Turning swords into plowshares

US charity sponsors playground in Gaza in honor of killed Palestinian girl.

Gaza kids 88 (photo credit:)
Gaza kids 88
(photo credit: )
Bassam Aramin hobbled backwards on his polio-stricken legs as the tractor's jackhammer felled a tall basketball hoop in the courtyard of this West Bank town's elementary school. "Here, there will be a park and a playground for kids," shouted Aramin Sunday, pointing at a wide expanse of black asphalt slowly being broken up by the deafening banging. "Over there," pointed Aramin, swiveling around to face the direction of the school that educates about 800 girls, "will be trees, a soccer field and water fountains." Abir's Garden is a $40,000 project funded by an American NGO called Rebuilding Alliance, which, according to its Web site, is involved in rebuilding homes in Gaza, among other places, "that Israeli forces demolished wholesale, regardless of whether they posed a specific threat." The park and playground are named in honor of Aramin's 10-year-old daughter, Abir, who was killed on January 16, 2007 just outside the courtyard of Anata's elementary school while on her way home with friends. The exact circumstances of her death are still a matter of controversy. A Palestinian-commissioned autopsy found that a rubber bullet fired by Border Police hit Abir in the head, but an Israel Police autopsy ruled out a bullet wound and found that a blunt instrument, perhaps a stray rock thrown by Palestinian demonstrators, had killed Abir. The Border Police involved in the incident admitted that they shot rubber bullets in response to rock-throwing because they feared losing control and being lynched, but Aramin claimed the border police opened fire "for no reason whatsoever." For Aramin, the memorial garden is one way to move forward after his daughter's death. The other is political activism, as a member of Combatants for Peace, an organization of former IDF soldiers who are remorseful for helping maintain the "occupation" of West Bank and former Palestinian political prisoners. Combatants for Peace define themselves as "former enemies, advocating an end to the Israeli occupation, who seek justice and reconciliation through dialogue." One day after the groundbreaking of Abir's Garden, on the one-year anniversary of his daughter's death, Aramin left Anata for the US to tell his version of Abir's tragic story as part of a speaking tour. Aramin, who served a seven-year sentence in an Israeli prison in Hebron for attacking IDF troops, says he was attracted to Combatants for Peace because he believes in dialogue and because he was encouraged by the willingness of former IDF soldiers to admit their mistakes. Aramin will address audiences in New York and six other states together with IDF Capt. Yonatan Shapira, who authored the 2003 "Pilot's Letter," a declaration of conscientious objection to serving missions beyond the Green Line.