This article is from Issue 68: March/April 2014

Is Peace Possible?

The conflict in the Holy Land has been painted as an unsolvable religious dispute. But is there more to the story?

When Bassam Aramin was 17 years old, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for being with a group of friends that lobbed grenades toward Israeli jeeps.

It was his most severe crime against Israel’s military rule, but it wasn’t his first. As a child in the ancient city of Hebron in the West Bank, Aramin had raised a Palestinian flag on the school playground—which was illegal. When he was 12, he and some other students threw stones at Israeli tanks. Soldiers retaliated by shooting one of the students dead.

“At that moment, I developed a need for revenge,” Aramin says. “I joined a group whose mission was to get rid of the soldiers controlling our town. We called ourselves freedom fighters, but the outside world called us terrorists.” The law called him a criminal, and he ended up in jail.

With limited options for entertainment, Aramin attended a showing of Schindler’s List—Steven Spielberg’s famous Holocaust opus. His first thought as he began watching the story of the European Jews was, “I wish they had all died. Then I wouldn’t be in this place.” But minutes into the film, he found himself crying—crying for the 6 million Jews who had been herded into the gas chambers. For the first time, he truly felt the horrific reality of Jewish suffering.

“I decided to try and understand who they were,” he says. This led to conversations with a prison guard who asked, “What makes a quiet guy like you become a terrorist?”

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“You’re the terrorist,” Aramin said. “You’re the one sending settlers and soldiers here to take my land. I’m just a freedom fighter, trying to keep my village and home.”

Aramin had never considered the trauma of the Jews. His jailer, in the meantime, had never considered the sobering reality of daily life for Palestinians—one without many of the basic civil rights he took for granted.