Monday, January 31, 2011

Forgiving the unforgivable

"In peace, children inter their parents; war violates the order of nature and causes parents to inter their children."
— Herodotus

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish carries burdens no parent should have to shoulder, unimaginable to most of us. Father of eight--six girls, two boys--his wife died of leukemia 16 September 2008. Then, in a horrific attack by his country's occupying army upon his nonviolent home, three of his daughters were slaughtered on 16 January 2009, just four months after the untimely death of his wife.

Who among us could blame a father living under occupation for using such an outrage to instantly turn to hate and revenge? Losses like these are only imaginable to those who have experienced them. The absolute worst fear of any parent is what Herodotus expressed two and a half millennia ago. It is an abomination of nature and this is part of the reason some humans seem to instinctively abhor war as grotesquely unnatural. Dr. Abuelaish, a healer and peacemaker, is clearly one of those evolved beings.

His memoir of his own impoverished upbringing as a Palestinian refugee, his successful struggles to gain an education, his life and work as a career medical doctor in an occupied land in conflict with his life as a husband and father--literally blasted by the occupying army one awful awful day--is chronicled in his remarkable response, I shall not hate: A Gaza doctor's journey on the road to peace and human dignity.

For their war crimes, I'd like to see all members of the Israel cabinet, IDF officers, and anyone connected to Operation Cast Lead--the 23 days of horrific military attack on civilian neighborhoods in Gaza from 27 December 2008–18 January 2009--made to read and reflect on this book. It should also be assigned reading for Hamas and all their dysfunctional leaders. Lacking that power, I've assigned it to my Nonviolence class. They are thinking about this man and what he can teach students of nonviolence all over the world.

Cast Lead was a perfect example of the idiocy of waging asymmetric warfare using violence. Hamas precipitated that attack by its maladaptive Qassam rocket attacks that were flatly terrorist in that they had no accuracy and were just shot in the general direction of Israel. Cast Lead was 23 days of focused hell, retribution exacted with great precision against the very sort of targets Israel was so outraged by--civilians. In the end, the asymmetry was perfectly symmetrical, literally two orders of magnitude. There were 13 Israeli mortalities and a reported range of Palestinian deaths that average almost exactly 1,300. So a 100:1 ratio seems fine to both Israeli leadership and Hamas, neither of whom expressed regret about deciding to attack the other.

While Dr. Abuelaish has no theoretical knowledge of strategic nonviolence, he is a Jedi master of the inner jihad that can produce a natural nonviolent expert. He is hurt beyond belief and yet refuses to hate. I've met him twice and his authenticity is palpable. From his honest and painful memoir to his open and disarming presence, it is clear that he is extraordinary in his ability to confront his losses, acknowledge that they are overwhelming, and then work to make life better for those he loves.

His love extends much further than any victim's normally does. He speaks and writes lovingly of his family, his Gazan neighbors, but it extends to many Israelis and in the deepest sense to all humanity. His philosophical nonviolence is individual and profoundly intrinsic, even though he credits and quotes the Quran. He would quote any text he was raised with, and, as it happens, his text is the Quran. It gives him peace even as it affords ammunition for many violent Muslims who cite it to justify abominable acts of retribution, even against girls and women.

If anyone can help heal the conflict in the Middle East through plain personal power, this man, surrounded by the images of his daughters, is the one. He has no brilliant strategic plan based on sophisticated application of elegant nonviolent methods; his gift is in ending the encrusted layers of accumulated grievance burdening both parties. Dr. Abuelaish cuts the chains of hatred that drag down Israelis and Palestinians in their frothing swamp of atrocity and revenge.

There is much more to think about in this regard. Let's all start by getting this book, which is helping support the foundation for girls' advancement in the Middle East, the foundation Dr. Abuelaish started to honor his own daughters, Daughters for Life.

The first time I saw Dr. Abuelaish was when we in the Peace and Justice Studies Association hosted an M.K. Gandhi Award to him in Winnipeg, Manitoba in October 2010. I cried. Then I went to hear him speak at Powells Books just a day after the second anniversary of the killing of his three daughters. I cried again. Then I watched him on Democracy Now! and cried again.

I have photos of a little girl who lived in our Whitefeather Peace House and a little girl who lived in a different peace community I lived in back 25 years ago, both of whom brought enormous joy into my life. They are on my cork board in front of me as I work. I can no longer think of Dr. Abuelaish without thinking of those little girls and cannot see those photos without thinking about his loss. If he can rise to victory over hatred we all are called to learn from him.

Abuelaish, Izzeldin (2011). I shall not hate: A Gaza doctor's journey on the road to peace and human dignity. New York: Walker & Company.


Unknown said...

Another book for the reading list. I'm so glad he shared his story - I remember seeing him on tv shortly after the attack that killed his daughters and the grief on his face was heartbreaking. Even Israeli's were calling to him with there deepest apologies and offering to help in anyway they could. He's the Azim Kamisa of that tragic episode, the man that shows how forgiveness heals.

Tom H. Hastings said...

Thank you. I had not seen that piece until Democracy Now! and it was shattering. He's just one of those forces that makes us want to do more than we were, reach deeper into our own reserves.