239: Nov 10, 2020 I feel a tremendous need to share this story of dark into light - Dan Vrooman
Updated: Nov 11
A story of dark into light shared by Dan Vrooman on Tuesday, November 10th 2020:
Dan Vrooman met Rami Elhanan in Palestine in March of 2011 along with Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian who lost his daughter to a bullet in the back of her head. They were telling us their stories on behalf of their daughters and the "Parent's Circle." Dan writes "I feel a tremendous need to share their story of dark into light."
On the fourth of September, 1997, just a few days before Yom Kippur, three suicide bombers blew themselves up in the middle of Ben Yehuda Street in the center of Jerusalem, three bombs one after the other. They killed eight people--themselves and five others, including three little girls. One of these girls was Smadari, the daughter of an elite Israeli family, whose mother was the daughter of General Matti Peled, and father a graphic design artist. It was a Thursday, three o'clock in the afternoon. She was out buying books for school and later she was going to sign up for jazz dance lessons.
The father was driving to Ben Gurion Airport, to pick up his wife, when he heard about the bombings on the radio. The "finger of fate? No way! And then daddy starts to hear nothing and his heart starts to pound. You make a few phone calls and some more. He asks for his girl with each dial, but nobody has heard or seen anything. All they can say is that she was last seen on Yehuda Street. Now he can hear his heart thumping in his ears. He and his wife drive into town as fast as they can, thinking no, it can't be happening this way, no, no, no. The two of them ran in the streets, in and out of shops, the cafe, the ice cream store, trying to find their daughter, their princess--shouting her name. They drive from hospital to hospital, police station to police station, leaning over the desk and pleading.
But they sense by the way the nurses look at them, the way the policeman shake their heads, by the hesitance, the silence that they know but won't admit it. After long hours well into the night, they eventually find themselves in the morgue.
The "finger of fate," is pointing right between their eyes. The morgue staff guided them through and into a room, where they heard the slide of the tray with its metal rollers and rubber wheels. And they saw this sight which they will never be able to forget for the rest of their lives. Their daughter on a steel tray; and they will never be the same.
Her funeral was held in Kibbutz Nachshon, on a green hill on the way to Jerusalem. Smadar was buried next to her grandfather, General Matti Peled, a true fighter for peace [He even came to SF in 1996, I believe, and told the Commonwealth Club to "stop sending military funds to Israel, because she was coming into the grips of corruption as a result.], a professor, a Knesset member.
He was much loved on both sides and people came from everywhere in this mosaic of a country, Jews and Muslims and Christians, representatives from the parliament, representatives of Arafat, from abroad, from everywhere. And then she was buried beside him.
Time doesn't wait for them. They want it to wait, to freeze, to go backwards, to paralyze itself; but Nada. She is gone. Her chair at the table is empty. Her room is empty. Her coat is on the doorknob. They have to make a decision. What are they going to do now, with this new, unbearable burden on their shoulders? What are they going to do with this incredible anger that's eating them alive? What are they going to do with this new you, father and mother without a daughter, this man and woman who you never thought could have existed?
Rami Elhanan, the father from his perspective:
"The first choice is obvious: revenge. When someone kills your daughter, you want to get even. You want to go out and kill an Arab, any Arab, all Arabs, and then you want to try to kill his family and anyone else around him, it's expected, it's demanded. Of course you don't always do this in a real sense, but you do this by asking other people to kill this Arab for you, your politicians, your so-called leaders. You ask them to slam a missile into his house, to poison him, to take his land, to steal his water, to arrest his son, to beat him up at the checkpoints. If you kill one of mine, I will kill ten of yours. And the dead one, naturally has an uncle or a brother or a cousin or a wife who wants to kill you back, and then you want to kill them back again, another ten times over. Revenge. It's the simplest way. And then you get monuments to that revenge, with mourners' tents, songs, placards on the walls, another riot, another checkpoint, another piece of land stolen. A stone leads to a bullet. And another suicide bomber leads to another air strike. And it goes on and on. And on.
Look, I have a bad temper. I know it. I have an ability to blow up. Long ago, i killed people in a war. Distantly, like in a video game. I held a gun. I drove tanks. I fought in three wars. I survived. And the truth is, the awful truth, the Arabs were just a thing to me, remote and abstract and meaningless.
The Palestinians in Jerusalem, well, they mowed the lawns, they collected the garbage, they built the houses, cleared the plates from the table. Like every Israeli, I knew they were there, and I pretended I knew them, even pretended I liked some of them, the safe ones--we talked about them like that, the safe ones, the dangerous ones--and I never would have admitted it, not even to myself, but they might has well been lawnmowers, dish-washing machines, taxis, trucks. They were there to fix our fridges on a Saturday. That was the old joke: every town needed at least one good Arab, how else could you get the fridge fixed on a Saturday? And if they were ever anything other than objects, they were objects to be feared, because, if you didn't fear them then they would become real people.
