National Press Club

Two former Israeli, Palestinian enemies tell how they became 'brothers' for peace

February 25, 2013 | By Robert Webb |

Two men who fought on opposite sides of the Israel-Palestinian conflict described at a Feb. 25 National Press Club Newsmaker press conference how, after each lost a daughter in the fighting, they decided to put down their arms and work for peace.

Bassam Aramin, the former Palestinian combatant, and Rami Elhanan, a former Israeli soldier, criticized what they said is the failure by the American press to cover Israeli-Palestinian news -- particularly positive news such as their transformation from warriors to peacemakers.

Arami spent seven years in Israeli prisons for tossing stones and hand grenades at Israelis when he was a teenager. When released he founded the organization Combatants for Peace with other Israeli and Palestinian combatants. A year later his 10-year-old daughter was killed by an Israeli army policeman.

Elhanan's daughter was killed by a suicide bomber while walking to school.

Both men indicated the killings of their daughters strengthened their resolve to work for peace.

Arami and Elhanan pleaded for stronger U.S. press coverage of positive news in a part of the world they said could blow up at any time. “We’re on a volcano,” Elhanan said.

Elhanan recalled how when as a fighter he "looked into the eyes of his adversary, it wasn't a matter of who was right or wrong ... children die on both sides."

He and Aramin now regard each other as brothers, he said. “It is very difficult to create more bridges between Palestinians and Israelis, but we meet each other as partners."

Both men said they are working with both Israeli and Palestinian schools in an effort to end the terrible atmosphere in which young people on both sides have to grow up.

When asked whether they get any support for peace-making from their politicians, Elhanan replied, 'No -- zero.'' But Aramin said, "We need the politicians to support us, and we have good relations among the Palestinians."

Arami and Elhanan were joined at the Newsmaker by Shelley Hermon, an Isaeli-born filmmaker who produced a documentary on the two former fighters, and Patricia Smith Melton, founder of U.S.-based Peace X Peace aimed at enlisting women globally as peacemakers.

Hermon's documentary on Arami and Elhanan was shown on Capitol Hill on Feb. 25.

Melton released a paper saying that Peace X Peace was founded in 2002 “as the first social network connecting women to women for conversations about all aspects of peace building; the non-profit has evolved into an e-media forum and international mentorship program augmenting women's voices globally to build cultures of peace." Although the organization focuses on women, men may also join.