The Ongoing Blood Feud
Sari Nusseibeh, the new
Palestinian commissioner for Jerusalem, tells an interesting story:
Once, driving under pressure
because he was late for a lecture at Bir Zeit University, he
inadvertently hit a woman crossing the road to catch a bus. He stopped,
of course, helped the woman up and offered to take her to hospital. But
she told him that she was quite alright and in a hurry to catch the bus.
So he gave her his name and phone number, as well as the name of his
insurance company, and forgot all about it.
Weeks later his father, the former
Jordanian minister Anwar Nusseibeh, returned from abroad. He called his
son and said: “You have done a very bad thing.”
When Sari understood that his
father was alluding to the almost-forgotten incident, he told him that
it was not his fault and that the woman was not hurt, also that he had
given her his phone number and the address of the insurance company. But
the father said: “You have not done the main thing: apologized. In fact,
you impugned the honor of their family and ours.”
The father took his son, collected
a few dozens notables and led a large convoy of cars to the village
where the woman was living. Her family received them politely and
graciously accepted their apologies. The honor of the aggrieved family
was restored and everybody was satisfied.
Nusseibeh applies the lessons of
this episode to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Let’s assume that
everything happened unintentionally,” he said, “The Jews were fleeing
from Europe and did not intend to hurt the Arabs. All they thought about
was to set up a state of their own after all they had suffered. But the
Arabs were hurt. Hundred thousands of Palestinians lost their all and
became refugees. You must first of all honor them by asking for their
I remember similar things being
said by the great British historian, the late Arnold Toynbee, some 40
years ago. He sent me the copy of a speech which, he believed, the
President of Israel should address to the Palestinians. In it he was to
ask for their pardon for the harm done to them, emphasizing that the
Jews did not mean to cause it.
What we have here is a difference
of cultures. Sari himself was educated in England (where his father
served as Jordanian ambassador) and behaved as Europeans and Israelis
would: exchange personal data and leave the rest to the insurance
companies. It saves time and trouble, so one can rush on, as demanded by
a technological society.
Arab culture is different. In it,
honor plays a role, as part of an ancient and wise tradition, designed
to prevent blood feuds and bloodshed that can go on for generations.
Nusseibeh has another instructive
story. He was asked to join a delegation of notables after an accidental
killing. The delegation, numbering some 70 persons, went to the home of
the bereaved family, requested forgiveness and asked how much money the
family demanded as consolation. The father of the man killed asked for
10 million dinars, a huge sum that the other family was, of course,
quite unable to raise. But it was all a part of the ceremony.
“I relinquish 5 millions in the
honor of President Yasser Arafat,” the father continued, “I relinquish 1
million in honor of…” and so on, until it came down to a reasonable sum.
Agreement was reached and bloodshed avoided.
The whole procedure is called
Suluh Asha’iri, or tribal conciliation. The “Hudneh”, which President
Katzav proposed to offer in Ramallah (an initiative aborted by Sharon
and Peres), is a part of this process. But this runs counter to the
mentality of Israelis, especially Ashkenazis, which goes: “Never
apologize, always deny everything, otherwise you will be asked to pay.”
Clearly the Zionist enterprise,
which sought to save the Jews and create a Jewish homeland, has caused
grievous harm to the Palestinian people. The historian Isaac Deutscher
tried to describe the course of events by giving an example: “A man
lived in the upper floor of a building which caught fire. To save his
life, he jumped out of the window and landed on a passer-by below,
wounding him badly. Since then, there has been a bloody quarrel between
Even if this is not a perfect
analogy (as no analogy can be), it is clear that the jumper must
recognize the suffering he has caused and apologize to the man hurt. The
Palestinian refugees, whose honor was trampled and who lost all, need
this very much. An apology is a prerequisite to any practical solution.
As the Bible tells us (Proverbs 28, 13): “Whoso confesseth and forsaketh
(his sins) shall have mercy.”
But this is the most difficult
thing for Israelis to do. They are afraid to admit that they even
inadvertently caused harm. They want to forget the whole thing and leave
it to their insurance company (the United States) to pay compensations.
The insult felt by the
Palestinians because of our ignoring the disaster we brought on them is
one of the basic reasons of the blood feud, that goes on from generation
to generation. It is still killing every day.
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haGalil onLine 20-01-2002