No revenge, compassion
Gershon Baskin, THE JERUSALEM POST
Nov. 22, 2006
The families and survivors of the victims of the tragic killings in Beit Hanun have stated that they are not interested in revenge. Noam Shalit, the father of kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit, visited the Beit Hanun families in a Tel Aviv hospital and voiced his sympathy for their suffering and mourning.
How unusual is this demonstration of common compassion. How powerful is this emotion, yet so lacking from our two societies. When did we all become so numb to the suffering of others? Has our own suffering so overpowered our hearts that we are not capable of showing compassion for others?
In Israeli society the term for showing compassion is referred to as yefeh nefesh - literally a beautiful soul. This term is thrown at various leftists and others as a derogatory belittlement of their abilities in the field of logic and reason by those who think that they have a better understanding of human nature and of the world.
The behavior of Noam Shalit and the people of Beit Hanun are so unusual in our political environment and so unexpected that they have been criticized for being too soft or for capitulating in the face of the enemy.
I want to dedicate my words this week to celebrate the compassion of these people:
• Ghassan al-Qassem lost his brother in the Beit Hanun killings. His mother is still hospitalized in very serious condition. I have known Ghassan for more than 10 years. He is the head of the Beit Hanun agricultural cooperative, one of the largest producers of strawberries and flowers in Gaza. He is farmer, a man of action, not of words. His handshake is firm and you can feel his warmth through his eyes, which don't avoid looking directly at you.
He collects friends wherever he goes because of his good nature, his smile and his hard work. Ghassan is a businessman who is dedicated to working for the benefit of his family and his community. A long time ago, Ghassan came to understand that meant working with Israelis who share the same interests of profit and prosperity through and as a result of cooperation.
During the past six years, he has seen those interests trampled on by IDF tanks and by Islamist Kassam rocket launchers. Last year, after the disengagement from Gaza, the Karni crossing was closed for months and all of the farmers of Beit Hanun lost a whole season of their hard labor.
Some friends of Ghassan, myself included, appealed to the Israeli authorities to open Karni so that they could export their flowers, but to no avail. Kassams were flying into Israel from Beit Hanun and while the people of Sderot were suffering, there was no compassion for the people of Beit Hanun. The farmers of Beit Hanun uprooted their fields and cried for the losses and went on to plant for the next season.
I think that I would be filled with hate if I were in their shoes. But the people of Beit Hanun didn't ask for revenge then (as now), they simply wanted to get on with their lives and hoped that their next crop would reach its destiny.
• I met Noam Shalit a short time after the kidnapping of his son Gilad.
I did not know him, and I became deeply involved in trying to secure the release of Gilad after a Palestinian from Hamas in Gaza asked me to help because he was convinced that the people of Gaza would suffer as a result of the kidnapping. Despite the fact that I have spoken with Noam more than a 100 times, I never told him what has brought me to be so deeply involved.
Sasson Nuriel, who was kidnapped by Hamas and killed in the Ramallah area in September last year, was my wife's first cousin. They were the same age. They grew up together. I even knew the kidnapper - or more correctly, I knew his father. Muhammad Salah, the father of the boy who murdered my wife's cousin, was the commander of the Ramallah police.
In 1996 I took a group of Israeli and Palestinian police officers for a learning visit to Germany. Muhammad Salah was a member of the Palestinian team. I spent 10 days with him there. His son killed my wife's cousin. When Sasson was kidnapped, I was abroad and his sister called me to see if I could help with my Palestinian contacts to find him. I asked my partner Hanna Siniora to go to Ramallah to ask people if they heard anything about Sasson. Hanna even went and spoke to Muhammad Salah. Of course, he didn't know then that his own son had kidnapped and already killed Sasson. When I asked to help secure the release of Gilad Shalit, I made a commitment to myself that I would do everything possible so that Gilad would make it home safe to his family.
Noam Shalit and Ghassan al-Qassem are my heroes. They should be the heroes of us all.
Through their personal suffering they have demonstrated compassion. They have shown the true power of the human spirit. They are not naive. They are yefeh nefesh and they are symbols of hope for a better future for us all.
The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.