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“He was pronounced dead at 19:00. He was wearing his Seeds shirt.”
This is when you drop the paper out of your hands and grab your face and moan and cry. This is when the peak has reached its peak, when you simply cannot bear it any more. Not the idea that there is a war, no. We have been living with this damned war for years. Since we remember ourselves there has been this war. But this—the Seeds shirt that Asel was wearing. Is this really true? Ned does not lie: Asel was wearing his Seeds of Peace t-shirt when he was shot dead by an Israeli soldier.
The soldier who shot Asel literally shot the peace at its neck. How can you shoot peace at its neck? How can you look at the face of peace and aim at its neck? Why should you kill peace when it is right in front of you? Don’t you see? Don’t you use your eyes? Your eyes are there for you to see, and you are blind, you are so damned blind. You see the peace and you kill it. I don’t respect you when you kill a symbol; let alone when you kill a human being. When you kill a human being who becomes a symbol, we are worse. When you kill a human being who is a symbol, you are the worst.
Asel did not become a symbol when he died in the woods of Arrabeh wearing a Seeds of Peace t-shirt. Asel became our symbol when he lived in the woods of Maine wearing a Seeds of Peace t-shirt.
We all knew it then, and we hope not to have spared it from him. He knew how much we loved him. Not for what he represented, a conflicted creation torn between two identities. But for what he was. Asel was great, simply great. You know when God makes these people whom you just cannot dislike? Asel was one of them. Everybody liked him, everybody still does. God created Asel and threw away the mould. Asel was one-of-a-kind.
Asel and I were close, but it is not fair to say that we were close because everybody who knew him was close to him. But Asel and I were close because we shared a scary experience, which we will never forget. In April 1998 we went to the Seeds of Peace Youth Summit in Villars, Swizterland. On our way back at Geneva airport we were waiting to pass the security check together, watching our colleague Israeli delegates standing ahead of us in the line. We decided not to be the “average Israeli,” as we called it, and to wait patiently at the end of the line instead of joining our friends in the middle of the queue.
We never noticed that they were gone very soon, and that by the time we reached our turn for security, we could not see them any more. We walked quickly toward the gate of our flight, still hoping to find them. When we reached the gate zone, we realised we were alone in the airport. The airplane had taken off without us. Not only were our friends gone, but there was not even one security man working in the area. Asel and I were alone, and we were doing our best not to freak out.
On the way back to Israel (our parents eventually arranged a connection flight two hours later), Asel and I were the only Seeds on the plane. We were heading for Frankfurt, and from Frankfurt we were to go to Tel Aviv. Asel was sitting next to me, and he was sad. Frankly, Asel was broken.
My memory is not very strong (hence I write, not to forget), but if I recall correctly, Asel was nearly crying because the Summit was over. He was completely destroyed, and he said it would take him a long time to recover from this crisis. I remember wondering to myself, and out loud, “Why all this sadness? You just had the best 10 days of your life.”
“But now they are gone,” he said, “And I am gonna miss them so much.”
Now you are gone, Asel. And we are going to miss you so much.
Had I been an Arab-Israeli living in Arrabeh, I might have died just as well as Asel did on Monday, October 2, 2000. An Israeli soldier would have shot me in my neck while I was running for my life in the trees. I would have then been running for my death.
Whatever made Asel die, and not me, it is unfair. Asel would have become an important man one day, had he been alive. You cannot say that about everyone else, but Asel is not everyone else.
He could have become a teacher. He could have become a father. He could have become a member or a founder of an Arab-Israeli party in the Israeli Parliament. What do you know, he could have become the first Arab-Israeli Prime Minister.
But a soldier from my people shot him in his neck when he was running in the trees.
I still cannot understand how someone could shoot peace in its neck.
Shira (1997) is from Herzliya.
I will never ever forget the day in 1998 when the whole Egyptian Delegation was running around Frankfurt Airport trying to find our gate when we came across Shira and Asel. I went up to Asel and asked what on earth he was doing there. He smiled at me and said, “they forgot us,” and we just started laughing.
Apparently the delegation leaders had miscounted and, thinking that they had everyone, left Asel and Shira in Geneva.
