Numerous news reports were published regarding my father’s death. It seemed he had the privilege of being the first Christian to die in the Second Intifada, and the first foreigner, and the oldest man of all the martyrs. “A martyr of humanity,” they called him.
I had to read about how he got killed in these stories. According to the Civil Defense, as mentioned in one news story, an Israeli helicopter had fired a rocket directly at my father and immediately tore his body into pieces. Nader Abu Amsha, the Director of the YMCA Rehab Program who lives in our neighborhood was reported to have said that “there were still pieces from Dr. Fischer’s body scattered on the walls and the grounds of that area.”
That was not how I wanted to remember him. Yet it seemed inescapable. Images of dad’s disfigured body appeared in international magazines and newspapers. News reporters harassed us with questions. Their lenses were in our faces like a pack of hungry wolves unleashed upon its fragile prey, trying to capture the sorrowful tears in our eyes. All this deprived me of the space I needed to grasp what we all had just been through — that dad was really killed and gone.
I hated journalists then. Because had Dad not been German, he would probably not have had any media coverage and just faded into history as a mere, nameless, faceless statistic in the mounting death toll of the Palestinians that was barely covered. This fact infuriated me. My privacy was a price I was willing to pay for the people needed to read about it. The world was entitled to the truth about what was happening on Palestinian grounds.
“What makes it news is only when Israelis are dead,” said Ryme Katkhouda, the founding director of People’s Media Center and co-founder of dcradiocoop.org and wbix.org. “Also,” she added, “they seem to always be capable of finding their names and describing the funerals of the Israeli dead people. But the Palestinians don’t have names. There, we have numbers.”
Why should a human’s life be worth so much more if you are an Israeli or Jew and worth nothing if that human happened to be a Palestinian? Who is to decide? Who is controlling the media? I wondered. The truth became my holy grail as I majored in journalism many years later to figure it out. I was astonished by how little people in the United States knew about the conflict — some have never even heard of Palestine before.
In part the media was to blame. For several decades up to the present, Al-Aqsa Intifada, one thing seemed still pertinent today: the old pro-Israeli/pro-Palestinian dichotomy in the media. Although the anti-Palestinian bias is much less visible and portrayed in a more subtle manner than in the past, pro-Israeli sympathy among the US public has appeared to be a central slogan of American political life. The Palestinian people still suffer the consequences of the age-long media image distortion that has been ingrained in the American culture. While coverage is clearly inadequate, news stories presented in the media are often de-contextualized and lacking of sufficient background.
I dialed a number in Toledo, Calif. and listened to the monotonous tone, hoping she would answer. Someone picked up. A baby was cooing in the background as a gentle voice streamed through the speaker. “Is this Alison Weir?” I hesitantly asked, making sure I had the right number.
Alison Weir had devoted her career as a freelance journalist to pursuit of the truth about what goes on in Palestine. She was driven by curiosity and frustration at the lack of sufficient coverage by the American media of the uprising of 2000 or, what she calls, a “very biased” coverage.
Weir decided to visit Gaza and the West Bank in the early winter of that same year to “see everything firsthand”. On her return, she founded ‘If Americans Knew’, a non-profit organization that works on raising awareness for the American public by gathering accurate facts and publishing the unedited truth about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Her work had caused Weir a lot of controversy, by those who did not appreciate the whole truth, which ultimately resulted in numerous hate calls and anonymous death threats. As impossible as it seemed, I had finally reached her.
“You know,” she said, responding to my questions about the US media coverage of the conflict, “the term I have come to use for it is Israeli-centric. It seems to cover things only from an Israeli point of view.”
She mentioned the Israeli elections which the US media thoroughly followed all through February and March. Yet during this same period, significant events were going on in Gaza and the West Bank that were not being reported at all. One of the closest examples, according to Weir, is the aftermath of catastrophe in Gaza. It is “a man-made Tsunami” that has rendered more than a hundred thousand people in Gaza roofless, and many more injured with insufficient medical care due to the damages caused to several hospitals and clinics and the continual denial of humanitarian aid by Israel.
“There is a pattern of largely omitting significant news stories from newspapers,” Weir said, “or they’ll be covered only one time.”
