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Justice eludes activist, father of Palestinian child killed by IDF

Posters hanging in Jerusalem on Wednesday Jan' 25, 2007. Protesting against the killing of Abir Aramin(Photo: activestills/flickr)Posters in Jerusalem in January 2007, protesting the killing of Abir Aramin (Photo: activestills.org)

In January 2007, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a 10-year-old Palestinian girl on her way home from school.  Abir Aramin lived in Anata, a Palestinian village north of Jerusalem. The pathologist who performed the autopsy found that Abir was hit in the head by a rubber bullet. However, an Israeli police investigation found the soldiers innocent, claiming there was no proof that gunfire killed Abir.

For the last four and half years, Aramin’s family knocked every door seeking justice. I was there at the funeral when Abir’s father shocked  a crowd of Israelis by telling them that he would not seek revenge or surrender to hatred, and asked them to help him bring Abir’s murder to justice. I was there when Israelis and Palestinians demonstrated outside the police headquarters and the justice department in Jerusalem to pressure them to properly investigate Abir’s murder. I was there when Abir’s family decided to appeal to the Israeli court, hoping for justice.

Four and a half years later, Israel’s highest court found the Israeli soldiers responsible for killing Abir, and ordered the state to compensate the family. However, this is as far as justice goes in Israel. The court refused to order the police to reopen the criminal investigation. Those who killed Abir  continue to “serve” as soldiers and officers in the Israeli army.

The following letter was written by Abir’s father, Bassam Aramin, in an effort to spread awareness among Israelis and to remind those who have forgotten that murdering innocent children cannot be justified.  – Aziz Abu Sarah

By Bassam Aramin

The Israeli play has come to a conclusion – the protagonist, whom we shall call Y.A., a soldier serving in a unit of Israeli border guards, the playwright, Y.S., head of the investigation, and the talented director Dorit Beinisch, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  The setting: the Israeli High Court of Justice on July 10, 2011, roughly four and a half years since the assassination of the ten-year-old child Abir Aramin by a bullet to her head, in front of her school in the town of Anata on January 16, 2007, at the hands of Y.A., the protagonist.

The decision of the High Court panel headed by Justice Beinisch and filled out by Justice Edna Arbel and Justice Ayala Procaccia is clear and unmistakable, and it comes after the investigation file was closed many times by the Israeli public prosecutor under the familiar provision – or rather, pretext –  “lack of sufficient evidence.”

But this time was different.  This time, Justice Beinisch actually agreed with the decision of the lower court.  She agreed that the responsibility for the killing of the child Abir lies with the soldiers involved in the incident and that the opening of fire was unjustified and the result of negligence.  She sharply criticized those who carried out a belated and incomplete investigation, despite immediate legal action taken by the family to ensure that any investigation would be properly conducted. But then, Justice Beinisch performed a perfect about-face.  She concluded that, due to the incompleteness of the investigation and the passage of four and a half years, neither the solider who fired the shot nor the soldiers or commanders of his unit could be brought to trial – though she did say that the mother of the slain girl had the right to know the identity of her daughter’s killer.

This is the Israeli justice that I have awaited for four and a half years: the closing of the case “according to Israeli law.”  The closing of the case of young child’s killing by the High Court of Justice could not happen without a legal basis supporting such action. However, no one can tell me what this legal basis is.  No one has studied it in the Israeli law schools except, it seems, Justice Beinisch and her fellow justices.  Even Michael Sfard, the family’s lawyer, who holds a doctorate in law, could not explain the legal basis on which Beinisch’s decision rested.

But Justice Beinisch and I, we know the legal basis for her decision.  So knows the Israeli public, and so too do the victims of the Israeli occupation – the Palestinians.  Yes, we know well that when it is applied to Palestinians, Israeli justice is a mirage, always just out of reach.

Could Iron Lady Beinisch rule that an Israeli Jew is guilty of slaying Palestinians?  Would she dare tarnish the reputed purity of Israeli arms?  How could she accept that a soldier of “the most moral army in the world” would engage in the killing of a ten-year-old child?  How could she look at the Palestinian child Abir as a victim, when she is surrounded by six million corpses of Jews who fell as victims of the Nazi Holocaust?  Who is this child, and how could she take up any room in a heart already turned into stone by the horrors that Jews experienced during a long history of persecution and discrimination and murder?  For this is the history that is always present in the consciousness of Beinisch, and that drives the system of the Israeli occupation.