I think his good spirit shone right there. He wasn’t mad, he wasn’t angry—he was just waiting for the next flight. That’s how he always was. I can never recall seeing him mad at anyone, or ranting and raving about anything. It takes so much to be able to do that, to be so good to everyone, even when they are unjust to you.
I know that this angel is with God right now. He came to this world on a mission, a mission to help in the struggle for peace and for the rights of the Palestinians and their land.
He died doing just that, a fighter for the rights of the Palestinians in his Seeds of Peace shirt, his symbol of peace.
I know that his memory will live with us who loved him so much, forever.
May God rest his soul. Alla yerhamak ya Asel.
Passant (1997) is from Cairo.
I want to speak to those who knew and loved Asel, but also to those who never had the chance to see him smile and hear his voice.
Asel was my friend. I first met him at Camp in the summer of 1997. It was the summer of the infamous Bunk 17, otherwise known as the “17 Bad Seeds.” Asel of course was a proud member of the “17 Bad Seeds.” Having been at Camp before, I thought I knew what it was all about. I thought I knew what we were working for and what we could accomplish as peacemakers. I learned that summer, from Asel and his bunkmates that we could accomplish so much more than I thought. The human bonds built between the guys in that bunk were not a show of politeness or fake smiles. It was not easy for them at all, but by the end of the summer, those guys sat together like brothers and could enjoy each other’s company and friendship as if it was a reality they had known all their lives. I think that from the beginning Asel knew what this was all about.
I didn’t get to know Asel well until after Camp that summer. He was a big Internet junkie and we had many long conversations on instant messenger. I was in high school in the US and can remember rushing home every day after school to catch my friends from Seeds of Peace online. The seven-hour time difference meant that most people here were signing off by the time I got home. Most people, except for Asel. Asel could be found online all night. Usually I would write “hey man what’s up?” and he would respond by saying “nothing much” or “I’m bored.” He would tell me about how much he missed Camp and couldn’t wait to go back the next summer.
The thing about Asel which anybody who knew him will tell you is that he loved Seeds of Peace a lot more than most people do. He loved Seeds of Peace so much that you could call it an obsession. That was the year that mass email messages started going around to all Seeds in what eventually would become SeedsNet. On average, Asel wrote three e-mails every day. When you read the things that he wrote to SeedsNet or in The Olive Branch, you can see his love of Seeds of Peace, his passion for humanity, his sense of humor, and his ability to look at a person whose politics he didn’t agree with and love them as a best friend.
I have so many memories of Asel that just make me smile when I think about him. I remember wrestling on top of a mountain in Switzerland with Asel, Sa’ad, Tomer, Ned and many of the guys from Bunk 17.
In the summer of 1999, Israeli and Palestinian Seeds took a trip to Jordan. I remember Asel showing us his passport picture. The picture was of him when he was just a little kid. It was a really cute picture and I remember laughing about it with him because at that time he was a big, big guy and barely resembled the kid in the photo.
Most of what I remember about Asel is his personality. He was a genuinely happy guy. Rarely was there a time when he didn’t have a smile or a big grin on his face. He could joke about anything and could laugh at himself.
I remember how he would come up behind me and jump onto my back. I miss him so much. I miss his smile and I miss his voice. Asel had this very unique voice and I can still hear it in my head.
Mostly I miss him just because he was Asel. Not because he is a symbol of one cause or another.
It has been said that Asel was able to communicate with the essential person. To see within individuals without the barrier of political or cultural differences. What I miss about Asel is exactly that.
His essential person. He made us laugh, he taught us, and he loved us.
Asel, I miss you and you will not be forgotten.
Ethan (1994) is from Connecticut.
I wonder what you would say and write about this depressing situation if you were alive today. I still cannot come to terms with the fact that you are not.
Years have passed; sometimes it feels like a lifetime, but sometimes it feels like months, and still, justice has not been done.
There is someone out there, who is walking free, knowing that he took your life away from you, knowing that he took you away from us and away from this world that needs you so badly.
No one had the right to take your life.
I do not sit on any commission of inquiry and I was not a witness to what happened on the 2nd of October, 2000 in Arrabeh. But I knew you, Asel. And I know you invested so much of yourself in tireless efforts to create understanding between Jews and Arabs. You yourself were a symbol of co-existence. You, who thought so much about identity and this conflict, in many ways symbolize both the question and the answer.
