at the Victorian Parliament House with the Liberal member for Caulfield David Southwick and the Labor member for Box Hill Paul Hamer, the two leaders of Victoria’s Parliamentary Friends of Israel.

About the author

Sharon Berger

Sharon Berger is the Events & Partnerships Manager at TJI. Sharon is a former journalist for The Jerusalem Post, Reuters, the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Australian Jewish News.

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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