According to studies examining the first year of news coverage of the uprising conducted by If Americans Knew, there was a significant disparity in the likelihood of a death being reported based on the ethnicity of the person killed — which appeared almost always in favor of the Israelis.
FAIR has also expressed concern about this “deeply disturbing bias and misinformation about the conflict”, especially the news reported or broadcast to the American public. In one of their six-month studies of the National Public Radio (NPR), FAIR found that the network reported 81 percent of the Israeli conflict-related deaths, but only 34 percent of Palestinians deaths, for instance.
Patrick O’Connor, an activist with the International Solidarity Movement and Palestine Media Watch, said that the editorial page of major news organizations is far worse.
Less strikingly is the habit of leaving out important facts while covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As Alison Weir pointed out, the crucial fact is that while the Palestinians are starving, the US financial aid to Israel is flowing in daily.
“We give Israel at least $7 to 8 million per day of our tax money,” she stated. “It is off the charts of our foreign expenditures.”
Estimations of the aid for Israel rise to a staggering $100 billion in the form of loans that are not expected to be repaid and donations which can be used unconditionally to buy weapons, and tanks and manufacture more nuclear heads. Other reports have shown that over the years, Congress has pledged an annual $3 billion in US economic and military aid to Israel.
Ryme Katkhouda, the founder People’s Media Center who is also a journalist and editor, trains other journalists to counter this bias and to be much more informative and accurate and to research other sources than the Associated Press or US media in order to be able to find what the facts are on the ground.
“The events are always so skewed by covering the interest of Israel and told through the eyes of Israelis,” Katkhouda explained, “the deaths of Israelis are much more pictorially described so as to draw on the emotions of the audience in print and on television.”
There is an obvious contradiction in the use of terminology employed by American journalists when describing Israeli’s and Palestinians. Reporters often use the label “Islamic terrorists,” which creates the perception that all Muslims are terrorists. Palestinians living on the Israeli occupied lands, observed Jack Shaheen in his TV Arab, are called terrorists when they engage in any conflict with Israelis to the point that it has become a stigma.
According to Katkhouda, a lot of American journalists’ reporting only exacerbates this imbalance through their “linguistic choices.” One of the most disturbing terms used is the phrase “caught in the cross-fire” by Israelis when Palestinian civilians are killed, which almost always means that the Israelis have killed an innocent person. On the other hand, when Israelis are killed, journalists use words such as “murdered.” According to the Washington Report on the Middle East, “bystanders” refers to Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers during “crossfire” with Palestinian “terrorists,” while words such as “victims” are used exclusively to describe Israeli Jews killed by Palestinians.
Another example is evident in the use of adjectives to describe Palestinian attacks on Israelis as “brutal, cowardly, and ghastly,” while Israeli attacks are described as acting only with “self-restraint.” Israel justifies an act of violence as “self-defense,” and their “excessive use of force” replaces the more accurately “acts of aggression,” the same report showed. Noticeably, American reporters transmit words used by the Israeli officials to justify their acts of violence in comments such as “we were forced to act,” and “we have no choice but to fire.” In contrast, Palestinian acts of violence are “deliberate,” “instigated,” “orchestrated,” and are acts of “provocation.” Yet, when Israeli soldiers or settlers attack Palestinian civilian areas, it is referred to as “retaliation.” The dichotomy is lucid in their article and news reports for the nations in conflict, but for the American public such reports are the basis through which misleading stereotypes are reinforced.
The fact is most American news organizations usually run feature stories of the Israeli victims with pictures of their family and friends, yet very few, if ever, have been written about the Palestinians. Thus, the American public is deprived of any personal knowledge or human identification with the Palestinian victims, including their ages, how they were killed, and who killed them. To Arab observers as well as Americans, this media approach convinced them that what is called “objective coverage” is nothing less than political deception.
Seth Ackerman, a media analyst at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)—a national media watchdog group—contends in his close study of the American media reportage and editorial commentary of the conflict to the notion that all media lack objectivity and impartiality when covering conflict between two nations. He wrote, “while Palestinian rock-throwers, fuel bombs, and militiamen are in full view on American TV screens night after night, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land—continuous since 1967, condemned repeatedly by the United Nations and rejected as contrary to international law by most of the world—is almost ethereal in its absence. It hovers over each report, and yet never fully appears.”
