Opinion |

My Sister Was Killed by Terrorists. But I Won’t Give Up on Peace

20 years ago, Smadar was murdered in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. But I refuse to let Israel’s government make political capital out of her death, and the deaths of all the Israeli and Palestinian victims of this conflict

Yigal Elhanan
Yigal Elhanan
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Aliza Cohen at the grave of her son Yinon as Israeli soldiers participate in a ceremony at the Mt. Herzl military cemetary in Jerusalem. May 9, 2005.
Aliza Cohen at the grave of her son Yinon as Israeli soldiers participate in a ceremony at the Mt. Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem. May 9, 2005. Credit: AP
Yigal Elhanan
Yigal Elhanan

Last week, video clips and reports flooded the Internet in Israel covering the Knesset committee debate on the last war in Gaza, known to the Israeli public as Operation Protective Edge. The war saw the loss of 73 Israelis, most of whom were soldiers, and 2,200 Palestinians. During the debate, bereaved families raised cries of pain against the Prime Minister and his minions regarding the state's mishandling of the war, and its problematic management by the political echelon.

For a week, I have been haunted by the tears and severe words of Leah Goldin, mother of Lt. Hadar Goldin, a soldier whose remains are still held by Hamas in Gaza. Clearly, determinedly, and out of a pain that I do not wish on anyone, Mrs. Goldin laid out her accusations, declaring her fight. She addressed PM Netanyahu directly, telling him that he had turned the bereaved families into “enemies of the people You have turned the problem of the boys [who weren't brought home] into the problem of the families,” rather than the responsibility of the government, she said.

Leah Goldin's fight is my fight, and that of many others – too many.

Firstly, I must state: I am not writing on behalf of, or with the blessings of, Mrs. Goldin; nor am I sure she would agree with the conclusion I reached from her words. But she affected me deeply: not least because those who have known bereavement, who have not looked it in the eye and seen the deep abyss born of the loss of a loved one, can without any effort understand Leah Goldin's cry – and mine.

On 4th September 1997, my sister Smadar was murdered in a suicide bombing on the Ben Yehuda Street mall in Jerusalem. That day, a Thursday afternoon, never leaves me or my family. After our tragedy, my family became politically active in the Israeli-Palestinian Family Forum; and ten years later my brother was a founding member of Combatants for Peace, an Israeli-Palestinian movement of men and women who had participated in the combatant cycle, and who now fight together for peace.

On 16 January 2007, 10-year-old Abir Aramin was shot in the head by a Border Police officer in Anata, Jerusalem. Abir was the daughter of Combatants for Peace founding member Basaam Aramin, and the younger sister of my partner on this journey, Arab Aramin. After Abir was shot -- and before she was declared dead -- my father and I and many other members of the Family Forum and CfP accompanied the Aramin family, staying by their side at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Karem.

Palestinian classmates of 10-year-old Abir Aramin, shot in the head by an Israeli Border Police officer in the West Bank village of Anata, near Jerusalem. Jan. 21, 2007. Credit: AP

I was then 14 years old, and I remember the somber faces of those present, and the Aramin family's appearance. Familiar faces, too familiar: bleary-eyed, a bottomless gravity. They saw the abyss, they knew the depth of loss, as we had come to know it a decade earlier. That look, that pain, the seething fury of the dereliction and crime that I saw in the eyes of my parents and of Basaam and Salwa Aramin is what I also saw in Leah Goldin’s eyes at the Knesset – that same comprehension that makes your blood run cold, that our children and family members go, and don't return, for nothing.

Well, not for nothing: they are lost to us in the name of tenured positions, for the sake of political capital, and for the deepening of our control over the Palestinians. Parents who have buried their children cannot be appeased.

Leah Goldin at the Knesset: She accused PM Netanyahu of turning bereaved families into "enemies of the people". 19 April 2017.Credit: Lior Mizrahi

With Remembrance Day here, I appeal to anyone who can and wants to hear, whoever is willing to listen: hear Leah Goldin's cry. Yes, she is in enough pain without my enlisting her for this cause or another; and beside her, hear the cries of Arab Aramin, Basaam Aramin, Muhammad El-Bau, Maazen Faraj, Marian Seada, Meital Ofer, and too many hundreds more of the members of the Family Forum and the Combatants for Peace movement -- Israelis and Palestinians who have lost all that can be lost in this cycle of violence.

Let us end the violence. Let us break the bloodied chain that will leave us nothing but more bereaved families. So long as we are involved in the thick swamp that is the occupation, so long as we continue to enter another, and yet another, round of combat in the Gaza Strip, we will continue each year to bury young men and women, little boys and girls, in the blood-drenched soil of our joint land.

If these words do not fall on deaf ears, I ask you – we ask you – on this Remembrance Day: do not participate in the state's continued expropriation of the memory of our fallen men and women. Tonight, I will be at the 12th Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony in Tel Aviv– the only place where we can commemorate them all.

Yigal Elhanan is an activist in Combatants for Peace and the Parents Circle Families forum.

The Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day will be live-screened here. Parallel events will be held across the US and other locations.



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