Today a BBC interview with Dr. Izzeldin Abueleish provided a much-needed wake up call to the world. Dr. Abueleish lived in Gaza with his family in 2009 at the time when the Israeli army was striking back at the Palestinians. Two shells crashed into the bedroom of his house, killing 3 of his daughters and a niece while wounding several other family members. Since then his mission has been to help end the violence that has engulfed the entire region. For him, a key part of this would be an apology from Israel, something he has not yet received. Why would this be important? Because, he explains, it would be an acknowledgement that he and his family were not just the detritus of battle, worth no more than the rubble of a fallen building. They were and are human beings, with all the dignity and value that entails. This is the lesson that people in conflict forget time and time again. We dehumanize our opponents treating them as vermin or targets instead of neighbors–real people, human beings.
It would have been so easy for the doctor to slide into a never-ending hatred of those responsible, but, as the old saying goes, hatred is like drinking a cup of poison and expecting your enemy to die. There has to be more, there has to be reconciliation, and for that there has to be a willingness on both sides to seek restorative justice and not retribution. It begins with the stories– the pain, the losses, the fear–all parties listening to the others, humanizing what has been dehumanized. Then there have to be apologies. It’s difficult to see why the Israeli government or military or both cannot say they are sorry for what happened to those girls in Gaza that day. They claim they were firing on militants and maybe they were, but why should that make it more difficult to apologize? Are they afraid of seeming weak?
Dr. Abueleish turned his back on hatred. His way of dealing with his loss has been to establish a foundation that encourages women from the Middle East to study at universities: Daughters for Life.
He feels that educating young women is one of the keys to finding peace in the Middle East. One of the keys. There are so many. But who can doubt that he’s right and applaud his efforts.