In his book, Orientalism, Edward Said explains the implications of such intrinsic biases. It is what he refers to as ethnocentrism among American reporters and their tendency to value American practices and way of life above all others. This means that a country covered by a foreign correspondent is judged against an American standard. In the case of reporting on the Palestine-Israel Conflict, this ethnocentrism can lead to a conscious or unconscious leaning towards Israel because of its Western ideals while Palestine becomes the “other.”
For the most part, according to Edward Said, the Palestinian perspective remains misunderstood and stereotyped today, and many American publications and television news networks have adopted and accepted the official Israeli viewpoint to explain the ongoing violence.
“It is never balanced when it comes to Palestine,” states Grace Said, the sister of late Edward Said and a member of Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace told me recently.
“There are good reporters out there,” she said, “but when it comes to talking about Israel, that is a no-no topic. Neither the media nor politicians can touch on that. It is taboo.”
Everything I heard from the people I talked to was discouraging. How silly I felt to think a person like me could actually change the unfairness of the situation when obviously rich, powerful moguls controlled the media, members of congress and the world. I called the only person I knew could comfort me — my mom.
I could picture her sitting in our small living room practicing her daily ritual: pouring strong Turkish coffee into a shallow round cup; her crimson lips sipping lightly on the edges as the hot steam brushes her smooth skin. I could almost smell its distinct aroma floating in the air, through the telephone wires and into my nostrils, rousing my senses and making me long for home.
“Life has been tough over here lately,” Mom’s faltering voice streamed through the speaker. “But I’m still surviving.”
The only company mom had left—after Asanja and Danial moved to Germany to pursue their education—was the portrait of my father taken in his last days. Mom had it framed in a beige velvety fabric adorned with traditional embroidery in honor of his memory. His drowsy, sunken eyes would be staring down at her, watching her with melancholy as she spent her retired life in loneliness.
“You know,” she took a sip at her coffee and said, “it is hard accepting how things have ended, but God hasn’t forsaken me. I don’t feel sad any more. Somehow, God has blessed me with inner peace. After all these years, I can finally say I found closure.”
“But how, Mom?” I wanted to know. How can I find closure?
“Listen,” another sip, “your dad did not deserve to die like that. No one does. But it is God’s will. Nothing can undo what was done to him. Nothing can bring him back, certainly not with fighting and more blood.” I could hear the tears filling her eyes, her voice ever so subtle, “I just wish his death wasn’t that brutal.”
My heart was aching for her grief. I wished I could reach out and hug her. I needed Mom’s warm embrace too. I was fighting my own battle of coming to terms with the past, wondering how to make my journey—avenging his death—worthwhile.
“You just remember,” Mom said, “your father was a good man. Maybe you can’t change politics, but you can tell our own story to the world. And I’m proud of you for doing that.”
Mom’s words lifted my spirits and fueled my passion to continue what I had begun. I was more determined than ever to find a solution to the Palestinian dilemma. Mom was right—no one deserves to die like that or even to live under such dismal conditions.
I learned that it wasn’t always this way and that the conflict between Arabs and Jews wasn’t an ancient animosity as many claimed. In fact, the first signs of tribulation appeared around the time European boats carrying Jewish immigrants arrived at the coastal shores of Palestine in the 1880’s. As a result of organized Zionist programs and ongoing prosecutions throughout Europe, Jewish immigration continued to increase under the British rule. Following World War II, in attempts to rectify the horrors Nazi Germany committed in the Holocaust, the British implemented the Balfour Declaration signed in 1917 which promised the Jews a homeland in Palestine to end their Diaspora. But their slogan, “A land without a people to a people without a land,” could not be more erroneous. Palestine was a luscious, fertile land with its own significant history and was highly populated by its original inhabitants, the Philistines, who enjoyed a sophisticated level of education and culture.
Before the 20th century, most Jews in Palestine belonged to old Yishuv, or community, that had settled more for religious than for political reasons. In “The Arab-Israeli Dispute,” Don Peretz acknowledges that “there was little if any conflict between them and the Arab population. Tensions began after the first Zionist settlers arrived in the 1880’s.” Sami Hadawi agrees with this notion in his book “Bitter Harvest” wrote that “in the Holy Land… [Jews and Arabs] lived together in [relative] harmony, a harmony only disrupted when the Zionists began to claim that Palestine was the ‘rightful’ possession of the ‘Jewish people’ to the exclusion of its Moslem and Christian inhabitants.” That is when clashes began to erupt between the indigenous Palestinians and the Jewish newcomers.
