For Americans, who by now have seen waves of apologies from public figures like Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and Tiger Woods, it may be easy to overlook this unusual contrition in one of the world’s toughest neighborhoods. Yet humility, vulnerability, and making amends is just what the Middle East needs to deal with its intense, long-lasting conflicts.
If apologies are heartfelt, they can have real healing power. They bring trust and honesty to a relationship, even if they are not made by the perpetrator but simply on behalf of a country or institution.
They can help prevent a repeat of an offense. And they are better still if they also come with some restorative justice. Libya’s leader, for example, promises to cooperate with the United States in bringing the embassy attackers to justice.
Postwar Germany set a high standard for the world in its apologies for Nazi atrocities. In 1970, German Chancellor Willy Brandt dropped to his knees during a visit to a memorial for Polish Jews killed during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943.