Mourning can be paralyzing, a melancholia that never abates. Living with bereavement can
be no life at all, a life that is entirely absorbed by loss and grief. When the death of a loved one is the consequence of war, it’s easy for those, like me, who have never experienced such loss to imagine some ways to respond to the loss: to seek vengeance against the enemy; to become a bitter cynic about those responsible for the war; to flee to another life, in another part of the world, or in addiction. Harder to imagine is the response of Buma Inbar, an Israeli humanitarian and peace activist who works independently under the slogan “Governments sign treaties (may it come to pass), people make peace.” You can read more about his work and his story in this interview on the Just Vision website, and in this profile of him by the Fund for Reconciliation Tolerance and Peace.
I am on Buma’s email list, and October 10th I read this moving message from him, (which I have translated from Hebrew with his permission) calling on his contacts to attend the annual rally to commemorate the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
On October 15 1995 my oldest son Sergeant Yotam Inbar, a soldier in the Golani Brigade, was killed along with another six soldiers in an utterly unnecessary and preventable incident. To my great sorry, in the last war, “Protective Edge”, once again seven soldiers from the same unit were killed because they were in the wrong APC in the wrong place.
A few days after my son Yotam was killed, I took part in the rally where Prime Minister Rabin was murdered. At the rally, sensing the steps of peace around the corner, arriving any moment, I felt that my son would be the last sacrifice before peace. To my great sorrow, that’s not how things turned out, and the wars and lack of peace continue in our region, along with the awful Occupation.
I lost my faith, but I didn’t lose my hope for peace, reconciliation, and prevention of further bereavement in our region. And so I keep going on my path.
And so indeed he keeps on going, when others are paralyzed. It would be too easy for Buma to connect his own personal grief with the collective grief about Rabin, in fatalistic mourning for the peace that never came, that was killed along with Rabin leadership in that Tel Aviv square in November 1995. Instead, he is driven by his son’s memory to keep going, as he said in an interview: “I wonder sometimes what he would think about what I’m doing. I know he would be proud.”
Unlike many others in the “peace camp,” Buma did not give up hope when the Oslo process failed because his hope is not in what governments can do, but in what he and other people can do. Much (but by no means all) of his humanitarian work has been dedicated to enabling Palestinians from the Gaza and West Bank to access medical treatment in Israel or East Jerusalem. The recent Israeli war on Gaza didn’t interrupt his efforts, working at the Erez crossing point to assist sick and injured Palestinians to travel to Turkey and Jerusalem, even as rockets fell. In an interview on Israel’s Channel 1 TV about his work, his voice almost failed him as he expressed his condolences to the families of the Golani soldiers who had just been killed, like his son, “my heart goes out to them”.
Buma carries on despite criticism. Why does he help the enemy, the people who killed his son? Because their suffering and loss is no different to his, he says. For others, his humanitarian work is not political enough, not sufficiently critical of the occupation and the system of power through which Israel rules and oppresses. He has to cooperate with the Israeli army and security services – or Israeli occupation forces – to get things done, and he doesn’t mind praising their humanitarian procedures. His work can be exploited to show “good” Israelis in contrast to “cruel” Palestinians. By relieving, even to a small extent, the suffering caused by the Israeli attack, he’s making it easier for the unbearable situation to be borne. Perhaps, but more likely he’s doing what he says he’s doing, making peace one sick person at a time, having compassion for the pain of the occupiers while tending the wounds of the occupied.