Survivor of Brussels Airport Bombing Plants a Tree for Peace

Sunday, December 11, 2016 2:08 PM

“When I was recuperating in the hospital I said that when I went to Israel I would plant a tree for Hassan and his family.”

Nine months after being seriously injured in the terror attack on Brussels Zaventen International Airport on March 22, 2016, Walter Benjamin, who is Jewish, fulfilled his vow to plant a tree in Israel in honor of the man who helped save his life, Hassan Elouafi, a Muslim Belgium citizen whose parents are from Morocco.
“Growing up in Belgium I always knew about KKL-JNF,” said Walter Benjamin. “I know that planting a tree is good for the region; you do something for someone. When I was recuperating in the hospital I said that when I went to Israel I would plant a tree for Hassan and his family because when you plant a tree this is like life coming back again.”
 
KKL-JNF Forester Eran Zabadi facilitated the planting at the Tzora Forest planting center and presented Benjamin and Hassan Elouafi, who also planted a tree at the ceremony, with a certificate. A documentary videographer accompanied the men on the trip to document their visit and also planted a tree.
 
The two men do not like to remember that fateful day when Benjamin was on his way to Israel to visit his daughter for Purim and his leg was seriously injured in the explosion at Brussels Zaventen International Airport. Elouafi, an airport worker, was right behind him and rushed to help, saving his life.
 
Desperate for news on Benjamin’s condition after he had been taken to hospital, Elouafi tracked him down and began visiting him at the hospital daily, sometimes together with his wife. During the course of their conversations, the topic of Israel and the Palestinians came up and Elouafi confided that one of his dreams was to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest site for Islam.
 
Benjamin then promised him that as soon as he was able to walk he would invite Elouafi to come to Israel with him. A true friendship developed between the two men. Elouafi noted that Benjamin’s sense of humor and ready smile made it easy for the two to connect.
 
Their deep regard for each other is apparent as they walk in the Jerusalem Forest. They share a joke as Elouafi remains protectively close to Benjamin while he navigates the path.
 
“In Europe they ask the same question: how can you be friends, a Jew and a Muslim,” said Benjamin. “They don’t understand. We hope that our trip can maybe open the eyes of people in Europe. That is why we are doing this documentary film about our trip to show in schools and on television. We have had discussions and political disagreements but we are still friends. You come here and argue and discuss things but I think Hassan and I will still be friends. It is important especially for young people to see.”
 
During their visit Benjamin met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Elouafi went to Ramallah. The two men also went to Bethlehem and visited the Aida refugee camp there.
 
Elouafi, who was able to pray two times at Al-Aqsa including at the Friday prayers, said that he felt a special energy from the holy place.
 
When he planted his sapling, Elouafi said he thought of peace, and the real friendship which exists between him and Benjamin.
 
“In this region people need a lot of peace between them,” he said.