How could someone take away so much goodness? So much hope?
I dreamt about you a few nights ago. I cried a lot in that dream; it was an absurd dream … just like the absurd reality we live in, just like the absurd circumstance in which your life was snatched from you.
I can picture you now, listening to these words. The picture of you that is engraved in my mind is the lively Asel, with your big smile and eyes that light up when you laugh.
I always admired how you thought about and dealt with complicated issues of identity and how you stood up for what you believed in.
I will never forget the day on which I learnt about what happened to you. It was the morning of October the 3rd and I went to check my e-mail, like I did every morning. I opened the e-mail from Bobbie and I had to read your name again and again until it hit me. Ever since that moment, I have thought so much about you, and I think I learnt two fundamental things:
The first is that life is so precious and so fragile. You are precious, Asel.
The second is that violence speaks so loudly, yet ultimately it has nothing to say. But in the silence of your grave–the voice of reason can be heard.
I see it as my duty towards your memory that I and all the people whom you touched during your life, speak this voice out loud, and tell others what a unique, precious person and peace-maker you were, and how you died.
My parents and I visited your family in your home and we went to put flowers on your grave. Your mother has planted beautiful flowers where you rest in peace.
Tomorrow is my first day at university, Asel, and I wish it could be yours too. I wish that your chance to blossom like those flowers would not have been trampled on so brutally.
Your life and your death have had a huge impact on so many people. I wish that you could live to see your hard work for peace realized in this crazy region. But what I can hope for now is that you have found your own peace.
It was a privilege to be your friend.
And I promise you never to forget.
Noa (1997) is from Jerusalem.
My dear friend Asel,
I’m so terribly sorry to hear that your life was taken forever by monsters. Monsters who did not know how much hope you were to the people who wanted to live in peace around you. Those monsters do not believe in peace like you did.
Dear Asel, you should realize that many people are relying on us as the candles that will light our way to the bright future, waiting ahead of us. Your family, Seeds of Peace, the Palestinians, the Israelis and all those who believe in peace are relying on us. Asel, your life was ended so soon, but your memory will last between us. We need the hope that shines from your memory to continue spreading the message of peace.
I must tell you my friend, I will never forget our beautiful days in Maine. I will never forget our first talent show at the Center in Jerusalem. I will never forget your great smile across your face. I will never forget what you said.
We promise you Asel, that NO matter what, one day our dream will become true.
Fadi (1998) is from Hebron.
PEACE. In the past few days this word has been emptied of its meaning, and was reborn in many different shapes and forms countless times. Between all the contradicting realities that have been flooding us lately—us-them—only one total objective truth remains: the dead. They say that every person has a name, but what my eyes discovered during the past few weeks is that most of the dead do not have names. They are just statistical figures—numbers that gradually swell, lacking identity.
One of them had a name. Asel Asleh.
And he had a home, Arrabah.
And he had parents, and two sisters, and a brother.
And he had a world, rich and incredible. A world where he tried, during the past three years with the structure of Seeds of Peace. There we try to create trust, understanding and tranquility within all this madness—to create tranquility. To create comradeship. To create peace. A world where he was a dynamic and charismatic figure, loaded with friends. Active, and brilliant. He worked, created, lived, and breathed peace.
It is important for me to emphasize—due to the fact that in recent times every death had a reason, or excuse, or legitimization—that Asel did not behave in any violent manner. Many eye witnesses—those who threw stones and those who did not—testified over and over that Asel did not throw a stone—not even once—or act in any other violent way. That was the Asel that I knew. Who raised his voice only for a friendly shout. Who would not harm me because I am a girl. Who is not here now. Asel did not die because of a stray bullet in a confused mob. He was beaten, chased, and shot from short range.
Above this sea of dead—lacking names and faces—raise voices that claim that we do not have a partner. That the peace process is dead. If this is the end—where do we go now? What is the alternative? That more young and brilliant people, like Asel, who were capable of contributing so much to our region, will die?
No one promised that this peace will be easy, or lack obstacles, or that we have even passed the most difficult stage. No one from our nations is going anywhere. No one is running away. No one will be removed. The opportunity to choose is in our hands. We are able to choose a verdict of eternal death and to fight one another until the end of time, with the understanding that the end of one is bound with the end of the other, or we can try.
