A Palestinian Takes A Different Road In His Fight : Parallels Bassam Aramin grew up hating Israel and spent years in prison. Yet he's now a voice for peace, a position that did not change even when his daughter was killed by Israeli police.

A Palestinian Takes A Different Road In His Fight

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

What does it take to change your mind about something big, about a fundamental belief? Say, about whether to use violence for a cause for revenge or whether to seek peaceful solutions instead? NPR's Emily Harris has been talking to Palestinians and Israelis who've changed their minds about different things, all relevant to their seemingly intractable conflict. And she sent us this report about one Palestinian man's transformation.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Bassam Aramin was born in the late 1960s, but into an ancient way of life. His family, parents and 15 kids lived in a cave in the southern West Bank. They farmed fruits and vegetables to eat and sell. The Israeli military occupied the West Bank, but it wasn't until he was 5 or 6 years old that he saw a soldier.

BASSAM ARAMIN: I saw a helicopter near the mountain. And they came down, and a few soldiers came to our cave and they talked to my cousin. In one point, they slap him on his face. It's like a shot.

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HARRIS: A slap like a shot that echoed as he grew.

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HARRIS: In middle school, his family moved into town. One day, he saw Israeli troops shoot and kill a Palestinian teenager who was throwing rocks at them.

ARAMIN: And in that day, I said we will take revenge. I will take revenge because you have this strong feeling that if you don't fight them any way, they will kill you.

HARRIS: So Aramin prepared to fight.

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HARRIS: He was about 12 or 13 years old. He and some buddies joined forces, a tween militia. Their weapons were rocks, free Palestine graffiti and Palestinian flags sewn from old T-shirts. They hung those in the trees where the soldiers would pass.

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ARAMIN: Because we notice that they get crazy when they see the flag. So we want to make them crazy.

HARRIS: But they dreamed of taking their fight beyond teasing. And one day, they got their chance. They found old hand grenades and a rifle hidden in a cave. The boys were now older teens. They attacked an Israeli army patrol. The grenades exploded, the rifle shot, but they missed their target.

ARAMIN: No one killed, no one injured because they don't know how to use it in a professional way. In spite - we want to kill them, of course.

HARRIS: Aramin limps from childhood polio, so his friends had made him stay behind, but the whole gang was arrested. Aramin was sentenced to seven years. His father visited the 17-year-old prisoner.

ARAMIN: You know, my father is my father. He's a hero, he's a big man. When he started to cry when he come to visit me in jail, I said, oh my God, why you cry? And he said no, nothing. I said, you must be proud of me because I'm in jail.

HARRIS: So many Palestinian boys have spent time in Israeli prisons that it's almost like a rite of passage.

ARAMIN: In jail, very early I learned that if you know your enemy, you can defeat him. Learn about them, know them. Then directly, I decide to study Hebrew, because I wanted to know how to kill them, how to defeat them.

HARRIS: This desire stoked him to learn verbs and vocabulary. One day, the prisoners settled in for a movie on Israeli TV. Aramin knew it was about Hitler, but that's all he knew.

ARAMIN: And I want to enjoy seeing this movie. You know, I'm in their jail, they occupied us, they beat me. They - so at least to see a movie, to see someone defeat them, kill them, torture them. And after a few minutes, I found myself crying to see such atrocities. To - I cannot believe that there are human beings that can do the same to other human beings in this way. Oh my God.

HARRIS: This is a moment of revelation.

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HARRIS: He glimpsed the persecution Jews had suffered, got an inkling of the roots of their fear, saw his experience in relationship to theirs.

ARAMIN: I want to understand how those people who tasted the bitterness of pain and discrimination, how could they harm other people?

HARRIS: That question stayed with him the rest of his prison time. When he was released, the two sides had agreed to a limited peace deal, the Oslo Accords. Aramin wondered if his future might be different from his past. He thought, he married, and he had a son.

ARAMIN: Now I'm thinking for my son. I don't want him to go to jail, and I don't want him to be killed. And I don't want to allow him to throw stones because he don't know. I will explain to him if he have more tools, he can use the struggle in a different way.

HARRIS: And Aramin took it upon himself to create the tools for a different kind of struggle, even through the violent second Palestinian uprising. In 2005, he helped start Combatants for Peace, a group of former Israeli soldiers and ex-Palestinian militants that seek ways the two sides can live together. Hardly any Palestinians were willing to do anything with Israelis at this time. His dedication would be tested.

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HARRIS: One January morning in 2007, his 10-year-old daughter, Abir, insisted she would go to a friend's after school.

ARAMIN: That day, I didn't hug her, I didn't kiss her, and I said like this - don't think about it, even. You come back directly home. She looked at me and she said, I will be late. And she left.

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HARRIS: He left, too, heading for work. He didn't get far before terrible news. A rubber-coated Israeli bullet had hit Abir in the head. She'd been walking with friends outside school. Palestinian throwing rocks were clashing with Israeli forces nearby. Three days later, Abir died.

ARAMIN: I never thought that something will happen to me like this. But to live in Palestine and Israel, unfortunately, you have no safe place for yourself. And sometimes you say, why me, especially me? I have no enemies. I don't hate anyone. Why this soldier shoot my daughter? Why? It's an open question forever.

But when you understand that there is no revenge, it's nothing to do with your pain to kill the rest of the Jewish. It's ongoing pain forever. I didn't find the answer to kill a 10-year-old Israeli daughter. You decide you want to do everything possible to prevent any family to taste this bitterness.

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HARRIS: But bitterness filled his 13-year-old son. Teachers told Aramin they'd seen the boy out throwing stones at soldiers. That night at home, father confronted son.

ARAMIN: I start to shout because he don't understand. For me, I'm going to lose him. And I said to him, do you think you are a hero? You are a warrior? And he said yes, I am a hero. Yes, I want to take revenge. Is it good for you to spend seven years in the Israeli jails and it's not good for me? I'm also a Palestinian, and I love Palestine. And I want to fight the occupation.

HARRIS: Of all he's done, Aramin is most proud that he convinced his son that violence is not the way to win. That took four years. Now they work together to convince others, along with Palestinian and Israeli families who have also lost children to the violence. Emily Harris, NPR News, the West Bank.

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