In the middle of the year 2007, during a speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem, I asked a question of Gideon Ezra, who was at that time the Minister of Public Security.  I asked him what his reaction would be if someone killed his ten-year-old daughter.  His answer was no less provocative than the question: he said, Hamas also kills Jewish children!  The minister was talking to the wrong Palestinian.  I wonder, however, if Mr. Ezra were one day to be confirmed as Minister of Justice, would he be in favor of exonerating Hamas on the spurious legal basis of the passage of time?

In reality, the ruling of the High Court was predetermined from the first hearing on October 14, 2009.  On that day, Beinisch said to my attorney, Michael Sfard, that, as they both know, “in all of its history, the Court has not judged any person guilty for a matter of this nature.” The response of the defense attorney (who was about to give birth at the time), was that she would be “happy to participate in a similar discussion in the future,” as if the case and its outcome were a play already written, and each actor had only to play out the role assigned to him or her.

Dr. Nurit Peled Elhanan, a professor at Hebrew University who specializes in the Israeli educational system, and a winner of the EU’s Sakharov award for human rights, was one of the first two people to arrive at the Hadassa hospital on the day Abir was shot – the second being her husband and my spiritual brother Rami Elhanan.  The couple lost their own fourteen-year-old daughter Smadar in an attack in West Jerusalem on September 4, 1997.  On that day, Nurit said that the soldier who shot Abir would remain completely free and would never be found guilty.  After the session of the High Court on October 14, 2009, she wrote an article called “The High Court of Justice Does Not Extend Its Condolences.” She harshly critiqued the final decision of the court in her July 13, 2011 article “Abir Aramin Was Shot in the Head, but Nobody Shot Her.” I now completely understand why Rami said, “If every Israeli soldier was found guilty of the murder of a Palestinian child, who would be left to serve in the army?”

The great Israeli writer David Grossman, a bereaved parent himself, attended a session of the High Court on October 14, 2009 in solidarity with our family.  He later said in an interview with Haaretz that “there is a truly malignant conspiracy between the army, those who are charged with investigating its actions, the state, and the media,” and added, “who after all pays attention to the case of just another Palestinian child, her life worth little.”

It may be strange after all that has happened for me to say that I have remained, and will remain, steadfast in my belief in the realization of justice, and that the day will come when the killers of my daughter – who died, innocent, for no reason – will be convicted.  Despite the fact that the president of the High Court (a mother herself) has issued her decision that the case be closed, it is not closed for me.  If she thought that four and a half years was a long time after which to convict a murderer, it is not a long time for me.  For if Justice Beinisch had considered recent history, who would have thought that after Hitler committed suicide to escape judgment for his crimes against humanity, that his cronies, like Eichmann, would be chasedfor decades?  What is the fate of the Nazi army, sons of the most monstrous dictatorship in the world?  There is no escape for criminals these days, your Honor.  We are in the 21st century, and justice still hounds those murderers in Uganda and Cambodia and Bosnia forty years later, and not just four and a half years.

Justice Beinisch, my daughter Abir lives on in memory, and for me, each day she is killed anew.  This is perhaps as it is for you when you think of your relatives who suffered and died as victims of the Nazis, and as it was for the previous president of your court, Aharon Barak, a survior himself.  Your court will not relent in your pursuit of revenge against a new community of victims, upholding discriminatory laws that encourage the occupation and the settler movement, that turn Palestinian human beings into corpses.  These are the fine interior workings of the “death industry.”  The Israeli legal system does not offer even the most basic justice to Palestinians, who sometimes, in their despair, also turn to revenge that feeds the vicious circle and takes more victims.

But I will never look back and let revenge tempt me, and I will not be your victim again. I am not using my memories to take revenge, but rather to realize justice.  Justice Beinisch, Abir’s blood cries out from where it was spilled, “what was my guilt that have I been killed?”

To the murderer of my child Abir: look in the mirror.  You have to live with the truth that you are a killer of children.  Your role in the end is not that of a hero or a combatant, merely a victim yourself of a complex system – yet you still must shoulder the responsibility of killing my daughter.  I have not stopped believing that you are a human being and that the day will come when you will acknowledge your ugly crime.  Maybe the beginning is your recent decision to become a repentant-“chozer bitshuvah,” leaving your home for a new journey to God.  Will the new religious institute in which you are studying lead you to discover your humanity, admit your crime and demand that you be judged so that your conscience be cleared, or will you remain a silent victim of a system of immoral occupation?

How much I used to hope that just once, before the end of the occupation and its relegation to being a piece of trash in the wastebasket of history, Israel would acknowledge the crime of the murder of one young Palestinian girl, and would convict one soldier.  But the officer whom the High Court blamed for the inadequacy of the investigation into my daughter’s death has been promoted, as have the commanding officer of the border guard unit in Jerusalem.  Congratulations to them on their efforts to preserve Israel’s reputation and that of its military and police.

To conclude this piece, I send warm regards from the depths of my heart to all of my friends in the movement Combatants for Peace, which I helped found and am proud to be a part of, and likewise to the Bereaved Families Forum and to all the friends in Israel and in other parts of the world for the time they have invested in supporting our family during these long four and a half years. I want to remind them and all of the honest people of the world that Abir’s case is still open.  Justice will win in the end, for this is the law of the universe.  May we all stay true to the goodness and freedom and justice in our hearts, for we are seeing the Arab Spring light the way to liberty and democracy, and we shall see that same pulse of freedom beat in Israel.  The occupation will end, and the peoples of Israel and Palestine will enjoy peace and independence.  We will always bear the responsibility of fighting the death industry, and may we work together to institute in its place a co-operation of life and renewal.

Bassam Aramin is president of the Al Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue and co-founder of Combatants for Peace. He is a master’s student in Peace Studies at Bradford University.

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    1. AYLA


      Reply to Comment
    2. Deïr Yassin

      Back in August 2010 when an Israeli judge ruled that Abir had indeed been shot dead by a border policeman, and that the killing was “totally unjustifiable”, his father said this:
      “I have worked night and day for 3 1/2 years to prove that they killed Abir …but I never lost hope because I don’t want that one day my son will avenge the death of his sister”.
      I hope Bassam Aramin will find a way to convince his son, now that we’ve seen once again that Israeli justice as far as Palestinians are concerned is just empty words.


      Reply to Comment
    3. You are a testament to humanity, Bassam. May we all have such strength in our quest for justice.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Bryan

      I’m very sorry for your loss. There is no greater tragedy than for a parent to bury a child.

      +972 should have provided a good editor for the piece. It is so emotional that it’s incoherent and badly written; I had to search for news sources to find out what actually happened. James Joyce could have written a more coherent article.

      You present one side of the debate as the absolute truth, when in reality there is debate about what happened. There was a small riot at the time against the arrival of a group of officers, not an organized anti-occupation protest (which would have been covered by the media as usual, though there is no covered of Abir’s death). There is no evidence that there were any shots fired at all, even rubber bullets. All evidence points to the likelihood that Abir was killed by stray rock thrown by another Palestinian child. It’s a tragedy to be sure, and most likely would not have happened without the occupation, but it looks like Israeli soldiers are not directly responsible for this.

      I wish you peace. May G-D comfort you in your time of grief.

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    5. Deïr Yassin

      @ Bryan
      You’re simply the most disgusting person I’ve read for a very long time. Go to H… !!!

      “There is no evidence that there were any shots fired at all, even rubber bullets. All evidence points to the likelihood that Abir was killed by stray rocks thrown by another Palestinian child”

      You have the chutzpah to write that s… !! to Bassam Aramin who lost his beautiful little daughter all while pretending you’re sorry.
      Look at the photo I linked to further up.

      If you’d taken two minutes to google informations, you’d known what everyone who has followed this case knows.
      “… Jerusalem District Court ruled she was killed by a rubber bullet by Border Guard officers during a riots”

      A collegue to the Border Guard in question testified that bullets were fired, and just in case you have the chutzpah to show up here again, Abir Aramin was not rioting !! She was walking down the street on her way home from school with her sister and a friend, I think. Not even near to the stone-throwing kids.

      If you’re genuinely interested, Richard Silverstein had written various articles about Abir Aramin and her father’s fight for justice.

      Shame on you, and if it weren’t for the moderators I would tell you what I really think of you !

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    6. AYLA

      @Omar said it perfectly. You are the bravest kind of warrior for peace there is, and I’m so terribly sorry that your heart is being tested so. No wonder David Grossman is at your side; he is one, too. Combatants for Peace, which we owe to you, and Bereaved Parents/Families, which I’m so sorry you must count yourself among, are two of the most remarkable organizations I know of, anywhere. Leonard Cohen, when giving a moving performance here in Tel Aviv, called yours a “holy, holy, holy response to human suffering”. I hope everyone will watch this beautiful performance, and tribute. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGu3SLzTKU8.

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    7. Bryan, every single thing you wrote in your comment is incorrect. There is no debate whatsoever about how Abir was killed. The lawyers representing Bassam Aramim and his wife proved to the court beyond any doubt that the border guards shot wildly in a densely populated civilian area, near a school (Abir’s school) where there was no danger to their lives and no stones being thrown. The forensic evidence is indisputable, and has been fully accepted by the court.

      Your comment about Mr. Aramim’s writing style is gratuitous and untrue. Most of the native speakers who comment on this blog could use some lessons in style and grammar from him.

      The next time you write a mendacious comment for the sake of furthering your political agenda or being provocative, it will be deleted by moderators.

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    8. AYLA

      @Bryan… you are the same Bryan who just posted on the fb thread that your entire family was killed by the IDF? If so, I truly can’t believe you could post this, knowing how hard it is to hear anything but how sorry someone is for your loss, let alone an uninformed denial of what so obviously happened (I’ve followed this story for a while in the news. plus, a rubber bullet is pretty solid evidence). Also, I think I know who you are, and that your tragic loss was a result of a car accident with an army vehicle? That makes your loss no less tragic, but the circumstances quite different. I agree with @Deir–shame on you. And as for how the op ed is written, in what is probably the author’s third language, are you effing kidding me? I’m a writer, and that never crossed my mind while I was reading, plus the way you expressed this was downright insulting. In this context… I’m shocked. I pray that Bassam Aramin has been in this insane conflict long enough to know how to ignore you, and that his faith in humanity has been so thoroughly tested already that your stunning insensitivity can only make him feel compassion for you.

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    9. Ashley Kennedy

      The courts, who have studied all the evidence, found that the Israeli military were the killers. Bryan seems to think that pumping out Zionist propaganda that presents no new credible evidence will advance his cause. All Bryan’s propagandist views have previously been presented to the courts and dismissed in their entirety. Bryan, by repeating those invalidated assertions shows that he has not one shred of a balanced perspective nor do his mouthing have any passing resemblance to reality.

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    10. The High Court, at least this panal of it, is afraid of the IDF. The trigger finger is undoubtedly lost. If the High Court ordered or sanctioned a criminal investigation, local command and control would have to be the focus, which would merge with IDF standard procedures. The IDF will not allow the High Court to determine military procedure; indeed, the IDF has ignored previous Court orders to ban certain acts, such as using human shields to first enter a house before troops do.
      The IDF is something of an autonomous branch of the government once orders for engagement are given, and the occupation is essentially a collection of standard active orders. But this is true of most militaries, including that of the United States. What could the High Court realistically do? Enable the equivalent of a constitutional tort against the State of Israel for damages; such a tort would likely end up for review in the High Court, which would determine compensation. But the principle of a civilian trial against the State would then have greater precedent. The internal travails of Israel have been so tramatic for so long that the IDF is slowly establishing a lawless area for itself, controlled only by the logic of national defense.
      The father of this child is right, I think, about the misuse of the merit of others’ deaths. There are two lessons from the Holocaust: never again for my people; and not now, for this act before me, not now, no matter the victim, the perpetrator. The former has crushed the latter. Once stance on these two seems to determine much if not most reader commentary we see posted onto +972.

      Reply to Comment
    11. RichardNYC

      Do either of you have a link to a copy of the Judge’s opinion, in English? I’ve read some Israeli court opinions before in English, but they had scholarly significance w/r/t international law, so it seems maybe they translate some and not others.

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    12. RichardNYC,
      Go to the offical High Court site. I have the link stored somewhere, but just google on “Israel Supreme Court.” They have taken to translating many of their opinions and posting them. But this one may be too fresh for that.

      Reply to Comment
    13. AYLA

      The worst affect of @Bryan’s comment is that, once again, here we are having a response–the same old blind, stuck, hard-wired, boring response– to an essay that not only has nothing, really to do with what we are discussing, but is exactly about the courage it takes NOT to be reactive, to turn to us vs. them, to close one’s heart in the face of the worst kind of tragedy (losing a child. to a conflict that already oppresses you. and to have justice denied despite all evidence). Those of you questioning the evidence on this case (which you can easily look up yourselves) may as well be accusing a young rape victim of possibly, just possibly, asking for it. But more than anything, aren’t you tired? There are no angels in this conflict (except, possibly, Bassam Aramin). We all have blood on our hands, to use one of this week’s favorite media expressions. Please, please, please, break out of the recording and listen to what is being said right here, right now, by a man devoting his life to not slipping into such easy, numb, ego-filled grooves. As for @Bryan, I actually woke up thinking about you, which is why I signed on. You lost two children and your wife this past year–and you shared this information publicly on the fb thread on this essay, so I feel free to bring it in. The car accident was near where I live, and we have mutual friends (friends whose politics are so extremely and radically left–whose favorite expression is “destroy all the weapons, erase all the borders”, that I find it difficult to believe you’re pushing a pro-israel agenda here). I find it more possible to believe that you are in a tremendous amount of pain, and that for some reason, faced with Bassam Aramin’s unspeakably brave and open-hearted response to his loss, you’re responding with insidious anger. I mean this utterly sincerely: I hope you are getting a lot of help and support to get through your shocking and tragic loss. And I pray that through your honest grief, you, too, will experience expanded open-heartedness. Take care.

      Reply to Comment
    14. AYLA

      ‘effect’. not ‘affect’. the worse effect… In trying to learn what will be only my second language, I seem to be left with none for the moment. In admiration of all those who cannot only speak, but write, in three.

      Reply to Comment
    15. AYLA

      @Greg Pollack–thank you.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Deïr Yassin

      The Court Ruling that Abi Aramin had indeed been shot by the Border Police is from August 17th 2010. More informations in the Independent-article I linked to further up.

      For people who want to see what a beautiful person Bassam Aramin is:

      And he has friends of the higest human quality too:
      And Rami’s wife:

      Reply to Comment
    17. Ayla,
      We humans tend to think we have won when we bash others into silence. This tendency is the saddest thing I see in +972 comments. I have succumbed to it too. We especially want to quash those who refuse to live in “us” and “them.” I have been watching the Palestine conflict for over 30 years. I have come to wonder if civilization is not being tested there, tested to see if we can somehow amend our views of “us” and “them,” what an “us” is, what a “them” is. To open the fist which has driven history. That is the quest for human rights. No side wins through that quest. You have to be ready to defend your sworn enemy. I won’t be there, part of that. Maybe you will.
      And if English is your second language you are very good at langagues. Greatest tool in the fight.

