Jeremy Abraham Rabbani
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Ex-Hamas prisoner’s story exposes tough road to peace

Tortured and imprisoned for fostering dialogue and understanding, activist Rami Aman was asked if he'd do it again. 'Absolutely!'
More Palestinians than you'd think are for normalization - but it comes at a price.

In a recent conversation, I had the privilege of speaking with Rami Aman, a prominent advocate for peace, whose lived experienced and remarkable insights shed light on the difficult path to peace between Israel and Hamas, the terror group that runs the Gaza Strip. For those who are unfamiliar: Rami is an activist and former prisoner of the aforementioned organization. His crime? Speaking with Israelis over Skype from his Gaza residence. To Hamas, any attempt at normalization is an offense that comes with a heavy price.

Aman, a native of the poverty-stricken coastal enclave, was a seemingly jovial fellow who told me a brief version of his life story from his living room in Cairo, where he currently is seeking refuge. Like many of his compatriots, Aman was brought up to believe that Israel is the sworn eternal enemy of the Palestinian people and must be annihilated by any means necessary, which included violent resistance. As he grew older, wiser, and more aware of his surroundings, he began looking at the situation from a different angle. Seeing the despair, lack of hope, and little opportunities offered to the people of Gaza, especially the youth, flipped a switch in him. Combine that with the effects of war and conflict, he realized that, for his people, this was no way to continue. And thus, an activist was born. An activist insistent on change, no matter the consequence.

In 2010, Aman founded the Gaza Youth Committee, an organization that worked to empower young Gazans despite the hardship and difficulty of life there. As the organization grew, so did its reach. By 2015, Aman had secretly arranged several small-scale Skype chats between Palestinian and Israeli activists. This initiative came to be known as “Skype With Your Enemy,” playing on the false assumption that, naturally, Palestinians and Israelis were adversaries. The other side was just a stone’s throw away, but their lives could not be any more different — and for those Palestinians risking speaking with those across the barrier came with the looming threat of torture and imprisonment.

Despite the known repercussions and criticisms of fellow Gazans against normalization, Aman and his small group of activists continued their work promoting peaceful dialogue in secret. This all came to a screeching halt on April 6, 2020, a day Aman remembers with clarity. This day marked one of the biggest Skype call they had orchestrated, if not the biggest one. This call, in particular, included Israelis, Palestinians, Europeans from various countries, and Americans, and like all meetings, gave a rare glimpse at life in the Gaza Strip.

The details surrounding how Aman and his group of activists were caught are a bit murky, but it is believed that some who oppose normalization were also on the call. As word spread on the ground and made rounds through social media, outrage ensued within the general Gaza public. In turn, Hamas was spurred to arrest him. Three days later, on April 9th, Aman surrendered himself to authorities and was detained, leaving his future in serious jeopardy. Ultimately, in the Hamas ruled-Gaza Strip, collaboration is potentially a death sentence.

Throughout this entire ordeal, Aman was interrogated, subject to brutal physical torture, and held in a minuscule cell.

When I asked if he would do it again, he responded, “Absolutely.”

Hamas’ treatment of collaborators such as Rami Aman should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. The organization has been known to torture traitors, collaborators, and anyone they accused of weakening the revolutionary spirit. For the unfamiliar, since 2006, Israel and Hamas have engaged in several deadly wars against each other which usually always lead to unmitigated disaster for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, since their inception in 1988, they have been a hardline Islamic-fundamentalist organization who have killed scores of innocent Israeli citizens and has even committed crimes against their own. Their founding charter contains vicious antisemitism and frequent references to a struggle against Zionism and to obliterating Israel.

Yet, here you have a man who is so devoted to the betterment of his people, even if it meant his life. Aman certainly blames Hamas for much of Gaza’s suffering but doesn’t absolve Israel of blame either. He understands that much of Gaza’s suffering is due to the blockade and bombardment from the Israeli military in one of the most densely populated areas on Earth. He also understands that since assuming power in 2006, Hamas has done absolutely nothing to help the Palestinian people and alleviate their hardship. Fortunately, Aman is not alone in his feeling.

I was informed by him that more and more people in Gaza are starting to develop similar mindsets. Most people who live there are decent, honest people who are living in the present moment and grounded in reality. At the end of the day, they want what everyone on earth wants; safety, security, and a future for their children. They understand that the continued armed struggle against Israel has been completely fruitless. The status quo of constant conflict and a hardline stance against normalization has accomplished absolutely nothing positive for Palestinians and in turn, many of them are starting to warm up to the idea of peace.

Yet, Rami Aman’s story casts a larger shadow and exposes the tough road to peace ahead. If Hamas is willing to torture and imprison its ilk for fostering dialogue and understanding in hopes of a better life, how likely is peace on the horizon? It may seem painfully obvious to anyone whose been even vaguely paying attention to the conflict, but the prognosis unfortunately looks grim. As long as Hamas is running Gaza, we should not expect the conflict to resolve itself anytime soon. Tragically, the prolonging of anti-normalization and conflict will have disastrous negative effects on Palestinians.

Yet, even though Hamas is still quite popular among people in Gaza and will remain in power for the foreseeable future, my hope for a peaceful future is not yet lost. As long as people like Rami and other Palestinians with similar mindsets are still around, the flame of hope for a brighter future will never be extinguished.

About the Author
Jeremy Abraham Rabbani is a 26 year old freelance journalist based in New York City. Currently, Jeremy hosts the Third Rail, a podcast covering human rights and pressing international news.