Forgiveness, Justice, Peace
As per the Journal's invitation, the following is a letter
seeking to contribute to the debate started by Prof. Galit
Hasan-Rokem and Ms. Leila Dabdoub (Palestine-Israel Journal, Vol. V
No. 2, 1998). This personal letter specifically discusses my
first-hand experience regarding guilt and forgiveness as they
pertain to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. I hope that my
views will make a small contribution toward our quest for full
justice and, thus, full peace.
You are correct, Prof. Galit Hasan-Rokem, that guilt must not be
left alone to drive the discourse between Arabs and Israelis.
However, from the Palestinian and Arab side, forgiveness is
possible only if it is accompanied by real justice from Israel.
Many Palestinians appreciate the Israeli intellectuals' and
leftists' feeling of guilt, display of objectivity, and respect of
human rights for the Palestinians. The Arabs sympathize with this
very small group of Israelis because they recognize its honesty,
and they might be ready to forgive this group. However, they cannot
forgive the whole society that is still trying to dominate them. At
least, not yet. Until the true Israeli left brings about a real
change of attitude within Israeli society, I am afraid the
discourse will only be limited to a display of Israeli guilt and a
limited Palestinian appreciation.
You expressed the need for wider peaceful interaction between not
only elitists, but between the two peoples. For this to take shape,
real equality between the two peoples should materialize. This
means Israeli society should stop providing blind support to all
violent, oppressive and inhumane actions of the Israeli army. Also,
this society should acknowledge the injustices and the misery that
the Israeli army has caused the Palestinians and the Arabs.
No doubt, many Arabs appreciate the efforts of Israeli peace
advocates to educate Israeli society about the real problems of
occupation and the continuation of military conflict. Arab
intellectuals have a similar responsibility in exposing to their
societies the ravages of continued armed conflicts. If peace is to
prevail in the future, both Arab and Israeli societies should start
- sooner than later - to move away from a militaristic mentality.
The intellectuals on both sides should lead the way. This is not an
easy task and that of the Israeli peace advocates is more arduous
and their responsibility bigger because they find themselves in the
awkward position of being also the occupier. In this context, I can
tell my first-hand experience with forgiveness.
When the Israeli army invaded Lebanon in 1982, I was living in
Beirut. One of the first air raids, on June 4th, destroyed Beirut's
famous Sport City football stadium. It was no secret that, at the
time, the PLO had been using the stadium as an arms depot. The raid
scored a direct hit. As a result of the big explosion, a dark cloud
mushroomed in the sky of the city. From where I was standing, it
looked exactly like the pictures I had seen of atomic mushroom
clouds. I did not know what to expect next. The cloud got bigger,
trailed by gigantic orange flames. As these came closer to where I
was standing, I thought I would most probably die. I felt helpless,
powerless and my life meaningless.
Days later, I read about Peace Now demonstrations in Israel. They
were large and loud. The pictures in the press were as loud as the
sound of the Sport City's explosion. They conveyed that our
conflict with Israel meant something more than the war outside my
window. I understood that some people across the border do care
about my pain which is inflicted by people on their own side. My
teenager mind came to realize that the border no longer represented
the divide between the ones who "care" and the ones who "don't." By
then, the Sport City was gone. But my Sport City mushroom was still
with me. Although not able to forget, I realized that I might be
able to forgive - some day.
Nine years later, I stood up in a Pittsburgh audience and asked a
Peace Now leader what happened to these demonstrations that had
altered my understanding of his society, and why they are not,
today, as effective in altering the attitude of the Israeli society
towards my people. Sixteen years after my mushroom in Lebanon, my
question still seeks an answer. Without one, my forgiveness is not
Maged Abdul Rahman
Thank you so much for the issue of your journal. It will immensely
help my research project. I've been scrambling for single articles
on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and you generously give me a
whole journal! Your journal is perfect for my research: it is
impartial, scholarly and professional. I am much obliged.