Under the UN Partition Plan in 1947, the United Nations decided to intervene. However, rather than adhering to the principle of “self-determination of peoples,” in which the people themselves create their own state and system of government, the U.N. reverted to a strategy whereby an outside power divides up other peoples’ land.
Under considerable Zionist pressure, Jews were to be given 56 percent of Palestine, mostly fertile lands, despite them being only 31 percent of the total population and owned less than 8 percent of the land, which as Rashid Khalidi illustrates in “Blaming the Victims,” was illegally purchased. He writes: “The fellahin [Palestinian peasants] naturally considered the land to be theirs, and often discovered that they had ceased to be the legal owners only when the land was sold to Jewish settlers by an absentee landlord… Not only was the land being purchased; its Arab cultivators were being dispossessed and replaced by foreigners who had overt political objectives in Palestine.”
However, that was the least of their troubles. Zionist leaders took advantage of their superior military preparation and immediately started occupying major Palestinian cities, committing 33 massacres altogether. One such infamous campaign was the massacre of Deir Yassin where over 100 men, women and children were systematically murdered. This drove fear and terror into the Palestinians which led to their flight from their homes and villages.
Ilan Pappe, a Jewish historian, bravely described the heinous acts committed by Jewish Zionists on the people of Palestine as a “clear-cut case of an ethnic cleansing operation, regarded under international law today as a crime against humanity.”
There are different segments within Palestine and Israel who view the conflict as religious—“One faith against the other and only one has the truth,” said Mohammad Abu Nimer, a professor in International Peace and Conflict Resolution program at the American University. He states that the Jews claim God had promised them the land. Extreme Zionists go a step further and demand that all “goyim” or non-Jews should leave or accept the status as second class citizens. Whereas “Muslims” accuse them of betraying the way God told them to implement His message and that they have no right to the land. This segment constitutes the smallest numbers in the community. The prevailing majority of Palestinians, Abu Nimer states, perceive the Israeli presence as “colonial occupation.”
“But today the Palestinians have come to accept that Jews have some right to the land,” he said, “All we need now is to learn how to co-exist and come to a sort of ‘Tasweyah’ or agreement. We have our land, they have theirs. Divorced but under good terms.”
I have heard him talk of his work at the Rumi Forum, a conference held in Washington, D.C., where he suggested two models in interfaith dialogue that would promote peace: one was called the “Harmony Model,” where Palestinians and Israelis come together and talk about their similarities between the two peoples, their cultures, religions and rituals. “To understand the other,” he explained, “that’s a good first step.”
Yet, the problem with most interfaith work is that it usually stops there. When another crisis occurs, all the progress made comes to a sudden halt and is quickly forgotten. Abu Nimer had seen it happen in his visit to Palestine/ Israel a couple of weeks following the aftermath of Gaza in January. All beliefs of ever living together peacefully were lost.
“When the horns of war are blown,” he said, “soldiers line up with their leaders.”
That’s when the second model becomes crucial. That one is called the “Liberation Model,” because it focuses on the conflict and the grievances on both sides where the differences and prejudices are highlighted. Yet that step usually stirs up emotions of discomfort.
Ruth Broyde Sharone, an exuberant pro-activist, filmmaker and freelance journalist based in California who is very passionate about generating grass roots interfaith work and teaching peace-building, has her own version of Abu Nimer’s “Liberation Model” that gets people uncomfortable.
“I call it interfaith Pilates,” said Sharone, who is currently an international motivational speaker on interfaith themes and also works for the Parliament of the World’s Religions: “The whole philosophy behind it is that you do everything from the core. So, if you haven’t felt the sting, then you haven’t stretched.”
Sharone, who defines herself as a “global citizen from the Jewish tradition,” first attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions conference; the largest interfaith gathering in the world in Barcelona in 2004 where she screened her award winning documentary called God and Allah Need to Talk that celebrates Muslims; Christians and Jews who came together after 9/11 to begin a path of healing and reconciliation. She points out in the film that the Jewish holiday of Passover is connected to the Muslim holiday of Ashura. She finally came to the conclusion that we are more alike than we think.
