Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin belong to an organisation that most people want to avoid joining. Rami, an Israeli who lives in Jerusalem, was a soldier in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and is a graphic designer. Bassam is a Palestinian academic who grew up in Hebron and lives in Jericho: he spent seven years of his life in an Israeli prison. Both men lost young children to the violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Rami’s daughter Smadar was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber in 1997, and Bassam’s daughter Abir by Israeli border police ten years later. The Parents Circle is an organisation of the bereaved from both sides of the divide in the deeply troubled politics of this land.
Bassam and Rami – self-proclaimed brothers – spoke to an enthralled audience of about 90 in the RSSS Auditorium at the Australian National University on the evening of Monday 22 May. Each told his story, and that of his family, and, each offered a vision of what a road to peace might look like in a troubled country – not by endorsing this or that ‘political’ solution, but by offering a model of community, conversation and compassion. Theirs is more than a path of non-violence. It is a celebration of human connection born in grief and cultivated in fellowship.
Dr Melissa Lovell of the Freilich Project for the Study of Bigotry introduced the speakers and, following a thoughtful question and answer session, Professor Kim Rubenstein of the University of Canberra and the Australian National University proposed the vote of thanks. Rami and Bassam’s global fame comes in part from Colum McCann’s Booker Prize-winning Apeirogon, which told their story. But there is an intensity that can come only with the direct witnessing of their testimony, and of the many signs of the strong personal bond that they share.
We Need to Talk: Peacebuilders Rami and Bassam in conversation at ANU was presented by Plus 61J Media, in partnership with the Research School of Social Sciences, The Centre of Arab & Islamic Studies, Australian and The Herbert and Valmae Freilich Project for the Study of Bigotry