Hatred is a seductive emotion. It masquerades as righteousness. It suggests that without it, we would be apathetic, cowardly, acquiescent, poor defenders of justice and easy prey for our enemies.
It seems the most appropriate thing in the world to hate that which we know is wrong.
But it’s not.
If anyone has a right to hatred, it is my mother. In 1948, my mother’s family was evicted from their home in Palestine at gunpoint. She grew up in Gaza for years before her father was able to move the family to Kuwait where they lived without citizenship.
Despite the hardship imposed on her, I never once heard my mother refer to Israelis as “the enemy.” Sure, politics were discussed around the dinner table, with new policies and new leaders disparaged or lauded, but in our home, Israel was just a country of people, struggling like everyone else to make a place for themselves in the world.
Perhaps their actions had caused suffering for others, but this was not enough reason for my mother to enshrine bitterness or hatred in her life. Perhaps she had a right to bitterness, but I think she recognized early that to claim that right would be a greater burden to her than it was worth.
So she let it go.
I want to emphasize that she didn’t excuse what was done, nor did she try to justify it. She simply decided not to take it personally and not to define herself by what had been done to her by someone else.
As a result, I never felt bitterness towards Israel. I had never experienced hatred as normal in this case. I of course knew that people on both sides of the conflict were at odds, often hated each other, but that was an abstract thing, not attached to story or personality.
Then, last year as part of a dialogue group, I listened to people I had come to know as friends, sharing their bitterness about a conflict that had touched them directly, or not at all. For them, as for so many others, anger was seen as the appropriate response, whether on one side or the other.
To let go of anger was even seen as cowardly, a refusal to step up and face the injustices, because, how could you see the injustice and not be angry?
I realized what courage it must have taken for my mother to raise her children not to hate Israel, and to live her life totally unencumbered by the shackles of having been a refugee and a non-citizen for the first third of her life.
I realized all this as I was sharing it in front of the group, comprehending the significance of my discoveries in the very act of unearthing them. I found my voice strained with emotion I didn’t even know was there.
I realized the power of the gift she had given me: the example of someone who had been touched by a great tragedy deciding not to let it define her. It was the simplest kind of freedom that she passed on to me, a gem she had found in the very same rubble where others could only find ash.
These days, I find my country divided by anger, fear, and hatred. To many, these responses seem to be the appropriate ones, even the morally correct ones, but they are not. They poison our hearts and make it impossible to seek, much less to achieve, the understanding which is so essential to our survival as a nation.
I’m not saying that what is being done in D.C. is right, nor am I saying that the efforts to oppose it are wrong. I am simply calling for a commitment to act from a place of compassion, even towards those we are compelled to oppose.
To do so is not just a matter of flipping some internal switch; compassion takes work.
I don’t know if my mother feels actual compassion towards those who evicted her family (though it is a very easy thing to imagine she does), but I’m sure that growing up in the Middle East, she had countless opportunities to choose between hate and something more productive. I’m sure she stumbled many times. It was not automatic. It was a choice, made daily at times, and often grudgingly I’m sure. As a displaced Arab woman, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to blame her difficulties on Israel.
Instead, she focused on bettering herself and her life, dealing with the challenges as they came, taking what opportunities she could, and seeking to connect with people from all walks of life.
The proof of her success is that I am not encumbered by her hatred.
We must actively choose to guard our hearts against the hatred of our fellow humans, especially when hatred recommends itself as the appropriate response. Otherwise, it becomes a habit of thought. We must do this, not just for the sake of our spiritual and psychological well-being, but also if we hope to have a positive impact on the world: an action undertaken with hatred has a drastically different outcome than the same action undertaken with compassion.