June 16, 2016

Yousef's Father and the Owner of Orlando Nightclub Agree: "It's Important To Never Let Hate Win."

Tuesday morning I was watching The Today Show, which spent most of its first hour on the Gay Pride Sunday massacre at Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando. I was lying in bed, half dozing and half listening, throwing in a few stretching exercises.

Matt Lauer was having a good interview with the woman who owns Pulse when I heard her say "It's important to never let hate win." That got me fully awake. Her warning presumably was against letting the Orlando massacre by one Muslim nut case turn into hatred against Muslims generally.

I remembered my pal Yousef telling me that his own father had spoken similar words many years ago, when Yousef was a young boy and Israeli soldiers had occupied their family home in the Gaza Strip. Yousef's father didn't want his children to begin hating all Israelis because of these soldiers' actions.

Yousef's father tells the story:

Then I thought about how I'd spent the day of the Orlando massacre.

My Sunday with Muslim Friends
Sunday was one of those days I love -- nothing planned, just a quiet day at home with the Sunday New York Times and Washington Post. I knew a few friends might come by, and that was fine.

Yousef was in and out of the house during the day like the family member he has become. He's preparing for a special trip later this month -- a visit to Germany to see his mother for the first time in ten years! She has remained in the family home in Gaza while most of the children have left to pursue studies and careers in Europe or the U.S.

Yousef's visa does not permit him to return to Gaza, a prohibition that will change when he becomes a U.S. citizen soon (unless President Donald Trump decides to bar Muslims from citizenship). His mother is recovering from being hit by a car recently. Since one of her sons is a doctor who lives in Frankfort, Germany, she was able to get a visa permitting her to fly from Cairo to Frankfort for a month's visit with him.

Yousef will join them for the two weeks that will end the day after Eid al-Fitr. That celebration -- July 6 this year -- marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Yousef's mother traveled to Frankfort with his youngest sister who still lives in Gaza, and whom Yousef has also not seen in ten years. It's no wonder that Yousef is really looking forward to this trip!

I met Yousef in Washington's DC's Farragut Square Park on Tuesday:


Also dropping by the house on Sunday were Zahed and his wife Sony, whom I recently described in my Bangladeshi family post. Their story is an example of what hard-working immigrants can still achieve here, despite how elusive the "American Dream" has become.

I worried that our friendship was ending several years ago when I thought I heard Zahed say "I hate Jews." But then I remembered he pronounces his own name like "Jahed." While I disagree with them, I can tolerate people who hate 'zoos.'

During their Sunday visit, Zahed and Sona gave me the sport shirt I'm wearing in the photo with Yousef.

Reach Out To Your Muslim Friends
My own Sunday experience made me think that this was an especially good time to reach out to our Muslim friends and urge them to visit. As long as these visits occurs during daylight hours, they will refuse all your offers of food and drink. Ramadan ends on July 6.

I've discussed Yousef several times because his story is fascinating. He is also an example of mainstream Palestinian Muslims, whose stories we seldom hear.

Backgound on Yousef
Yousef’s family has lived in Gaza for generations. He was ten years old in 2001 when Israeli soldiers occupied the family home… an occupation that continued for five years. Every evening the family (Yousef's parents and their six children) were confined to the family room. If they needed to use the bathroom upstairs, they had to request permission, be accompanied up the stairs by a soldier, and leave the bathroom door open. The soldiers also imposed other restrictions on the family during the day.

In spite of everything, the father remained a model of tolerance for his family. He warned the children against succumbing to a hatred for the Israeli soldiers. They are only kids trying to obey orders, he told them.

Yousef was a rebellious teenager who found it difficult to understand his father's words and actions.

In 2005, Yousef was in his front yard saying goodbye to UN visitors when -- for unknown reasons -- he was shot in the back by one of the Israeli soldiers. He ended up in a Tel Aviv hospital where the staff worked for months to get him up and walking again.

In the hospital, Yousef's father again warned him against the corrosive power of hatred. Instead, he assured Yousef that he had the power to turn his pain into something positive. He shouldn't allow that bullet to determine how he lived his life or thought about his future.

This time, Yousef was receptive to his father's comments. The compassionate -- even loving -- care he had received from the Israeli doctors and nurses turned his anger toward Israelis into something very different.

If the teenage Yousef had let hatred control his life, he might have become a terrorist. Instead, he's devoted his life to tolerance, and to the path toward reconciliation between Israel and Palestine.

This drive has already produced positive results for Yousef, including:
  • attending a camp in Maine that Seeds of Peace runs every summer for children on opposite sides of conflicts, 
  • gaining admission to and graduating from a private high school in the U.S.,
  • graduating from Northeastern University, and 
  • getting a masters degree in conflict resolution from Brandeis University.
After obtaining his masters degree last spring, Yousef headed for Washington, DC, hoping to find a job where he could work on conflict resolution in the Middle East or elsewhere. This move not produce immediate results, so he applied for and won a Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellowship. Twice each year, the Scoville organization selects several recent college graduates to spend up to nine months in Washington working on jobs that involve issues of peace and security.

1 comment:

Jackie Blanchard said...

Excellent and inspiring, John.