“When biologists started to figure out our ethnicities and were tracing back our ancestry, they discovered that the Palestinians and Jews from the Semitic origin have the same DNA.” She paused for a moment, “Then we are literally fighting with ourselves. Not even with our brothers and cousins but with ourselves.”
“Haven’t you heard what is said about the fight between Arabs and Jews?” I asked her. “They say ‘Blood will run to their ankles’ Maybe it really is hopeless.”
I remembered the story in the Old Testament about the sons of Abraham: Ishmael and Isaac, who fought each other over the inheritance, a story we grew up hearing from our elders. It was said that this brotherly feud is the source of the conflict between Muslims, the descendants of Ishmael and the Jews, the descendants of Isaac.
“But the story has a happy ending,” Sharone pointed out. The part nobody ever hears is how in the end both brothers reconcile and come together for their father’s burial. It’s in Genesis: Chapter 25, verses 8 and 9. “And Abraham expired and died at a good old age, mature and content, and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah.”
However, there is a lot of reconciliation to be done between the Israelis and Palestinians today. To Sharone, the secret to success in interfaith dialogue is in the way these events are conducted. She believes encounters involving arts, music and dance touches people and allows them “to get away from their heads and into a place where we all resonate together and interact.” According to Sharone, that is when solutions come more easily.
“It is no longer philosophical, but it becomes something visceral and intuitive that every person is capable of achieving a patch of profound work that can change the world.”
And it works. She told me about an email she received from her interfaith colleague, Eliyahu McLean, a Jerusalem peace-maker, who wrote to her about their continuous interfaith work and solidarity gatherings. His email read:
“While most news you receive from the Holy Land in the aftermath of the Gaza war is awful, the peacemakers continue their work, invisible to the eyes of the world. This has been a difficult time, the gap of mistrust and anger between the Israelis and Palestinians is as wide as ever. In the face of all of this though, we have deepened our commitment to work for peace. As Elias Jabbour, director of the House of Hope puts it, “it’s up to us to keep the torch of hope alive; we have no other choice.”
It was true. I hardly ever heard about the good things Palestinians and Israelis are doing to promote peace. All we see on the news is bloodshed and violence. Why? Because “it sells more newspapers,” said Sharone. “People are just hardwired that way; it’s in our nature.”
“It’s just like this story,” Sharone said. “There was a grandfather telling his grandson that in everybody there are two wolves: the evil wolf that loves violence and wants to hurt people, and the good wolf who wants to get along with everybody and live in peace. So the grandson asks: ‘Well, which wolf wins?’ and the grandfather said, ‘Whichever one you feed.’
“As journalists, we are taught to strive for objectivity—to write a story that is truthful, and to consider all sides. We know there is a slant in the media. So if [the press] only publishes the side of the people who don’t want to resolve the issue, then they are feeding the evil wolf. It’s up to us to turn t he channel and feed the good wolf when good things happen.”
She reminded me of why I wanted to become a journalist in the first place: to counter the present bias in the media and give a voice to the unheard. But I could not help but feel guilty myself for feeding the evil wolf, for reading the stories that only fueled my anger and hate toward the Israelis. Sharone’s words kept ringing in my ear. “What we do is demonize our adversaries so that we can muster up all our energy to hate them properly.” Was this what I had been doing all these years?
I came across a Palestinian who had been doing the same ever since he lost a brother to this conflict and for years held a grudge to one day avenge his death. Aziz Abu Sarah was only ten years old when Israeli soldiers knocked on the door of his family home in Bethany one dreaded night. They interrogated all his brothers and handcuffed his eldest Tayseer, 18, and locked him up on the charge of throwing stones at jeeps carrying Israeli soldiers. In prison, he was tortured and brutally beaten. He started vomiting blood but was denied medical access. He was literally left to rot in jail under maximum security and limited visitation rights. His health conditions deteriorated. His liver and spleen had stopped functioning, and it was then, when he was gravely ill that the prison released him. At home, he underwent surgery and died shortly after.
