Thursday, November 19, 2009

Genocide and Forgiveness

Tonight I watched the finale of a film about the Holocaust, from the perspective of a survivor who decided to "forgive" the Nazis who experimented on her and her twin sister during the war. Questions were raised about whether she even had that right to forgive those beyond her own experience of persecution. The film gave us a very complicated woman, Eva, who decided for her own sake, to forgive those who had tortured her and her twin sister on behalf of the Nazis. She decided to forgive not only those who had done these crimes against her and her sister, but also decided to forgive the entire German people and the Nazis among them for what they did. Then, later in the film, she, Eva, visited Israel, and more importantly, the Palestinian territory, to try to work her "forgiveness" into their fabric. The experience, however, for her, was unnerving to say the least. She found herself being the person who represented "power" (as an Israeli) being confronted by those who knew no power of any sort. They confronted her with the many crimes that were committed by Israelis against Palestinians on a daily basis, including outright murder. She saw, if I may say so myself, and I don't know I have this right, the discomforting sight of being on the other side the victimization table. I think she was not able to see herself as belonging to a people who could ever do such a thing. She had "forgiven" those who had victimized her from a perspective of innocence. And certainly, as a child, she was indeed innocent. In that sense she could forgive those who had violated her and her sister from a vantage point of actual innocence. In other words, they had no power to resist the violence against them. In this she was correct. Yet, when she ventured to scenarios which reflected a picture which had Jews, Israelis, being in positions of actual power, she did not have the emotional or intellectual framework available to her to allow that her own people could be guilty in the way (though not by any means in the way Nazis had been numerically) other oppressors had been before. And yes, including the Nazis. That's the most disturbing part of this. Could a people, a people victimized so horribly, become a people capable of the same horror?
This is where forgiveness takes into account, and must take into account, that every human being has within himself and herself the ability to forgive and yet also has the ability to be the perpetrator of the greatest crimes known to humanity. This brings to mind that we must always be attentive to what stirs within us as much as what drives those we would be against.

No comments: