Photography by Brian Moody
Ghazi Briegeith, a Palestinian electrician living in Hebron, and Rami Elhanan, an Israeli graphic designer from Jerusalem, met through The Parents Circle – a group of bereaved families supporting reconciliation and peace. Ghazi’s brother was killed at a checkpoint in 2000. Rami’s 14-year-old daughter was the victim of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 1997.
I was on my way to the airport when my wife called and told me Smadar was missing. When something like this happens a cold hand grabs your heart. You rush between friends’ houses and hospitals, then eventually you find yourself in the morgue and you see a sight you’ll never forget for the rest of your life. From that moment you are a new person. Everything is different.
At first I was tormented with anger and grief; I wanted revenge, to get even. But we are people – not animals! I asked myself, “Will killing someone else release my pain?” Of course not. It was clear to my wife and I that the blame rests with the occupation. The suicide bomber was a victim just like my daughter, grown crazy out of anger and shame.
I don’t forgive and I don’t forget, but when this happened to my daughter I had to ask myself whether I’d contributed in any way. The answer was that I had – my people had, for ruling, dominating and oppressing three-and-a-half million Palestinians for 35 years. It is a sin and you pay for sins.
At first I foolishly thought I could just go back to work and resume my life, but the pain was unbearable. Then, a year later, I met Ytzhak Frankenthal, the founder of the Parents’ Circle. He was wearing a ‘kippah’ on his head, and immediately I stereotyped him as an ‘Arab eater’. Even when he told me his personal story, and about the reconciliation work of Parents’ Circle, I was very cynical.
He invited me to a meeting, and reluctantly I went along, just to take a look. I saw buses full of people, among them legends – parents who had lost kids in wars and who still wanted peace. I saw an Arab lady in a long black dress. On her chest was a picture of a six-year-old kid. A singer sang in Hebrew and Arabic, and suddenly I was hit by lightening. I can’t explain it, but from that moment I had a reason to get up in the morning again.
Since then my work with the Parents’ Circle has become the centre of my life, a sacred mission. If we – Ghazi and I – can talk and stand together after paying the highest price possible, then anyone can. There is a high wall between our two nations, a wall of hate and fear. Someone needs to put cracks in the wall in order for it to fall down.
You need a ticket to belong to the Parents’ Circle – the ticket is to have lost a member of your close family. This means Rami and I are brothers of pain.
My own brother was killed in 2000 at the beginning of the Intifada. I’d been with him just minutes before he died. As I was walking home I heard a shot. I found out later he’d been stopped and searched at the checkpoint. When he protested, the soldier shouted, “Shut your mouth, or I’ll shoot you, you son of a bitch,” to which my brother replied: “YOU son of a bitch!” So the soldier shot him. It was a machine gun in a kid’s hand. Sometimes the power makes them mad.
At first I was completely out of my mind – crazy with grief. There should be no forgiveness for the killers of innocents, and yet even then I saw the soldier as a victim of the occupation just as my brother was, just as I am still. But forgiveness is a very personal thing. Even if I choose to forgive the person who killed my brother, I can’t force my brother’s kids to forgive. But I can show them that far more valuable than a violent response, is opening your heart to reconciliation and peace. I can show them that opening a new page is their only hope of living a better life than ours.
The Palestinians have nothing left to lose, so the Israelis must realise that they are destroying their own nation by causing so much suffering. You don’t need to love each other to build a bridge between the two nations: you need respect. If I can stand with my Jewish brother Rami, respecting him as he respects me, then there is hope.