Gazan Doctor Renews Commitment to Forgiveness and Peace after Losing Three Daughters
by Kate Moos, executive producer
As we began to drill down on our editorial planning for next month’s production trip to Israel and Palestine, Trent asked me to sit down with Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician who has written a new memoir about growing up in the Gaza Strip, his struggles to become a doctor, and the loss of three of his daughters to an Israeli mortar in the hostilities between Hamas and Israel of 2009. I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity is recently published, and he was making a swing through the Twin Cities on book tour.
So I dusted off my rusty interviewing skills, tried to emulate the masterful Krista Tippett with my deep listening, and the 30-minute conversation above ensued.
Abuelaish’s story would be heroic in many ways without his personal loss, but is even moreso because, in its wake, he renewed his commitment to forgiveness and acceptance, and now travels the world on a mission for peace in the name of his daughters, for whom he created a foundation.
Let us know what you think about this interview, and share your thoughts on others you’d like to see, in what we hope will be a regular feature here on the blog.
(photo: Trent Gilliss)
Photo Triptych of Possibilities in Cairo
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Amidst the massive amount of voices tweeting and retweeting happenings on the ground in Egypt, Nevine Zaki’s photo above serendipitously found its way into my Twitter stream with the caption:
"A pic I took yesterday of Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers #jan25."
During the wee hours of this morning, I find myself deeply moved by her new-found love for Egypt as a woman living and working in Cairo:
"The most beautiful thing about #Jan25 is that we all suddenly discovered an incredible love for #Egypt that we never knew was still in us
Living here presented always presented a struggle for us in 1 way or another, but since #jan25, we all suddenly felt alive again.”
With the image below, she writes, “Can it get more peaceful than this?”
But, surprisingly to me, it’s the idea behind the following photo that strikes me as most decent, most civil, most caring, most mundane: residents of Cairo showing their goodness by cleaning up what must be an incredible amount of refuse during the chaos: “These trash bags are all over the city, its [sic] from the citizens who cleaned the streets.”
All photos by Nevine Zaki.
The Sinai boundary is the only one of Israel’s borders that hasn’t been fenced off. Israelis now worry that this fragile opening to the Arab world is about to close.
— Yossi Klein Halevi, from "Israel Alone, Again?" in yesterday’s New York Times.
Not all are cheered by the protests taking place in Egypt. The Israeli journalist shares a rather grim outlook about the future of Israel’s relations with Egypt and the security of the Jewish state as uncertainty sets in and speculation about Egypt’s next governing leadership grows.
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Focusing on the Peace Rather Than the Process in the Middle East
by Eboo Patel, special contributor
Here’s what struck me about this special panel on Middle East peace that Bill Clinton moderated: it actually focused on the peace, and not the process. The President joked that somebody else in his family was trying to figure out where on the land to draw the line, he wanted us to talk about what needed to happen with the people after that line was drawn.
There were a lot of pursed lips and furrowed brows when he said that. It made me realize just how much attention is paid to the details of the process, and how little we think about the actual peace. Which is to say, how people from different faiths, nationalities, and narratives are going to live together on a pretty small parcel of land.
"In Israel, 20 percent of our citizens are Arabs. And it’s not simple — for them for us, but for one place. There is no hospital in Israel where you don’t have Arab doctors and Arab patients. And, nobody knows — not of the patients and not of the doctors who is operating them — I mean, if a Druze would see an Arab with a knife coming close to him, he would be alarmed. But in the hospital, please. And I ask myself, ‘If we can live in peace in the hospitals, why can’t we live in peace out of the hospitals.’"
We hear frequently the stories of the suicide bombers and the settlers. We read about the squabbles of the diplomats. We get bogged down in the details and made cynical by the seemingly endless failures. But with a single example, Peres illuminated just how much Jews, Christians, and Muslims have in common, pointed out just how well Israelis and Palestinians already work together. It’s enough to keep me thinking past the process, and into the peace.
Eboo Patel is founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core. He’s the author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation and writes regularly for The Faith Divide blog on The Washington Post. He’s also served on President Obama’s Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
What Stories Do We Tell?
by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor
Last year, while working with a primary school class here in Belfast, a child said:
"Pádraig, let me ask you a question. God loves us right?"
Avoiding the complexity of anthropomorphic projections of human experiences onto God, I answered, from the heart of me, with what I hope.
"Yes," I said.
"And God made us all didn’t he?" she continued.
I avoided discussions of “made” and “He” and said:
"Tell me this," she said, "why did God make Protestants?"
When I asked her why she was asking me this, she said:
"Well, they hate us and they hate Him."
I had been amused at the start. Now, I was not amused. I wondered what stories were educating this funny, witty, engaging, and lively child.
This child understood some human lessons and had learnt them well. They hate us. They hate our God. They are unknown, and the hollow story we tell is that they are also unknowable.
Another child that I was working with once drew a picture of a big boot, kicking a small figure. The boot was labeled “Catlichs” and the boot “Purdestints”. He could not yet spell, yet he knew the rules of the story he believed.
There is an Irish saying that I love: ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine. It translates as “it is in the shelter of each other that the people live”. Krista’s interview with John Paul Lederach reminds me of the intentionality we must incarnate when working with our lives to create avenues out of violent conflict. We must nurture unpredictable relationships. We must share shelter with people whose shelter we would rather not share. We must share stories with people whose stories we would rather not share. This may not be popular, but it may just save us.
Last week, I watched from my window as a band parade made its way from commemorations in the city northwest up the Crumlin Road. My flat is about 300 yards from the place where a sit-down protest was underway to stop those parading. The history of both groups, one mostly Catholic-Nationalist and one mostly Protestant-Unionist is important.
What is also important is that each was saying to the other “We belong here”.
“We belong here” has often been coupled with “And you don’t”, a point which we’ve proven in Ireland with grief and grieving. The slow, slow antidote to this story of not-belonging has always included something that is older than language — a positive encounter with a person who represents the thing that we think we should hate. There are stories from here that make me cry and hope every time I hear them — stories of bravery, honesty, truth-telling, sheltering, and embrace across every possible barrier to belonging.
Part of my work is facilitating discussions between people who are interested in building relationships with those who are perceived to be an “other”. Earlier this year, one group spoke of their neighbourhood’s trauma following a shooting on a Friday afternoon in the 1990s. Seven men left dead. One of the women said “and there’s many that died whose hearts kept beating”. She spoke of a Protestant paramedic who tended the bodies of Catholic dead who was so traumatised that he could never return to his work. While we speak of 3,700 people who lost their lives from our 30-year conflict, we all know someone who kept their life, but who felt like they’d lost it. There are stories within stories that are desperate to be heard, and when they’re heard, they bring us to the place of encounter and empathy, which is the essence of hope and humanity.
The riots that brought attention to Belfast last week are localised. This doesn’t mean that they are ignorable. They are not. They speak to a deep wound in our capacity to remember. A mostly-ignored government funded “Report on the Past” was published last year. Its recommendations are brave and I hope we can pay attention.
I am thinking now of Anaïs Nin who said: “We do not tell stories as they are. We tell them as we are.”
And who are we in this part of Ireland? We are people who all know stories of hurt, pain, division, separation, fury, and prejudice. We are people who have loved the land we live on. We are people who have done and spoken and created and given beautiful things and terrible things to each other. We must be educated by the stories that gave rise to last week’s events. We must engage in Lederach’s vision of the moral imagination to hear, include, and transcend these events.
And, we must tell different stories. Not necessarily new ones, but deeper ones — stories of remembering, belonging, safety, and shelter.
Pádraig Ó Tuama lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland where he works in reconciliation and chaplaincy initiatves, primarily with the Irish Peace Centres’ Faith in Positive Relations programmes. Part of his community work involves writing poetry to encapsulate some of the stories of living and dying in the context of the Irish conflict. He posts occasional poetry at Hold Your Self Together.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Photo Caption: Nationalist protesters block the route of Loyalist Protestant Orangemen in the Ardoyne area of North Belfast, Northern Ireland as they return home from their traditional Twelfth of July celebrations in the city center on July 12, 2010. (photo: Stephen Wilson/AFP/Getty Images)
A New Dialogue?
Colleen Scheck, senior producer
In preparation for this week’s program, "No More Taking Sides," we’ve been following the recent developments in Robi Damelin’s life. Our show includes this film clip from the documentary Encounter Point of Robi reading the letter she wrote to the family of her son’s killer.
In 2005, just a few months after Ta’er Hamad had been arrested, she wrote:
After your son was captured, I spent many sleepless nights thinking about what to do, should I ignore the whole thing, or will I be true to my integrity and to the work that I am doing and try to find a way for closure and reconciliation…
…I understand that your son is considered a hero by many of the Palestinian people, he is considered to be a freedom fighter, fighting for justice and for an independent viable Palestinian state, but I also feel that if he understood that taking the life of another may not be the way and that if he understood the consequences of his act, he could see that a non-violent solution is the only way for both nations to live together in peace.
Over three years later, Robi indirectly received a defiant, militant reply from Mr. Hamad via its publication by a Palestinian news agency:
"Just as I refused to directly address the soldier’s mother, I cannot wish to meet her. I cannot meet with the occupier of our land on the same land. I carried out the operation as part of the struggle for freedom, justice and the establishment of an independent state, not out of a lust or love for killing. Acts of violence are a necessity imposed upon us by the occupation and I shall not abandon this path for as long as the occupation continues."
"Ta’er, how ironic, the people who most wanted to protect me from the words in your letter were my Palestinian friends and other bereaved parents in our group. They of all people have the right to talk about my actions and who I am for we have worked together for more than 6 years to try to end this terrible conflict and to give both sides a chance to live with a sense of dignity free from the terrible fear which engulfs us and gives us all the excuse for violence. The tears I saw in the eyes of my Palestinian partners in the Parents Circle when they met me after you chose to publish the letter were tears of understanding and yes friendship and love…"
"… The wisest reaction I had to the words of your letter came from my wonderful son Eran, who I thought would be terribly angry. Well he said, listen mum, perhaps this is the beginning of a dialog."
In the audio embedded up top, Trent recently spoke with Robi from her home in Tel Aviv to learn more about how she’s reflecting on this exchange, and what it means for her work with the Parents Circle - Families Forum. It’s worth a listen to hear her ongoing tenacity.
Leaving No Factions Untouched
Trent Gilliss, online editor
"Palestinian member of the Forum, Ali Abu-Awad met with more than 60 members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, Palestinian fighters most of who are on Israel’s most wanted list. He spoke about non-violent resistance and the work of the Parents Circle - Families Forum and gave them an alternative framework to function. After six hours these hardened fighters wanted to know more and there will be ongoing meetings. Many in the meantime have given up their arms and are looking for another way.”
We were aware that the organization Robi and Ali participate in as bereaved family members, and now work for, reach out to many people as part of a process of dialogue and understanding. But, reading this, was a stark reminder that their efforts extend beyond the peace-loving middle to even the most militant, radical coalitions.
Memories of a New Associate Producer
Shubha Bala, associate producer
As the newest addition to Speaking of Faith, my first task has been to prepare the show "No More Taking Sides" for rebroadcast in a couple of weeks. Listening to Ali say “Nobody want to be honest. Everybody want to be right,” reminded me of working in Gujarat when "state-sanctioned" violence, torture, and rape broke out across the state, primarily with Hindus attacking Muslims.
Although Hindu by birth, I was working there for a non-denominational organization. I was 20. Under 24-hour curfew, the media were saturated with images of brutality happening just down the street. More importantly, the dialogue of friends and colleagues concentrated on “us” versus “them.”
Recently, a friend read my personal narrative and asked, “Didn’t the Hindus realize the irony that came with attaching terms of violence to the Muslims?” Well no. Not the Hindus that took a side. They felt they were right and all Muslims were wrong. As for me, in addition to coping with the sheer force of violence, I was equally faced with a personal crisis — the Hindus I met believed I was part of “them,” but I just wanted to be human and I wanted the brutality to stop.
Robi and Ali’s story makes me imagine that organizations like Parents Circle - Family Forum can break down the centuries of opposing sides that have persisted between Hindus and Muslims.
Dharma Talking with Cheri Maples
» download (mp3, 12:53)
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
I recently caught up with dharma teacher Cheri Maples, who appeared in our 2003 program "Brother Thay: A Radio Pilgrimage with Thich Nhat Hahn." Back then, Maples was a police captain (later an assistant attorney general) in Madison, Wisconsin. She spoke with Krista about what it means to be a compassionate cop who practices mindfulness awareness on the job.
We’ve re-aired “Brother Thay” seven times (!) since its inaugural broadcast, and noticed that people consistently resonate with Maples and her personal story. Maples was in town recently to deliver a dharma talk (PDF) so I decided to go and see what’s changed in her life since she and Krista last spoke.
Maples reflected on the surprising ways in which her life changed course after she accepted an invitation from Thich Nhat Hahn to travel together to Vietnam in 2007. The following year, the Zen master formally ordained her as a dharma teacher through a ceremony called "The Transmission of the Lamp." She is no longer employed by the state, but she’s still involved with the criminal justice system through a new organization she co-founded called The Center for Mindfulness and Justice.
Maples drew a standing-room only crowd for her dharma talk that evening. She spoke about gratitude, joy, wonder, tenderness, and mystery. Here’s something I jotted down that stuck with me: “The hell in your life is the compost of your enlightenment.”