Updated: Jun 11
I spent four years and four months in the Israeli army. I was an officer in what's considered to be an elite combat unit, and I went through an intense training as a soldier, commander and officer. My time in the field was relatively short since I spent more than half of my service in training, and during that time I was never required to be in the front line and fight, but still I saw and experienced enough for it to change me and the way I saw the conflict in my country. I'm fortunate that I was never in a life-threatening situation, nor did I lose any friends in combat. I was guided and protected in a way that I could only see later on, and the truth is that I learned so much in those years, but only recently have I started to appreciate all I've learned.
After I was discharged from the military, it took a few years for me to be able to speak about my service. I put it all behind me, almost as if it never happened. I couldn't make sense of how that old me and this new me can exist in the same person. As a 19-year-old boy I was filled with motivation to serve and protect my family and my people from any terrorists or potential terrorists. The fact that innocent people on the other side were being hurt by the actions of the army was not something we talked about. To be part of a conflict usually means that one side is "right," and the other is "wrong". I had no doubt that justice was on my side, and it took time until I started to question that absolute truth. Towards the end of my service I started to see the people on the other side of the wall more and more as people, something that made the job much harder since friction with civilians is inevitable. I knew I was protecting my family and the people of my country from real threats, and that this is an honorable thing to do, but nobody seemed to talk about the price of this protection, the price of having an army control the lives, the freedom and the security of millions of Palestinians.
I spent the years after my service on a spiritual quest, looking for Truth and God and Love; looking to be enlightened, to become a master in the realm of my inner world. I pushed away all the things that brought me unrest, as if to believe that if I don't think or talk about them, they don't exist. If I wanted to be enlightened, to be a healer and be a man of peace, then the part of me that had been a man of war didn't fit.
Recently, I've had time to reflect more on this part of my past. A memory that came up was of a kind of "locker room" talk with the guys in my unit whenever they spoke about the older and more experienced soldiers. The guys would talk about those soldiers and how many X’s they had engraved onto their guns, marking the number of terrorists they had killed. I had never spoken to any of those older soldiers about their experiences, but when I observed them, they seemed to be good people. They didn't look evil. They didn't seem to be bad in any way, and I don't remember questioning very much about the morality of what soldiers must do in the state of war.
As I look now at what's happening around us, I see forces of anger and judgement filling many conversations between us and in the media. It can be easy to condemn others for the evil they do, but it seems that this way of fighting and blaming doesn't make things much better. We can declare war against crime, or drugs, or terror, or racism, or cancer, since all those things seem to be evil, but will a war against them solve the problem of their existence?
What if the only way to start making things better is to look at our own sins, to recall the times when we missed the mark in our own life and did something of which we're not proud.
It can be easy to condemn a police officer who used his power to kill a defenseless man and to condemn the other officers who stood by and did nothing, yet still I feel that we're missing the point if we don't take this as an opportunity to look at where we ourselves are responsible in our own lives.
In my own life, It took me a long time to begin to forgive myself for my actions that I consider today to have been harmful to others. It seems that this was the only way for me to begin to forgive the evil actions that are happening in the world.
It took a few steps for me to arrive at seeing things this way.
I had to realize that even I am capable of performing evil acts; that there are parts of me that can act out of ideology, lack of awareness or suffering, that can be harmful to others. This realization was very difficult for me accept, since my perception of myself was that of a person who could not hurt anyone.
I had to start to forgive myself. I had to let go of the guilt and shame around my military actions and look at those actions as the best possible option with the awareness available to me at that time.
Only after forgiving myself could I start to see the evil actions of others as an expression of pain or lack of awareness. If I am able to see through the actions themselves that may be evil and realize that the person who committed them is not evil at his core, I can then begin to see that what has created this behavior is a deep sense of suffering.
Once going through these stages, I can choose to begin to forgive those evil doers for their unconscious behavior, knowing that in some sense I could have done the same. Forgiving does not mean to forget what happened, it's not saying that what happened should have happened or saying that it's ok that it happened. Forgiving doesn't mean that justice should not be done, or that evil should not be condemned and punished. Forgiving just means that I don't hold the blame and rage and hate in my heart because these feelings are more harmful to me than to those I wish to punish by holding on to these negative feelings. As my mentor Dr. Leonard Laskow says:
Forgiving is for giving yourself love and freedom.
This last point, saying that I can forgive by acknowledging that I could've done the same, is the hardest to see, since our minds are so convinced that we will never commit horrible crimes and only bad people are capable of doing such things.
The example of George Floyd is quite extreme and difficult to look at in this way. I realize that some people reading this might have a hard time accepting the perspective of choosing forgiveness, and I'm not saying that we don't need to change our world outside, but we must always ask how can we change our inner world, and perhaps this change needs to be first in our priorities.
The truth is, I don't believe I could ever commit murder or hurt someone for no reason, but still a part of me has learned that in every human there is this potential of missing the mark and just by recognizing that - I am allowing myself to heal and grow from the things I do regret and wish I had not done.
The truth is, I don't believe you could commit murder either, or hurt someone for no reason, but still I'm inviting you to ask yourself: When have you metaphorically put your knee on someone's neck? When have you behaved badly to someone just because they are different from you? When have you stood by and watched as someone was being harmed without taking action to stop it? When have you done something that you regret that you may wish to forgive yourself for?
I can share about myself that in the military I was a witness to unnecessary aggression towards Palestinians and I didn't speak up because it was normal in that military culture.
I can share that I have refrained from taking action many times when I needed to speak up and say that something does not feel right in this situation, whether in the military or in other circumstances.
I can share that racist thoughts have crossed my mind where I believed I am better than someone else who is not like me.
This is the time for us to look inside ourselves and heal our own wounds before we demand anyone else to do so. If we can heal ourselves from any hate or anger that still exists inside of us; if we can let go of any pain we've inflicted on those around us, this may be the best way to make our world a better place.