      Reply to Comment
    18. AYLA

      @greg–sorry I was unclear; English is my first language, and I feel myself losing it as I try to learn Hebrew, I’m forgetting English, which is probably some kind of a good sign for the ways I’m seeing things more from the inside than the outside (I would also love to learn Arabic, but I don’t have the confidence for both, and, sadly, Hebrew covers more ground among Palestinians than Arabic does among Israelis, so I cover more ground this way). I’m not sure I’m following you on everything exactly, but I like where you’re coming from, generally. Yes–the “us” and “them”-ers are on the rise, and so are the open-hearted, and it is a sort of test of good and evil in a way that I feel is coming to a head, particularly on this sliver of land, and this part of the world. There is no us and them, really, and I since I know this, I have no sworn enemies. That said, since this is earth, I take responsibility for the fact that I’m a Jewish American who has Israeli citizenship, and with that comes a responsibility to fight for Palestinian rights, including the right to return. As for silencing people on these comment threads, which are often quite toxic (and anonymous for many) there is a certain level of insensitivity that goes beyond having different ideology that someone may feel is hurtful (for example, Ben Israel and I each believe the other’s views and actions are hurting the greater good) to a point that it is downright abusive; there are times when not silencing the abuse is like standing by and witnessing a violent crime while doing nothing. Sometimes, that abuse may be unknowing, such as Bryan’s, here, in which case I am sympathetic, but it can’t be tolerated. The only kind of “winning” I hope to achieve by commenting here to connect with people I might not otherwise have the opportunity to discuss these issues with, and to learn by listening, both to the bloggers and the commenters, and by learning, to open my own heart, and to urge others, who come here purely to spout pre-conceived rhetoric (not Bryan; others) to do the same. I once observed you encouraging Ben Israel to feel free to be himself here in coming from a religiously-motivated place, and I was moved by that. If we all speak from our hearts, and not from rhetoric, we become human to each other, and even if we will never agree, there’s great value in this.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Bryan

      I haven’t looked at this thread since posting. First, I should say that I’m not the Bryan who posted about losing his family to the IDF. Mr. Aramin’s article is confusing; I read it twice before I posted, and again since the strong reaction to my comments. This is not his fault; the editors of +972 should have made it more coherent and additionally provided some background on the topics presented. I searched for an read many articles full of conflicting information about this case (so contra Lisa’s point, there is at least *some* debate about what happened). I thank those who provided informative links on this case.

      It appears that the criminal court (where the evidentiary rules are more stringent, requiring evidence beyond a reasonable doubt) ruled against the Aramin’s while a civil court (with evidentiary rules of a preponderance of evidence) rule in their favor.

      Once again, I express my condolences to the Aramin family. And, now that I have more background on Mr. Aramin, I applaud peace activism and hope that peace comes soon to Israel and Palestine.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Deïr Yassin

      @ Bryan
      I’m very happy that you’re not the Bryan who lost his family in that tragic car accident. Inspired by Ayla’s comment, I did a little research, and was very saddened by what happened to that other Bryan, and seeing that he’s a progressive, who has worked with the Alternative Information Center and many joint Israeli-Palestinian organizations, I was very astonished that he could react as you did, and not be aware of this very well-known case. So I’m relieved you’re not this obviously beautiful person who turned mean in his sorrow.

      English is not my native language neither my first foreign language, and still I had absolutely NO problems understanding Bassam Aramin’s article. There is an introduction by Aziz Abu Sarah, and then Bassem’s article starts. It’s clear to everyone not wearing ‘blinkers’. But then if you had a preconceived opinion before even starting ….

      CF. Lisa’s point: no, there is absolutely NO debate about what happened ! Just read the newest articles on the case instead of commenting on three years old Court decisions….

      The end of the story is that you commented here, basically saying that Bassem Aramin was lying about the tragic death of his little daughter. Your ‘hit by a stray stone thrown by another Palestinian child’ is pure Hasbara, and was abandoned early even in the IDF narrative. All the results coming up in English when you google Abir Aramin tell you so. Even Ynetnews, not really pro-palestinian ordinarily.
      “Now that I have more background on Mr Aramin”, you write. Well, it’s all mentioned at the bottom of the article. Never made it that far ?

      Reply to Comment
    21. AYLA

      okay, first and foremost, I owe the other Bryan a big apology for linking him to this Brian’s comments, and I’m grateful to this Bryan for signing back on and clearing that up. Deir covered the rest so I don’t have to say much else; I’m especially grateful, too, that this isn’t a story about a “beautiful person who turned mean in his sorrow,” as Deir so beautifully put. I’ll only add that it seems really interesting to me that after never seeing the name “Bryan” in comment threads here, we had two different Bryans, both spelled that way (not the only way), on this essay, meaning only that the confusion doesn’t seem to be completely meaningless. For me, it goes to show how most people become somewhat sympathetic when you know there story. I was dead wrong about this Bryan’s story, but I’m sure he has a story, as we all do. This is where the news fails us. Thanks everyone.

      Reply to Comment
    22. AYLA

      ‘their’, not ‘there’. sigh. :). oh well: make way for new languages.

      Reply to Comment
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