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War and Peace: The Last Men Standing West Asia
WHO/UN: Missile strikes have caused widespread destruction in Gaza.

War and Peace: The Last Men Standing

India Blooms News Service | @indiablooms | 08 Dec 2023, 05:16 pm

Even as violence permeates West Asia, there are voices of reason by people across the Palestine-Israel divide calling for peace and understanding, Ranjita Biswas writes

And I said to myself: That’s true, hope needs to be
like barbed wire to keep out despair,
hope must be a mine field.”
Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (born in Germany: 1924-2000)

As the Palestine-Israel war continues into the second month, these stark lines about hope come to mind. The pain of unimaginable misery to the civil population, on both sides of the border, hits the gut even though one is thousands of miles away from the devastated landscape. People pray for peace desperately. But each bout of bombings, each uncertainty in the hostage crisis, is bound to create only despair for people on the street. Where would it lead to? Does peace have a chance to survive beyond ‘the barbed wire’?

That’s when you remember Bassam Aramin of Palestine and Rami Elhanan of Israel. Together, both bereaved fathers, co-founded the ‘Parents Circle- Families Forum’,  a joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation, in 1995, with more than 600 families, all of whom have lost an immediate family member to conflict in the region going off and on over years. Both live in Jerusalem with their families.

Bassam Aramin’s daughter Abir was 10 when she was shot in the head with a plastic bullet by a young Israeli member of the border police outside her school on the West Bank; Rami Elhanan’s daughter Smadar was 14 when she was killed in a suicide bombing when she was out with her friends after school shopping on a busy street.

Grief at their loss, and realising slowly the futility of the circle of violence brought the two opponents together to the same platform.  In their youth, they too were part of the violence that has wrapped around the small strip of land on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Bassam Aramin himself served seven years in jail for throwing a hand-grenade at a group of Israelis; Rami Elhanan was a soldier in the Israeli army. Two unlikely friends indeed.

Best- selling author Column McCann has written the novel Apeirogon (2020) fictionalising their lives, but with all the facts intact. Apeirogon - ‘a shape with a countably infinite number of sides’.  As McCann writes in the ‘Author’s Note’: “Readers familiar with the political situation in Israel and Palestine will notice that the driving forces in the heart of this book, Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan, are real.  By ‘real’ I mean that their stories…have been well-documented in film and print…We live our lives, suggested Rilke, in widening circles that reach out across the entire expanse.”

“Smadar. From the  Song of Solomon. The grapevine. The opening  of the flower.”

“Abir. From the ancient Arabic. The perfume. The fragrance  of the flower.”

Innocent children, still to bloom into youth, taken away before their time. But also a catalyst to help two men on opposite spectrums become the best of friends and fight together for understanding and peace.

Australian psychologist Esther Takac has made a documentary titled The Narrow Bridge on Aramin and Elhanan, exposing their sorrow and trauma and the healing process. Two other grieving family members, working to turn the pain of their personal tragedies into a grassroots peace movement are featured in the film too.

Bringing into context the current conflict CNN’s Kim Brunhuber interviewed Aramin and Elhanan recently. Both emphasised,  “the need to sit down and talk” to find an end to the “cycle of violence.”

‘Revenge only escalates this cycle,’ Elhanan reiterated.

‘As a bereaved father I can only appeal to [the powers that be] to give the kids a chance.’ Aramin said.

On the Home page of the ‘Parents Circle- Families Forum’, they say: ‘We express our heartfelt condemnation of the ongoing violence of the region. The relentless cycle of conflict has inflicted immeasurable pain and suffering on innocent lives. It is a time of great sorrow, knowing that countless families now bear the burden of emptiness in their hearts and the heavy weight of grief due to the tragic loss of their loved ones.’

‘While words alone cannot mend the wounds or bring back the lives lost, they can serve as a reminder of our collective responsibility to end this cycle of violence. It is incumbent upon us to work tirelessly towards a future where the people of this region can live without fear, where children can grow up in safety, and where the seeds of hope can flourish.’

A  voice of sanity in this madness in the war-torn region indeed.

Pax Christi International has chosen the Parents Circle- Families Forum as recipient of the 2023 Pax Christi International Peace Award. Hopefully, the award ceremony will be held in the Holy Land, as soon as the conditions allow in 2024.

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