Maybe there really is no trust. Maybe there really is no partner. Maybe we will not succeed. But we have no choice but to try, and to try, and not to stop until we will succeed. Simply because giving up means giving up a better life. In some ways, peace is like free falling, there are no guarantees. But even a free fall is preferred over an open-eyed march into the abyss.
Lately, many people speak in the name of the dead, interpreting their actions and thoughts in one direction or another, for peace or against peace. I cannot speak in Asel’s name.
I just know that in the duration of the past three years of his life he worked for and tried to create for himself a safe place, a better place, for my future children, for his future home, for his future life.
Asel will no longer have this future. We can still have it.
Please, let’s try …
Netta is from Haifa.
Now in the nightmare of Asel’s passing, I find myself looking desperately for some guiding light to untangle the enigma of evil that breathes so close to our necks. I decided to pull out the thoughts that Asel wrote in hopes to once again hear his ambitious voice. It is a voice that through these selections rings even still with a dedication and determination to pursue the essence of life. In 1997, I was in Bunk 17 with Asel and again was lucky to join him in Switzerland on the committee negotiating the issue of sovereignty.
I truly value the friendship that we shared. There is no question with an individual whose spirit is so potent, that his presence and vision will continue to affect our lives.
—Alex (A.C.) (Philadelphia)
From the first minute that Asel got there, we split up into beds in Bunk 17. There was a nickname by each bed, and he immediately loved the name Slider. He fit right in, was friends with all, and was a dominant and central player in the 17 Bad Seeds.
One of the biggest things I remember was in 1998, when we did something wrong to the neighboring bunk—I don’t remember exactly what. It was me, George, Adham and Asel. Jerry took us aside, and gave us a talk: “You know, guys, you’re older now, it’s your second year, we brought you back to camp to be a leader for everyone. I know you’re from Bunk 17 and it’s a tradition, but you guys are supposed to be mature! You are supposed to set an example!”
So Asel said “Look at us, Jerry. We’re an Israeli Jew, 2 Palestinians, and an Arab-Israeli, and we’re all working together to screw the bunk next door—isn’t that what Seeds of Peace is all about?” —Eddy (Holon)
The most special times were the times we would spend together illegally after lights were supposed to be out and after George and Shpitz finished up their little row.
I was bursting with questions to ask Asel and little by little, he revealed to me much of his heart and soul. He was a thinker, I could see it in him. Asel was going to make something big of himself, if only he was given the chance.
The string of crisp nights that we shared in Maine formed a chain that Asel and I would carry around our necks forever. That summer was not the end. He visited me in my home, and I in his. We both became a part of each other’s families. —Sa’ad (Amman)
One of the most fun times that we had in Villars was one night in the hallway outside our rooms. There was a bunch of us sitting around talking and laughing. Tim joined in, and in typical Tim fashion he had a funny story to tell us. As he was going on, we were all just cracking up and holding our stomachs from laughter. I recall Asel having I think one of the best laughs of his life. —Aly (Cairo)
I knew almost everything about Camp before I got there. He said, “You are strong enough to do it.” After this talk I was convinced that I am going to have the time of my life in Seeds of Peace—and I did! Asel loved everything that has a connection to Seeds of Peace. Before the second time that I went to Camp, I called Asel in order to say goodbye. Asel told me, “Last year you were changed. Now it is your duty to change other people.” When I came back, I called him and told him what kind of summer I had. He told me a sentence I won’t forget: “I knew you are strong enough to handle it.” —Naema (Deir Hanna)
I will always remember you Asel for being the most courageous and faithful one I have known or will ever know. —Malak (Cairo)
Asel was a great person. I learned from him how to be so proud of who I am, that I should never be confused about my nationality, that I might live in Israel but that I am a true Palestinian.
Just over a month ago I (we) saw Asel in the talent show. I remember he asked me how it’s going in Norway, and he made me laugh with his funny jokes. I have no words to express how I feel right now, no words. It is so easy to give in, and let our rivals win, but I think we all know what Asel would have wanted. His death really proves to me that bullets do not discriminate.