And we didn't want them to be real people, we couldn't handle that. A real Palestinian was a man on the dark side of the moon. This is my shame. I understand it as my shame. I know that now. I didn't know it then. I don't excuse myself. Please understand, I don't excuse myself at all.
Then about a year after Smadar's death, I met a man who changed my life. His name was Yitzhak Frankenthal, a religious Jew, Orthodox, with a kippah on his head. And, you know, we tend to put people in drawers, stigmatize people? We tend to judge people by the way they dress, and I was certain that this guy was a right-winger, a fascist, that eats Arabs for breakfast. But we started talking and he told me about his son Arik, a soldier who was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas in 1994. And then he told me about this organization, the Parents Circle, that he had created--people who lost their loved ones, Palestinian and israeli, but still wanted peace.
And I remembered that Yitzhak had been among those thousands and thousands of people that came to my house a year before during those seven days of shiva for Smadar, and i was so angry with him, so confused. I asked him, how could you do it? Seriously, how could you step into someone's house who just lost a loved one, and then talk about peace? How dare you? You came to my house after Smadar was killed? You took for granted that I would feel the same way as you, just because I was Matti Peled's son-in-law, or Nurit Peled's husband, you thought you could take my grief for granted? Is that what you thought?
And he, being a great man, was not insulted. He understood my rage. He invited me over to a meeting in Jerusalem of these crazy people; they had all lost a loved one, and I was curious. I said okay, I'll give it a try, i have nothing to lose, I have already lost so much; but they're crazy, they have to be crazy. I got on my motorcycle and I went to see. I stood outside where people were coming for the meeting, very detached, very cynical. And I watched those people arriving. The first group were, for me--as an Israeli--living legends. People I used to look up to, admire. I’d read about them in the newspapers, saw them on TV. People I used to look up to, admire. I'd read about them in the newspapers, saw them on TV. Yaakov Guterman, a Holocaust survivor, he lost his son Raz in the Lebanon war. And Roni Hirshenson, who lost his two sons, Amir and Elad.
To be bereaved in Israel is to be part of a tradition, something really terrible but holy at the same time. And I never thought that one day I would be one of them.
On and on they came, so many of them. But then I saw something else, something completely new to me, to my eyes, my mind, my heart, my brain. I was standing there, and I saw a few Palestinians passing by on a bus. Listen, this flabbergasted me. I knew it was going to happen, but still I had to do a double-take. Arabs? Really? Going into the same meeting as these Israelis? How could that be? A thinking, feeling, breathing Palestinian? And I remember seeing this lady in this black, traditional Palestinian dress, with a headscarf--you know, the sort of woman who I might have thought could be the mother of one of the bombers who took my 13-year-old child. She was slow and elegant, stepping down from the bus, walking in my direction.
And then I saw it, she had a picture of her daughter clutched to her chest. She walked past me. I couldn't move. And this was like an earthquake inside me: this woman had lost her child. It maybe sounds simple, but it was not. I had been in a sort of coffin. This lifted the lid from my eyes. My grief and her grief, the same grief.
I went inside to meet these people. And here they were, and they were shaking my hand, hugging me, crying with me. I was so deeply touched, so deeply moved. It was like a hammer on my head cracking me open. An organization of the bereaved, israeli and Palestinian, Jew, Christian, Muslim, atheist, you name it. Together, in one room. Sharing their sorrow, not using it, or celebrating it, but sharing it; that it is not a decree of faith that we should live forever with a sword in our hands. I cannot tell you what sort of madness it seemed. And I was completely cleaved open. It was like a nuclear event. Truly, it seemed mad.
You see, I was forty-seven, forty-eight years old at the time, and I had to learn to admit it was the first time in my life, to that point--I can say this now, I could never even think it then--it was the first time that I'd met Palestinians as human beings. It was a revelation--yes, human beings who carry the same burden that I carry, people who suffer exactly as I suffer. An equality of pain. I'm not a religious person, far from it--I have no way of explaining what happened to me back then."
Excerpted from the book "APEIROGON" by Colum McCann, pp. 218-224
Postscript from Vivian Zelaya
We were privileged to host Rami Elhanan and his Palestinian counterpart Ghazi at St. Joseph the Worker back in the day, before Fr. Bill Died (before 2003.) They were on a "Wheels of Justice" tour. Tom and Jane Kelly and Lynn McMichaels brought them to St. Joseph the Worker.
Some lady in a pale blue suit stood up and asked Ghazi, "Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?" Ghazi put his arm around Rami and said, "I am the Palestinian Gandhi and my brother, Rami, is the Israeli Gandhi."
Remember our 2011 visit to Palestine? Rami had dinner with us in THE TENT restaurant in Beit Sahour. I remember that night so well because Rami smoked the hookah and you danced with several others, I have a picture somewhere of you dancing with a little pink scarf with dangles, around your middle. I think Vicki and Ann Coburn are in the same picture. Many thanks for sharing this story,