Imagine losing dear, tender teenage daughters in violence and still seeking not revenge but fighting for a new society built on justice and seeking peace. It was inspiring to listen to two peace activists, an Israeli and a Palestinian , in Mumbai last Sunday talk about how they have come to terms with their personal grief.
Rami Elhanan’s daughter Smaddar, 13, was killed in a suicide attack in Jerusalem in 1997 while Palestinian Bassam Aramin’s daughter Abir, 10, was gunned down by an Israeli soldier outside her school in 2007.
Both Rami and Bassam are now close friends and are leading activists working for the group Combatans for Peace which brings together Israelies and Palestinians. The two actively campaign for peace, address meetings of school and college students and others.
The Mumbai meeting was held at Sarvodaya Mandal at Grant Road with the initiative of activists including Ashok Rajwade, an IIT-trained engineer who is in close touch with peace activists in Israel. Rajwade has been doing this out of sheer commitment for the cause. He has written various articles on the situation in West Asia and he also closely follows liberation movements in Latin America.
Rami’s wife Nurit is Rajwade’s facebook friend since long and their communication helped him to organize the meeting.
Nurit who lost her daughter in the terrorist attack is more militant as a peace activist than her husband. She delivered a stinging attack on imperialism when invited to speak before the European Parliament in 2009.
Some of her statements are worth quoting here.
`Islam in itself, like Judaism in itself and Christianity in itself, is not a threat to me or to anyone. American imperialism is, European indifference and co-operation is and Israeli racism and its cruel regime of occupation is. It is racism, educational propaganda and inculcated xenophobia that convince Israeli soldiers to order Palestinian women at gun point to strip in front of their children for security reasons.
But I am a victim of violence against women insofar as violence against children is actually violence against mothers. Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghan women are my sisters because we are all at the grip of the same unscrupulous criminals who call themselves leaders of the free enlightened world and in the name of this freedom and enlightenment rob us of our children.’.
Her husband Rami spoke at the Mumbai meeting about the struggle for peace in Israel and the interesting background of his wife’s family. Her father Mattiyahu Peled was was a General in the Israeli army and played a major role in the 1967 war and later became a radical peace activist.
He headed the Arabic language department at Ttel Aviv university and got a Ph.d on the writing of Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian Nobel prize winner, at the university of California LA.
He was the governor of Gaza and his funeral in 1995 was attended by thousands with a seven-day mourning.
His son Miko wrote a book called the General’s Son. His sister Nurit is a professor of language and education at Hebrew university and winner of the Sakharov prize from the European union. She has written a book criticizing the bias in Israeli text books against the Palestinians.
So, there are so many common factors between Israel and India, both face the problem of trumped up , false patriotism and biased text books and war mongering, racism, communalism. In both peace-loving democratic activists are dubbed anti-national.
Rami said he was ashamed of being an Israeli. It was a sick society, driven by fear. I am a Jew and people in Israel carry the victimhood mentality, it is in their blood, he says pointing to veins in his arms as a symbolic gesture.
He gives lectures in Israeli schools but going there is like walking into a volcano, there is so much angry reaction to peace efforts. He does not expect miracles to take place. It is a long struggle towards peace, even if one person listens , we are happy. Such is life.
Palestinian Bassam spoke of his transition from being a militant. He spent 7 years in jail where he became a pacifist. He studied Hebrew. Earlier he had thought Jews deserved persecution by Hitler but when he came to know the truth, his views changed. His son wanted to take revenge for his sister’s murder by the Israeli army but he succeeded in bringing him to the path of peace.
Both the speakers made grateful references to Mahatma Gandhi’s path of non-violence. The meeting was also important in the context of the current discussion on the treatment of Muslims in India arising out of the writing of Ram Guha and Harsh Mander. And also the moving observation of Imam Rashidi of Asansol who said revenge was no way to react when he held the body of his son, a victim of communal violence.
As the Israeli and Palestinian experience shows resistance has to be there but it needs to be peaceful . That needs more strength.
Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist