Yaacov Shefer, my great grandfather, was born in
Aziz Abu Sarah - "A Conflict Close to Home"
A disaster can strike your nation, your state, or even the house of your next door neighbor, but as long as it strikes someone else, it is still a distance away. Like many in Jerusalem, I grew up seeing many people die because of a ‘worthless conflict’. I felt sad for them, but I continued to live my life just as before. I reacted much like others who happen to see an accident on the side of the road, thinking ‘how sad,’ and driving on. However, my life changed forever the moment the disaster struck my home and my family, when the casualty was my brother.
In the spring of 1990, I shared a room with four of my brothers. One morning, at five, I was awoken by Israeli soldiers who had burst into our room. They asked us for our identity cards, and questioned the five of us: ‘Where were you yesterday? Did you throw stones?’ They demanded answers, and when they received none, they took my 18–year–old brother with them. My mother pleaded desperately with the soldiers, but in the end they took Tayseer with them. She would not hold him again until eleven months later, when he was released from prison.
Tayseer was held without trial. He was interrogated and beaten for fifteen days until he admitted that he had thrown stones at Israeli cars. During his eleven months imprisonment, we met him three times. Although we spoke with him through two fences, it was obvious each visit that his health was deteriorating from the beatings he sustained. Finally, towards the end of March, he was released from prison. His condition was critical, and he was throwing up blood. We rushed him to the hospital.
Tayseer held on for about three weeks. He died after surgery. I was 10 years old at the time, and Tayseer was closest to me in age and closest to me as a friend and brother. I could not accept his death. He had helped me with homework. He accompanied me on my first day of school.
I became extremely bitter and angry. Even at ten I understood that his death was not natural, and someone was responsible. I grew up with anger burning in my heart. I wanted justice. I wanted revenge.
In my high–school years, I started writing for a youth magazine. I was a consistent writer and wrote about two articles a week. I wrote with anger and bitterness, and used my pain to spread hatred against the other side. My success soon earned me the position of editor of the magazine. However, the more I wrote the emptier and angrier I became. Eventually I grew tired of the anger, so I quit the magazine and tried to move out of the country.
I failed to get anywhere. After graduating from high school I found myself stuck in Jerusalem. Growing up, I refused to learn Hebrew: it was the “enemy’s” language. Now, to attend university or get a good job I would have to compromise. I started studying Hebrew in Ulpan (a Hebrew language program for Jewish newcomers to Israel). It was the hardest experience I had faced yet, but the outcome was the best I have encountered. It was the first time I had sat in a room filled with Jews who were not superior to me. It was the first time I had seen faces different from the soldiers at the checkpoints. Those soldiers had taken my brother; these students were the same as me. My understanding of the Jewish people started to collapse after just a few weeks of Ulpan. I found myself confused, thinking ‘How can they be normal human beings, just like me?’ I was amazed that I could build friendships with these students and share their struggles. We went out for coffee together. We studied together. Sometimes we even found that we shared the same interests. For me, this was a turning point in my life.
I came to understand that unfortunate things happen in our lives, which are out of our control. A 10 year–old could not control the soldiers who took his brother. But now, as an adult, I can control my response to these inflictions. They had acted unjustly and murdered Tayseer, but I had, and still have the choice, of the direction I take. Each day I live, I refuse to become like those soldiers fifteen years ago, and I choose to put aside the rage I was obssessed with as a teenager. I will always have this choice. It is a hard decision to abandon revenge, and an easy road to follow your feelings. Yet, hatred begets hatred, and the same tools you use on others will be used on you. As a result, each day I must choose again to love and forgive those around me.
As humans, we try to rationalize our hatred. In our minds we demonize the enemy and discredit their humanity. This is the lie that fires the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Maybe I will never see a world with perfect humanity, but I still feel obligated to believe that the tools for peace are not tools of violence and hatred. More than this, I feel obligated to use my pain to spread peace, rather than use it to fuel hatred that would have eventually consumed me. I believe we are all obligated to do our best to create peace, and not wait until it hits home. After all, there is no good war or bad peace.