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Humanity in the wake of a terrorist attack in Israel

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A headline caught my eye today that is worth sharing in this blog, given its mandate to find humanity amid the pressures of the Middle East. The Monitor's former Jerusalem bureau chief, Ilene Prusher, has published a very interesting and thought-provoking interview that shows that even amid terrorist attacks there can emerge some glimmers of humanity.

The headline atop Ms. Prusher's Jerusalem Vivendi blog in Haaretz today reads "Understanding Jerusalem by trying to understand the man who tried to kill your wife." What follows is her conversation with American Jewish writer David Harris-Gershon, whose wife was severly injured in a 2002 terrorist attack at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

 

Mr. Harris-Gershon reveals in his recent memoir exploring the motivation for the attack that the perpetrator, middle-class Palestinian father Mohammed Odeh, had expressed remorse for his actions – which in turn pushed Harris-Gershon to examine his own views of Palestinians more deeply. This part of the Q&A is particularly revealing:

You wrote about how the average American Jew has been taught to see Palestinians, adding that before this evolution, “I did not think of Palestinians as human – they taught children to champion martyrdom and spilled blood joyfully, dutifully, in the streets of Israel.” Explain how you moved from that to realizing that there are “shades of brutality on both sides.”

It began here in the US and it began with intensive reading. When I learned in my research that Odeh expressed remorse, I was faced with a person who had been humanized. I felt that the only way I could understand him was to read a lot about Palestinians.

I read a lot of Rashid Khalidi, I read Gershom Gorenberg, and I began gaining an understanding of the Palestinian experience in the territories. I knew nothing about any of this. I was kept in the dark about who Palestinians were, by the Jewish community, perhaps by the media, and by my own lack of inquisitiveness – and that was concretized by the trip to meet the family. All of that formed my new political identity.

To be sure, the experience remains a challenging one for Harris-Gershon, who says he would not support Mr. Odeh's release from prison and – together with his wife – is still reluctant to visit Jerusalem. But in a conflict where perspectives of the other can be so deeply entrenched by fear and hatred, it is worthwhile to read the account of someone who reexamined his own views – even of the man who planted a bomb that nearly killed his wife.

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