June 4, 2015
Independence Day Celebration
US. Consulate General, JERUSALEM
As I was contemplating what I might say today, I ran across the words of the late Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali, and thought he captured beautifully a sentiment that I think about here often. In a poem called “Revenge,” he imagined meeting the man who killed his father and destroyed his home, and he fantasized about challenging that man to a duel and finally settling the score. “But if it came to light,” he wrote, “when my rival appeared, that he had a mother waiting for him, then I wouldn’t kill him even if I could. If it were made clear that he had a brother or sisters…or if he had a wife to greet him and children who couldn’t bear his absence…”
Reading those lines brought to mind what we’ve all seen happen when we fail to regard each other as humans, when we forget about the mothers and the children, the brothers and sisters. We’ve all seen what happens when the other is dehumanized, and when hatred is indulged.
I’ve seen it for myself – what that hatred, that rejection of humanity – of human-ness – can spawn. In just a few days span last year, I visited a mosque in the West Bank village of Jabaa and a Christian seminary on Mt. Zion – two places of holy worship that were torched by price tag vandals, by morally bankrupt cowards in the dead of night. I visited the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives where graves have been desecrated, as though in some sick sport – nihilism masquerading as political protest. I sat shiva with the families of four rabbis murdered as they prayed in their synagogue in Har Nof. I visited the wake tent in Shuafat for Mohammad Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped and burned alive by soulless criminals in the Jerusalem Forest.
For the monsters, the terrorists, who perpetrated these attacks, politics and religion intersect in a very dark place, in the lowest depths of hate and ignorance and inhumanity. These perpetrators were so filled with hate, so drained of wisdom, so morally vacant, so unable or unwilling to see the humanity of the other, that they become in every sense empty of humanity themselves.
And yet, I take comfort in knowing that they are the minority. And I derive great optimism from having met so many other Israelis and Palestinians who may just hold enough humanity for all of us. Who not only recognize the humanity in others, but embrace it, celebrate it, protect it.
Ask what gives me hope – and lately I’ve been asked that question a great deal – and I’ll tell you about the young Palestinians and Israelis I met with Kids4Peace, who even in the darkest, most heart-breakingly violent days of the Gaza conflict last summer, insisted on talking, and rejected the absurd notion that shunning each other will somehow lead to justice or equality.
They stood together and said words I’ll always remember – words that I wrote down even as they spoke them: “We are the kids of Jerusalem, and the violence stops with us.”