I recently sat in Tel Aviv and listened to a discussion by a Jewish woman and Palestinian man on the topic of peace and reconciliation. What made this talk different from other peace-making conversations I had heard was that both had lost a child in the violence between Arabs and Jews.
One lost a son when a young Palestinian took the life of almost a dozen persons out of hatred and anger over the deaths of several of his uncles at the hands of Israelis.
The other, in a gut wrenching way, recounted the story of how his ten year old daughter—walking with her sister on the school yard at ten o’clock in the morning right after a math test—took a bullet to the back of her head from an Israeli border patrol (no doubt with his own story, his own fears, his own mistakes in a country where everyone is only understood by understanding the past and their pain).
As the story unfolded, I wanted to leave the room. I had begun to cry and, as a father, couldn’t take any more. I was in the chair directly next to the man so I felt obligated to stay where I was. I’m glad I did as the story of these two individuals turned out to be a life changing moment for me.
This man, this woman, and many hundreds of others have banded together into a “parents circle.” They have all chosen the path of peace rather than revenge. Each has determined to end the cycle of violence by forgiving, pitying, understanding, humanizing, and empathizing with the story of the other.
The Jewish mother said it well, “The beginning of the end of violence comes when we see the humanity in the other. The beginning of violence comes when we forget the humanity in the other.”
Closeness goes with empathy, dignity, reconciliation, peace and love.
Distance goes with objectification, labels, animosity, hatred, violence and war.
In the most extreme of cases, the parents in this Israeli-Palestinian parent circle live out love. They don’t talk about peace, they make peace. They make peace with their choices. They make peace with their comfort and support of each other. They make peace every time they have to explain to family and community members why they are not seeking revenge. They make peace every time they choose to channel the hurt and pain not into destroying but creating beauty.
As this father said in broken and heavily accented English, I don’t want to try revenge. Revenge doesn’t work.
After a while, I began to think of my life against the backdrop of their story. I began to think about my family, my friends and my community against this story of reconciliation and redemption.
What divides us?
What separates people who were once friends?
Is it simply distance? Have we generalized or assumed the other person’s story or motives? Have we stopped seeing their humanity—their hurt—and substituted only their guilt, their wrong and the justice we seek from them?
Have we let little things create so much space that our insecurities and imagination have created a monster that doesn’t exist?
Have we returned perceived slights with violence of our own? Have we traded slander received with gossip of our own?
Have we walked away from peace talks because we are right, we deserve justice, we are entitled to pity, being the victim, perpetuating hostility?
Looking at this Israeli mother who had been born in South Africa and knows more than any of us about hate, strife and communities at odds….
Staring at the deep, intense and sad eyes of this Palestinian father—a father who had to teach his thirteen year old son who wanted to be a warrior that he had not chosen peace out of weakness and that there is no shame in reconciliation—kept choking my lungs and constricting my throat with grief… (there just aren’t words to explain).
Against all this, what is it that divides us?
Husband, forgive your wife. Stop keeping a record of wrongs.
Wife, forgive your husband. There is hope for him yet!
Children, forgive your parents. They are doing the best they can with what they have—their parents and childhood weren’t perfect either.
Parents—forgive your children. Their issues are different than the ones you experienced. Their choices and mistakes are not referendums on you or your parenting. If you can’t give them grace—who in this world will?
Friends, remember the good in your estranged friends. Know that they also have grievances against you that you know nothing of. Bridge the gap. Create closeness once again. Start the peace talks.
All of us, don’t despise the stranger, attach labels, objectify the other. As soon as we do, we’re certainly headed on the road to hatred and violence.
Forgive as you’ve been forgiven.
Forgive seventy times seven.
Forgive that your sins may be forgiven you.
With the words of a Palestinian father who lives twenty-four hours a day with the mental image of his precious daughter falling to the ground—“don’t choose revenge, don’t choose to be the victim, don’t choose to become the warrior… it doesn’t work.”
Image: The Children’s Memorial, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem