Monday, April 16, 2012

I shall not hate

Yesterday we said good bye to the Egyptians.  On the 7th day of Passover, the fleeing Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds after it split and never looked back.

Our tradition is amazing.  After all that Joseph had done for Pharaoh and Egypt, the new Pharaoh didn’t remember him and enslaved the Jewish people. If Israel had reasons to hate any nation, it would expectably be Egypt.  Nevertheless, God commands Israel “You shall not abhor an Egyptian for you were a stranger in his land.” (Dt. 23:8)  Rashi explains that even though they threw the males into the Nile to drown them, we owe them a debt of gratitude “for they were your host at a time of pressing need (i.e., the time of the famine in the days of Jacob and Joseph) therefore (we’re not to hate them.). Ha-Emek Devar (Rabbi Naphtali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893) elaborates in his commentary that God wanted to elevate our souls by recognizing the good and not become base people by denying that good.  Consequently, the Holy one wanted us to internalize this commandment.  Thanks to my time in Israrel, I was introduced to a modern role model from the ranks of the unexpected.

After the official Seminar was over, I remained in Israel instead of rushing back home.  I joined a colleague and her friend, a college professor who had studied at the Albright Institute in East Jerusalem, and went on an explore of East Jerusalem.  Being academics all, of course, we had to stop at several bookstores.  Those bookstores were eye openers for I saw volume after volume of books which you never see in Jewish Jerusalem.  They presented a completely different narrative of the Palestinian-Israeli story.  One book caught my eye, I shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish so I bought it.

Izzeldin Abuelaish was born and raised in Gaza.  He was the first Gazan physician admitted to a residency program in Israel.  In Dr. Marek Glezerman’s introduction to the book, he writes, “In 1995, at about the time I moved on to a chairmanship at another hospital, Izzeldin was admitted to the residency program in obstetrics at Soroka Medical Center.  It was an individually designed residency, not aimed at board exams but at completion of the curriculum.  He completed against all-odds-all the different departments and rotations, with schedules.  For instance, if you don’t show up, someone else has to pitch n for you on short notice, and nobody likes to do that.  Depending on what was happening at the border, there were times when Izzeldin, along with other Palestinians from Gaza, were not allowed to enter Israel.  Sometimes after night shifts when the border was closed, he couldn’t get back home to his family in Gaza. But he never called it quits.  He completed the six year program, he acquired full command of the Hebrew language, and he became a skilled gynecologist and obstetrician.” (page x)

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish details the deprivations, problems, and hopelessness of the average Gazan in his book.  Tragedy struck his family during the Operation Cast Lead in 2009 when Israel invaded Gaza to put an end to the incessant shelling of Sederot and other Israeli communities.  Three of his daughters and a niece were killed when an Israeli tank fired point blank at their third floor room. Dr. Abuelaish is a well know Gazan who has repeatedly spoke out for co-existence and against terrorism both in Gaza and in the Israeli media.  His address was well known by Palestinian and Israelis.  The death of his daughters and neice was a needless tragedy of the greatest proportions.  Once again Dr. Glezerman writes that the Ministry of Defense has responded by stalling and evasion to the growing number of Israelis demanding a formal and independent Israeli investigation. (page xiii)

Dr. Abuelaish does not hate and still speaks out for peace and reconciliation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  His words are worth reading and actualizing.

Revenge was on the lips and in the minds of most people I talked to in the days after my daughters and niece were killed…We struggled together, my children and I, and I tried to respond to the chorus of people calling for Israeli blood to atone the deaths of my girls.  One said, “Don’t you hate the Israelis?”  Which Israelis am I supposed to hate? I replied.  The doctors and the nurses I work with?  The ones trying to save Ghaida’s life and Shatha’s eyesight? The babies I have delivered?  Families like the Madmoonys (Israelis) who gave me work and shelter when I was a kid?

Still, the cries for reprisals didn’t stop.  What about the soldier who fired the deadly volleys from the tank?  Didn’t I hate him?  But that’s how the system works here: we use hatred and blame to avoid the reality that eventually we need to come together.  As for the soldier who shelled my house, I believe that in his conscience he has already punished himself, that he is asking himself, “What have I done?”  And even if he doesn’t think that now, tomorrow he will be a father.  He will suffer for his actions when he sees how precious is the life of his child.

To those who seek retaliation, I say, even if I got revenge on all the Israeli people, would it bring my daughters back?  Hatred is an illness.  It prevents healing and peace. (page 187-8)

That’s how things happen in the Middle East – the size of the rhetoric trumps the facts on the ground.  In my experience, the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians were horrified by the terrifying events of the three week war.  The reaction of ordinary people strengthens the case for our need to talk to each other, to listen to act.  And it reinforces my lifelong belief that out of bad comes something good.  Maybe now I really have to believe that; the alternative is too dark to consider.  My three precious daughters and my niece are dead.  Revenge, a disorder that is epidemic in the Middle East, won’t get them back for me.  It is important to feel anger in the wake of events like this; anger that signals that you do not accept what has happened, that spurs you to make a difference.  But you have to choose not to spiral into hate.  All the desire for revenge and hatred does is to drive away wisdom, increase sorrow, and prolong strife.  The potential good that could come out of this soul-searing bad is that together we might bridge the fractious divide that has kept us apart for six decades.

The catastrophe of the deaths of my daughters and niece has strengthened my thinking, deepened my belief about how to bridge the divide.  I understand down to my bones that violence is futile.  It is a waste of time, lives, and resources, and has been proven only to beget more violence.  It does not work.  It just perpetuates a vicious cycle.  There’s only one way to bridge the divide, to live together, to realize the goals of two people:  we have to find the light to guide us to our goal.  I’m not talking about the light of religious faith here, but light as a symbol of truth.  The light that allows you to see, to clear away the fog – to find wisdom.  To find the light of truth, you have to talk to, listen to, and respect each other.  Instead of wasting energy on hatred, use it to open your eyes and see what’s really going on.  Surely, if we can see the truth, we can live side by side.

I am a physician, and as a consequence I see thinks most clearly in medical terms.  I am arguing that we need an immunization program, one that injects people with respect, dignity, and equality, one that inoculates them against hatred. (195)

Recently, Rabbi David Wise taught me that the Hebrew word for   
Revenge (Nekamah) is only one letter away from the Hebrew word Comfort (Nechamah).  Today is Yizkor and we gain a sense of comfort as we remember our dearly departed.  Similarly, may the Jewish people and the Palestinian people choose Nechamah over Nekamah so that peace may envelope us all.

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