A Seed was killed. In shock, in grief, in more pain than I can bear, I carry this knowledge. I hear it, I read it, I know it, I slowly comprehend it and I ask—how could this be? How is it possible? What has the world come to if a Seed was killed?!?! And I get no answers, because there are none. —Karen (Netanya)
I will always love you and remember the great time we had together. I will keep this pain deeply in my heart and teach all the generations what it means. —Nidaa (Arrabeh)
Being a member of the very first Egyptian delegation of Seeds of Peace back in 1993, I never met Asel. Although I never met him, when I found out about his tragic death, I could not help the sorrow that overcame me. I felt the room I was in suddenly go cold, and my body shiver. The knowledge that a bright young life has been snuffed out in such a horrible manner is simply something that no one who has human feelings can ignore. —Ramy (Cairo)
I remember how energetic Asel was … I remember him a lot from camp in 1998 … I remember his smile … I remember him on my group in treasure hunt, just how eager he was to be first … I remember how disappointed he was when the blue team lost … I remember how he took care of everything at the canoe trip … I remember how mature he was but sometimes also childish … I remember so many things from him … It’s very hard to talk about someone you love in past tense, but Asel will always be here with us. —Liat (Jerusalem)
I was sitting alone in my room, reading mail and newspaper articles and saw your photo. I never had the opportunity and the privilege to get to know you. I have no words to express what I felt when I read those letters. You achieved the goal, and the generations and the ones that are left must try to understand what you understood and try to do something that you wanted but didn’t have the time to do. —Mirkica (Skopje)
I can’t belive it. I simply can’t believe it. Asel was one of the best Seeds, and most amazing all around people I have ever met. I just talked to him when I was in Israel this summer. How can something like this happen to someone so good? —Elli (Seattle)
You have been a great friend, and a great person. I love you and I will never stop missing you! You have been a role model to me in camp and in life, and you will always be. —Dina (Afula)
When we talked about the peace process, he was 100% with peace. He thinks we can do it: live together in peace—Palestinians, Israelis, and Arabs. It is difficult to try to sum up Asel. I know Asel had many friends from different countries. He didn’t look at Israelis and Palestinians as Israelis and Palestinians. He looked at them as human beings, like him. —Nizar (Gaza)
Let’s remember him and continue to be what he was all about—a good person who wanted peace. —Mustafa (New York)
Before my two journeys to Camp, former Seeds talked to me about the experience and how magical it is. Each and every one of them had a different view on what Camp was like. But strangely enough, they all had the same view on Asel and his memorial.
When I attended the memorial for the first time, I didn’t really gather what it was all about. I was trying to understand what was so special about him that made everyone talk about him with admiration and respect. I heard his letters and his love and devotion to Seeds of Peace.
After the memorial, I only wished one thing: to be someone like him. To be able to give those people the love they deserve and this place and community the care they deserve. I discovered that the love Asel gave to Seeds of Peace is one-of-a-kind, and that he’s an example that we should all look up to. We should also admire Seeds of Peace and what it does to people that go through its life-changing experience.
Asel is a great example of how the world should be; to believe and give people a chance to believe in you and what you believe, even if you end up dead for that purpose. —Yomna
I was a camper in 2010 and therefore never met Asel in person. I think it’s safe to say that Asel was and continues to be an inspiration. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that to this day, 12 years after his death, he brings me to tears with his words.
Asel’s dedication, determination, and devotion he gave to Seeds is responsible for a lot of what Seeds of Peace is today. When I preach the Seeds message, I don’t preach it for my sake, but for all those like Asel who were killed as a result of injustice, tyranny, and hypocrisy. I pray for a better world and spread the Seeds teachings wherever I am. Peace is possible; believe me, I’ve seen it.
Asel was killed by the very thing he was fighting: injustice. If he were here today, Asel would be the epitome of a role model. He is everything I wish I could be in my life.
I’ll keep his spirit alive in the field, throughout Otisfield, Maine, and around the world. I carry a Seeds pendant around my neck, bracelet around my wrist, and the memory of Asel Asleh, bearing them proudly and never lowering my gaze.
Today, you would have been 29. RIP, Asel. Friend, brother, Seed of Peace. —Hatem