I met Aziz Abu Sarah at the 2009 Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLEMP) Summit on the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which was held at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington D.C. on March 4 of this year. Abu Sarah, who attended the conference as the official co-chair of the Parents Circle, a grass-root organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis which promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge, was scheduled to speak that morning about the importance of grass roots work and the impact it has on people. One of his points was that “even if the success is limited to a few people in the room, it was still a success.” He was ready to take on the world person by person, hoping to leave a positive mark that would eventually change the world to a more peaceful place.
To him, the change was gradual. “It is a slow process of change,” he told me later on. “You don’t just change your opinion over night.”
We were sitting in the green room when the 28-year-old Abu Sarah started relating his story.
“I lived a pretty normal childhood.” He reconsidered for a moment. “By that I mean, being shot at by soldiers at age seven and beaten up and humiliated many times.” The typical Palestinian story, he joked.
He told me about his brother Tayseer; how he was “killed” by Israeli soldiers and how enraged he was to lose him.
“I looked up to him for protection,” his voice softened as he recollected memories of him, “We had a special relationship; he was the eldest brother, I was the youngest.”
“This is a story I have never told anyone,” Abu Sarah confided in me. It was the last lesson he learned from his brother Tayseer after being released from prison on medical discharge. A young Abu Sarah got into a fight with his neighbors over a game of marbles. Abu Sarah sought Tayseer’s muscles to show those kids what they deserved. His brother refused to intervene this time.
“He said, ‘No, you have to do it yourself,’” Abu Sarah recalled him saying. “To me, it was one of the saddest things. It was kind of like he knew he wasn’t going to be there anymore to protect me, that I needed to learn to fend for myself.”
A lesson learned, but one that came with a heavy price.
“When he died, I became very angry at everything,” his last word entangled with a sigh. His family turned to religion and God to ease their torment. Abu Sarah turned the opposite way.
“I was very motivated to get revenge,” he said. “The whole concept of peace sounded so idiotic. Nothing made sense to me. I was angry at everything, at God and at the Israeli soldiers. They were the only thing I knew.”
For the next several years, Aziz became a rebel. As soon as he turned 14, he aligned himself with Fatah, a faction with the Palestinian Liberation Organization. “I thought, ‘They must be good since my brother was with them.” At his school, he started organizing demonstrations in protest of the occupation and wrote articles for his school paper calling for revenge, but nothing seemed to wash away the hate. “I was lucky I did not get arrested,” he said lightheartedly.
Anger slowly consumed him, devouring every bit of his soul, and burnt him down. He graduated high school at the top of his class. He figured he could get a scholarship to pursue his degree abroad, “leaving everything behind.” Yet his plans did not work out the way he had hoped. Stuck in Jerusalem, without hope or a contingency plan, he realized he needed to learn Hebrew despite his consistent refusal in the past to have anything to do with Jews. He thought of his education, and his future, and realized he had little choice left. So, he enrolled in Ulpan-Or, an institute in Jerusalem that offered Jewish new-comers Hebrew courses that promised to teach the language at “the speed of light.” He was the only Palestinian mingling with all Jews in class.
“That’s when change started to happen,” Abu Sarah remembered. “For the first time, I got to see ‘non-soldiers’ and ‘non-settlers’ but normal people who are different than the stereotype. For the first time, I saw Jews talk about Palestinians’ right to exist. I eventually was able to see them as humans and could not hate them anymore.”
But it required years after this life-altering encounter for Aziz Abu Sarah to realize that he needed to become a “peace-activist” to promote understanding between the two sides in conflict. He joined the Parents Circle, and meanwhile worked as a radio co-host in Jerusalem on a show that gave Palestinians and Israelis a pedestal to voice their concerns and frustrations as well as their stories of transformation. The same radio broadcast advertised “Project Phone Line” in Hebrew as well as Arabic—funded by the European Commission to promote peace. It was a system that basically allowed people to connect by calling the advertised number and leaving messages to talk to a person from the other side.
“In the end,” Abu Sarah said, beaming with enthusiasm, “one million calls were made using this system. The feedback we’d get was that it had definitely made an impact on their lives.”
