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10 year old palestinian girl shot in head by israelis { January 23 2007 }

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January 23, 2007
Father of Dead West Bank Girl Seeks Peace With Israelis

ANATA, West Bank, Jan. 22 — Even as Bassam Aramin mourns his 10-year-old daughter, killed last week during a clash between stone-throwing Palestinian youths and the Israeli police, he says he wants to talk to Israelis about making peace.

It has been a long journey for Mr. Aramin, 38, a former Palestinian fighter. He spent seven years in Israeli jails, from 1986 to 1993, for weapons possession and for belonging to the Fatah movement, which was banned at the time.

But his views gradually changed, and for the past two years he has been an active member of Combatants for Peace, a group of former Palestinian militants and former Israeli soldiers who have teamed up to urge reconciliation to both sides.

With his Israeli partner, Zohar Shapira, a former member of an elite commando unit, Mr. Aramin has been speaking to students and community groups in Israel and the West Bank.

“Over time I became convinced that we couldn’t solve our problem with weapons and we had to talk to the other side,” said Mr. Aramin, who lives in Anata, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. “I want to keep talking to Israelis so they can understand what happened to my daughter.”

His daughter, Abir, was in an upbeat mood last Tuesday after completing a math exam at the Anata Girls School. She walked out the front gate and crossed the dusty street, where she bought a small gift for her mother, Salwa, who had helped her study.

As Abir emerged from the store, a clash was erupting between stone-throwing Palestinian youths and the Israeli border police. A moment later Abir was hit in the back of the head, a blow that threw her headlong into the street, according to her sister, Areen, 12, who was with her. After three days in Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, Abir died without ever regaining consciousness.

Israel’s separation barrier, a towering concrete wall here, is just a few yards from the adjacent boys’ and girls’ schools, and the area was the scene of frequent confrontations during its construction. But work on the wall was finished several months ago, and the area was calm until the border police began patrolling neighborhoods on the West Bank side of the wall in recent days. Youths threw stones at the Israeli jeeps on several occasions, residents said.

Areen and other Palestinian witnesses say they have no doubt that Abir was hit by Israeli fire. Michael Sfard, a prominent Israeli lawyer representing the Aramin family, said he had received a rubber-coated steel bullet that witnesses said they had found at the scene, which he presented to the Israeli police.

A preliminary report of the autopsy conducted by an Israeli government pathologist and one appointed by the Aramin family found that Abir’s head wounds were consistent with the impact of a rubber-coated bullet, though other possibilities could not be ruled out, Mr. Sfard said.

But the Israeli police say the autopsy did rule out the possibility of a rubber-coated bullet. The police say an investigation has found that police officers fired tear gas but has not confirmed the use of such bullets. A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the inquiry is continuing, said the police suspected that Abir might have been hit by a rock that one of the Palestinians had thrown toward the police.

The Aramin family adamantly rejects the police theory and is quick to note the strong support they have received from Israelis, particularly those from Mr. Aramin’s group.

“They were at the hospital with me the entire time,” said Mr. Aramin, who works at the Palestinian National Archives in Ramallah. “I received phone calls from tens of Israelis expressing their sympathy for my family and condemning the killing of my daughter.”

In a conflict so long and bitter, killings more often prompt calls for revenge rather than understanding. Mr. Aramin said his own outlook had changed slowly, over many years.

Like many Palestinian prisoners, he learned to speak Hebrew while in jail and began conversing with prison guards and watching Israeli television. The peace negotiations of the 1990s gave him hope, and despite the chronic fighting of the last several years, his work with Combatants for Peace has helped sustain him, he said.

The group has about 300 members, with about half from each side, according to Avichay Sharon, 25, an Israeli who was one of the founders and who spent time at the hospital alongside Mr. Aramin.

“When I heard what happened I rushed to the hospital,” Mr. Sharon said. “All of us took it upon ourselves to do what we could. Bassam knows there are a lot of people who love him and care about him.”

The Israeli members of Combatants for Peace have already served their mandatory military service, though they may be called up for reserve duty that can last for several weeks each year. As an infantry soldier, Mr. Sharon fought in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from 2000 to 2003. He decided he would not do it again as a reservist.

“I wouldn’t point to any one incident,” said Mr. Sharon, now a student at Hebrew University in philosophy and Jewish studies. “It was an accumulation of events that opened my eyes.”

As a reservist he works in logistics and does not expect to be sent into Palestinian areas. But other members of Combatants for Peace have refused such orders, and served jail time as a result.

The group has held dozens of meetings in recent months, but finding an audience remains a challenge.

“I wouldn’t say it’s simple,” Mr. Sharon said. “Many Israelis don’t want a dialogue with someone they think is a terrorist. Palestinians don’t want to speak to people they see as occupiers.”

Israeli members wanted to pay condolences in Anata, where Mr. Aramin lives with his wife and their five surviving children. But the Aramin family advised against it, fearing that angry neighbors might insult a visiting Israeli, or worse.

Mr. Aramin said he would soon be back at work with his Israeli colleagues.

“I want my daughter to be the last victim,” he said. “There are partners on the other side who believe what I believe.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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