Rami, the son of a Holocaust survivor grew up in Jerusalem and began his adult life as a soldier like every other Israeli man. In 1973 he was a young reserve soldier amidst a terrible war. They set out with 11 tanks and ended with only 3. He lost some of his very best friends and came out a beaten, angry, embittered and cynical man. After establishing a career and family, on Yom Kippur evening 1983, a sweet baby girl was born; ‘Smadar’. Rami, his wife, three sons and Smadar, lived happily in a bubble, until the 4th September 1997, when the bubble smashed into a million pieces. Smadar and her friends went to Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem to buy books. There, they met their death, killed by two Palestinian suicide bombers who murdered 5 people that day, among them three little girls aged 14.
The funeral was held in Kibbutz Nachshon, on the way to Jerusalem. Smadar was buried next to her late grandfather General Prof. Matti Peled, the Peace Fighter. The fact that the granddaughter of this great man was murdered, drew huge attention in Israel and abroad and the mourners included; Jews, Arabs, left-wingers, right-wingers, religious and secular people, from the representatives of the settlers in the Occupied Territories to the personal representatives of chairman Yasser Arafat. Rami was suddenly faced with the choice; what’s next? Where do you go from here? Where do you direct this new and intolerable ache? What do you do with the rest of your life when suddenly you have become a completely different person, and all your previous priorities have dissipated?
Rami chose to go against the obvious and instinctive response; the urge for revenge that is stronger than death. He chose to direct the pain and bereavement to try and prevent further bereavement. He was approached by Yitzchak Frankenthal who formed the organisation the ‘Parent’s circle – family Forum’ consisting of people who lost children in the conflict but nevertheless want Peace… Rami attended a meeting of the group and his world turned upside down. As he describes: ‘I saw bereaved Palestinian families: men, women and children, coming towards me, greeting me, hugging me and crying with me… From that day on I got my reason to get out of bed in the morning. Since then, I have dedicated my life to go from person to person, from ear to ear and shout in a loud voice: This is not our destiny! Nowhere is it written that we must continue dying and sacrificing our children forever and ever. We can-and must-stop this crazy vicious circle of violence, murder and retaliation. With no winners and only with losers! If we, who have paid the highest price possible, can carry on a dialog, then so can anyone!
Bassam grew up in the ancient city of Hebron. As a child he never felt safe and at the age of 12 witnessed a boy being shot by a soldier and dying in front of his eyes, at a demonstration. From that moment he developed a deep need for revenge. He joined a group who called themselves freedom fighters, whom others in the outside world termed terrorists. It began with the throwing of stones and empty bottles, but then they found discarded hand-grenades in a cave and hurled them at Israeli jeeps. Two of them exploded. No one was injured but they were caught, and in 1985, at the age of 17, Bassam received a seven-year prison sentence.
During his time serving, there was a film about the Holocaust. Bassam sat to watch it, to witness how his enemies were killed, but minutes into the movie, found himself crying, horrified by the sight of Jews being herded into gas chambers. It was the first time he realised the suffering of the Jewish people and experienced empathy and identification. He began to consider whether the Israeli oppression was partly because of the Holocaust, and decided to try and understand who the Jews really were. He began a conversation with a prison guard who was a settler himself and considered all prisoners as terrorists. It was the start of a dialogue and a friendship and from that point on Bassam realised that transformations can happen through dialogue, without force. That the only way to peace was through non-violence.
Shortly after Bassam was released and after building a life and family for himself in Anata on the East of Jerusalem, he co-founded in 2005 ‘Combatants for Peace’. An organisation of former Israeli and Palestinian combatants who shot, bombed, tortured and killed, in the belief that this was the only way to serve their people. It began as secret meetings of true enemies and evolved into a movement of individuals who felt a responsibility for each other’s people, leading to a non-violent struggle against the occupation and towards a two state solution.
On the 16th of January 2007, Bassam was struck with a heavy tragedy. His 10-year-old daughter, Abir, was shot in the head with a rubber bullet by an Israeli soldier while standing outside her school and died 2 days later. There was no violent clash or stone throwing, no apparent reason for the incident. Bassam opened a Civil Case against the State of Israel and another Criminal Case against the soldier. In 2011 he won the Civil case, the first time in Israeli history that a Palestinian case won. However he lost the Criminal case, which he is currently pursuing further. As Bassam says “Abir’s murder could have led me down the easy path of hatred and vengeance, but for me there was no return from dialogue and non-violence. After all, it was one Israeli soldier who shot my daughter, but one hundred former Israeli soldiers who built a garden in her name at the school where she was murdered”.