In the end, it was Aziz Abu Sarah who had found a means to channel his anger and hatred into something more productive, and at last was able to conquer the demons that whispered in his ears demanding blood revenge. He had finally found peace, but how could I?
Someone had recommended that I read Laura Blumenfeld’s Revenge: A Story of Hope, saying that it might help.
Traveling from Europe to the Middle East, soaking up the stories and methods of avengers across the world, the author finds herself on a journey into the deep dark pits of revenge. Laura’s story began when a Palestinian terrorist targeted her father David Blumenfeld, an American Jewish Rabbi, visiting the Old City of Jerusalem in 1986. Her inspiration for the book was triggered by a poem she wrote while a junior at Harvard following the incident in which she vowed to track down the shooter, Omar Khatib, and avenge the attack. She disguises herself as a journalist and ambushes Omar and the Khatib’s into welcoming her into the family—unaware that she was the victim’s daughter.
“There are two people,” Laura Blumenfeld, a staff writer for the Washington Post who had frequently reported from the Middle East, told me over a cup of tea. “There was the journalist in me who was set on researching and understanding revenge from the outside, and then there was the daughter who was looking for revenge from the inside.”
But it wasn’t blood revenge that set her on this journey, but rather a score that needed to be settled—a reckoning with the man who almost killed her father and shook up her wonderful life—and to hold him accountable for his malicious deed.
“I really wanted to reach down to his soul and shake him up,” her big hazel eyes widened with expression. “I wanted to tell him that number one: you can’t just kill us, and two: my father is a good man. I wanted him to recognize his humanity.”
But my father was a good man, too. And they did not just graze his head, they shattered it. My heart was pounding in my chest and I could feel the blood flowing to my cheeks. Who will I hold accountable for the crime against my father? There wasn’t one person that I can track down and shake up, it was a whole government. How will I get my revenge? My mind was racing with all these questions that I wanted answers to. I had to be patient.
“The biggest challenge was to find an alternative to these two stark choices: an eye for an eye, which only begets more violence, or turn the other cheek, which is a great Christian principal,” she said smilingly, “but I don’t know how realistic that is all the time.
“I found a third way of revenge,”
I was getting a step closer to the answer.
“That we call transformation.” She leaned over her purse, checking her cellphone to make sure her babysitter wasn’t calling and proceeded, “which is to take the enemy and turn him into a friend, to take the anger and rather than turning it into something destructive, you try to either build yourself up by transforming yourself or transform the other person. It is a sweet kind of revenge.”
I recognized what she was saying. An unexpected twist in the plot near the end of her journey brings everyone into tears. Laura testifies at Omar’s court hearing in which she reveals her true identity and asks the judges to release her father’s shooter if he promises to sincerely apologize for his crime. His transformation was her “bitter sweet” revenge. But how in the world could I possibly transform my enemy? I wondered.
“You can still honor you’re father’s memory,” she must have sensed my hesitation.
“In your case, that is what you are doing. Do something that will leave a positive mark in the world.”
She then reminded me of a person in her book named Isaac Ben Ovadiah. His father was Muslim, his mother a Jew. And at school, he received Christian education. His wife Zehava, a Jewish lawyer, was killed by Palestinian radicals, and yet he remained truthful to his beliefs.
“A delightful man to speak with for days,” Blumenfeld spoke fondly of him. “He had an interesting saying hanging on the wall: ‘Love your enemy; it drives them crazy.’ That could be your revenge.”
Feelings of skepticism still shadowed my thoughts. I kept silent, listening to her talk, believing in her words.
“The whole point of revenge is not so much that when people die, they want you to hurt someone.” She stared into my eyes and reached out to touch my hands, “They want you to remember them—to honor their memory.”
She quoted the last words in one of her chapters, saying: “There is something more frightening than being hurt. It’s being forgotten.”
We were standing in the lobby at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. I pushed back my tears, and tried to hide them from her as we hugged and said our goodbyes. I walked up the street to Dupont Circle metro station, feeling lighter in the soft spring breeze. It was like a weight had been lifted off my heart. His death wasn’t on my mind anymore. It was his life that I wanted to keep in memory. My father was a good man. He taught me love, responsibility, tolerance and forgiveness. And although I may not be able to love the person or government who did this to him, I will be willing to forgive. For the sake of his memory. And for a peaceful life.