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. My reaction was the same as others who see an accident on the side of the road, think “how sad,” and drive on. However, my life changed forever the moment the disaster struck my house and my family, and the casualty was my brother.
In the spring of 1990, I shared a room with four of my brothers. One ordinary day I was woken at 5:00am, as Israeli soldiers burst into my room. They asked us for our identity cards, and questioned the five of us. “Where were you yesterday? Did you throw stones?” They demanded the 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 kept without trial. He was interrogated and beaten for fifteen days until he admitted that he had thrown stones at Israeli cars. During the eleven months he was imprisoned, we met him three times. Although we spoke with him through two fences, it was obvious that with each visit his health was deteriorating from the beatings. Finally, in the late days 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 a three weeks, before dying after surgery. I was 10 years old at that time, and Tayseer had been closest to me in age and closest to me as friend and brother. I could not accept his death. He had helped me with homework. He had 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 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 at the magazine. However, the more I wrote the more empty and angry 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. I had refused to learn Hebrew growing up: it was the “enemy’s” language. Now, to attend university or get a good job I would have to compromise. I started studying in a Hebrew Ulpan, an institute for Jewish newcomers to Israel. It was the hardest experience I had faced yet, but its results were the best I have encountered. It was the first time I had sat in a room of 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 the 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 ten year-old could not control the soldiers who took his brother. But now as an adult, I could control my response to these hurts. They had acted unjustly and murdered Tayseer, but I had the choice, and I still have the choice, of whether to follow in the same direction.
Each day I live I refuse to become like those soldiers fifteen years ago, and I choose to put aside the rage I worshiped 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 Israel and Palestine.
Maybe I will never see the world restored to 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 using it to fuel a 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.