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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Obama, the Nobel and my Gaza story

The Jewish Advocate

October 16, 2009

By Dr. Izzeldeen Abuelaish

Many Americans, including the president of the United States, appear surprised by Barack Obama's selection for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Some might think that the award is undeserved as the president deliberates over strategy for wars on two fronts only nine months into his first term. It is not undeserved, nor should it be surprising.

A number of sitting and former presidents have been Nobel recipients for the ways in which they've used the power of office to bring warring parties together. But Obama has gone beyond this, expending precious political capital to shift American foreign policy away from militarily-enforced stability in favor of a less costly and more durable kind of peace. Peace is more than the absence of war. A lasting and just peace requires that the parties recognize one another's humanity at the most basic level.

People often say that truth is the first victim of war. Born and raised a Palestinian in Jabalia refugee camp, continuing to live in Gaza and work in Israel, I do not view this as a cliché. But the first lost truth has nothing to do with the stories of politicians, journalists and historians. The first truth lost in war is the sanctity of human life.

The shared values and beliefs upon which civil societies are built are forgotten the moment a shot is fired. We believe our own propaganda about adversaries' inhumanity. To paralyze conscience, soldiers come to view the enemy as subhuman.

I come from a part of the world where dehumanizing poverty, overcrowding, violence, oppression and fear put the value of human life in doubt. My family and I have experienced the death of my three daughters and niece in an Israeli shell attack whose ferocity Israel cannot explain or even admit. I struggle daily to resist the temptation to hate and dehumanize the perpetrators. But I know that my personal journey of forgiveness and reconciliation is an unending process that allows me to love and respect even those who have hurt me. It is a pathway to peace that must be traveled a little bit every day.

Obama's Nobel Prize is a signal that the rest of the world gets it. The presenters attributed their selection in part to the president's speeches about respect and shared values between America and the Arab world.

Obama has been criticized at home for speaking abroad about America's mistakes, its limits as a world power and its commitment to change how it pursues conflict resolution. His political opponents call him an apologist who is signaling weakness and inciting enemies to escalate attacks on America. They argue, in effect, that he is creating harm by humanizing his adversary and being cautious about further risk of life.

But beyond matters of policy or strategy, Obama is being recognized for courage, given the huge political cost of the foreign policy themes he has enunciated. He should be rewarded not just for using high office in the right way, but also for the risks he is taking to do so.

Although I am just one man, not a head of state, I have dedicated my life to the preservation of life. I have tried to maintain relationships of love and respect with colleagues, patients and friends - Israelis and Palestinians alike - and continue to do so despite great risk and terrible personal losses. My reasons are absolutely clear and compelling to me, but they are confusing to others. In this small way I see a parallel between the questions I'm constantly asked and those now being raised about Obama's Nobel Prize.

No one can say precisely where the road to peace will lead. Nevertheless, we have a pretty good idea where the first step will take us, and that is enough for now.

It is a step that anyone can take, not just a world leader, and it will more surely take us toward peace than anything we can attempt by negotiation or force of arms. We must endeavor to forgive and respect our adversaries and value human life above all. If we can't do this, the second, third and fourth steps on the journey are beyond our reach.

Rather than quibble about whether the destination is yet in view for President Obama, we should be celebrating the fact that he has taken steps iin the right direction. We should celebrate the fact that the Nobel Prize went to someone who understands that real peace is a journey that starts with forgiveness, reconciliation and mutual respect.

 

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