Meeting With Dani

Nicht nur mangels Zeit, einen eigenen Artikel zu schreiben, sondern weil mich die Autorin auf der Konferenz in Zypern sehr beeindruckt hat, möchte ich Euch einen Artikel von ihr aus dem Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (April 2003, pages 9, 45) weiterleiten, den ich ebenfalls für bemerkenswert halte. Er beschreibt ein wenig die Stimmung der Konferenz:

Meeting With Dani
By Samah Jabr

We humans often ignore our inner voice, and too frequently fail to amplify the whispered admonitions of our conscience so that others can hear them as well. Indeed,we too rarely avail ourselves of the opportunity to liberate our souls in this fashion, while our physical beings remain enslaved and incapacitated by oppression, power, temptation, fear or anger.
When we shut our hearts and close our ears to that inner voice, and to each other, we deny ourselves such essential human qualities as beauty, kindness, truth and goodness.
It wasn’t easy for me to meet Dani, a middle-aged Israeli man who introduced himself as a former Israeli soldier, in the midst of a group of Israelis and Palestinians gathered in the ‘Dutch’ Christian ecumenical village of Nes Ammim (tucked between the Palestinian village of Al-Mazra’a and the Jewish Israeli towns of Naharia and Carmiel in the northern Galilee. We had gathered there to discuss the lives we lead as Muslims, Christians and Jews in a state of severe political conflict.
Dani pointed at me and loudly declared: “Samah looks familiar to me. I served at the Bethlehem checkpoint months ago and I recognize her from there.” He then added, “I come to meet the Palestinians on an equal footing.”
Dani’s words left me cold. As an anti-occupation activist, I am critical of Israeli leftists whose Zionist principles presuppose the exploitation of another group and who fail to condemn, on ethical or moral grounds, the Israeli occupation forces, which commanded and shaped so much of Dani’s life and being.
Although our eyes often met while we were helping ourselves to meals, attending common lectures, or wandering along the shady lanes of Nes Ammin village, I avoided Dani as I would have were he still in uniform.
Near the end of our weekend encounter, the whole group played the Fish Bowl game, in which two people meet and exchange thoughts and feelings before the group at large. The discussion about a peaceful solution brought me to the center of the group. Before I could speak about my vision of peace, however, I was paired with Dani. The big, tall, bald man came to the chair opposite mine, looked me in the eye and said in a blunt, manly way,: “I was an IDF soldier, I served in the Palestinian territories and shot at, and maybe killed, Palestinians. What do you feel about me?”
I am used to being asked what I think, what I envision, how I explain things, but I really did not expect to be asked how I feel, especially about such a painful and highly-charged revelation as Dani’s. I didn’t know at that moment whether he was challenging me to a fight or offering reconciliation. All that came to my mind were the endless reflexive images of cold death and bitter humiliation sparked in my mind by the very mention of the IDF.
“Anger is what I feel about you,” I finally replied, trying to give the briefest possible answer.
“I understand your anger,” said Dani , and went on to express his regret at having served in the IDF and his disgust at their practices. He said that he was haunted by guilt and that he loses sleep because of memories from the time he served in Gaza and the West Bank. He spoke of horrible acts he and his colleagues committed against Palestinians, and then of a sudden awakening he experienced that brings him to such encounters in the hope of reconciling his feelings with himself and with others.
I remember talking to the politically conservative, ultra-Zionist, Yeshiva students of New York City’s Washington Heights, and listening to an interview with an Israeli/ South African soldier who participated in, and spoke defensively about, the Jenin war crimes of last April—an interview which was broadcast on South African national TV. Both experiences were much easier than listening to Dani’s emotional confession.
Here is an Israeli to the bone, an older man, born in the conservative Gush Etzion settlement, and brought up to hate and dehumanize Palestinians, speaking of his psychological transformation.
Although my anger with him and hatred of what he had done did not vanish, I was amazed at his ability to let his inner self, his better self, speak out. Dani spoke courageously of his mistakes, despite the risks: the possible agitated Palestinian reaction and the certain Israeli embarrassment at such a voluntary and scandalous exposure of its occupation policies. That embarrassment was laid bare when Dani, the former Israeli soldier, concluded that had he been born among “the other people” he would be doing what the Palestinians are doing now.
When Dani’s chair finally was occupied by another person, the classic question about forgiveness came up. “Samah, now that you’ve heard what Dani has to say, do you forgive the Israelis for what they’ve done and are you willing to live in peace with them?”
“It is too soon to talk of forgiveness when the occupation is still oppressing all of us,” I replied. “If I am ever able to forgive, I’ll forgive what I personally have suffered—I can never offer my forgiveness on behalf of other Palestinians.”
A German Lutheran minister smiled at me and said: “Samah, you are very Jewish!”
When it was time to depart, Dani told me that the other Jewish Israeli participants, who had presented themselves as more liberal than he, were angry with him for his confession. He gave me his business card and told me that he was an occupational therapist and a writer. Like my parents, he is a father of five girls and one boy. I had to wonder why he had not stated that at the beginning. I appreciated that, unlike many “dovish” Israelis, he did not hide his military involvement behind a humanist profession and lifestyle and pretend to be a safe friend.
The Nes Ammim encounter was soon over, and we all went back to our real, and profoundly unequal, lives. As I go about my hard life, struggling for a future as a Palestinian in my occupied country, I know that I will never feel less anger and hatred at what Dani had done, and what is still being done to my people. But I know the feelings of rejection and estrangement Dani must be experiencing, the brave yet painful isolation familiar to all who speak their hearts and say what is true, rather than what would please and appease others. In that sense, Dani and I have unintentionally agreed on a moral premise, and could be equal partners in that stand.
Reconciling the contradictory parts of one’s self and achieving inner peace is the first step of the long journey toward realizing peace and reconciliation on a much more external and more inclusive scope. Dani gives me hope—and that awareness, at this point in my people’s history, is all that I can give him in return.
Samah Jabr is a medical resident in her native city of Jerusalem.

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