On Forgiveness, Reconciliation & Peace


By: Mr. Israel Bonan

 Have you ever gone to someone you know or had dealings with and just told them that you forgive them? What would their reactions be? The ones you would respect and care about, will automatically ask you, "For what reasons do you extend your forgiveness, have I wronged you in any way? Please tell me". A simple dialog ensues, to exchange point of views surrounding the essence of the perceived slight and how it is to be interpreted by both sides, the alleged offender and the person eager to forgive. I call that a very simple human transaction, and with an inherent measure of logic to it.

 What if the one you wanted to forgive, does not recognize the slight, then or after repeated explanations; or better yet, they shrug off or just disingenuously thank you for your forgiveness with absolutely no displayed interest in knowing why! Have you known any such person? I bet you have. The end result is just "gratuitous forgiveness"; that misses the mark by a good mile and a half. I venture to add that nothing of consequence usually comes from such forgiveness; unless we choose to recognize that 'being taken for granted', is after all a positive outcome.

  The underlying issue of forgiveness is the subsumed slight, as understood by both sides and not only one.

  Now let us transcend forgiveness and discuss reconciliation. In such cases we acknowledge two slighted parties, and both parties seek a way to clear the air and hopefully see the future without the original disharmony created by the events. Both sides, in turn, talk and listen, and do that some more until they come to terms and bury the hatchet, so to speak. A reciprocal apology and declared forgiveness is the order of the day, recited by each side and accepted equally by both.  

Just to complete the parallelism of the two scenarios, of forgiveness and reconciliation, we need to look at the case where one or both sides do not accept the merits of the other's claims and remain at odds, to forgo or to wait for a better day to consummate, an alternate arrangement. The stuff divorce is made of, for instance.

  As a next step, let us map these scenarios on the history of the Jews from Egypt. We are a community of peace lovers and peace advocates, we revel in remembering the good days and the good people we once communed with in Egypt, our friends, associates, and neighbors. They knew us, we knew them and with whom we had a sincere rapport. Though we were considered merely guests and not true citizens of the country; we participated fully in Egypt's cultural, political and economic life only to be torn away from our familiar surroundings, our property confiscated, our human rights abused, some of us were jailed and tortured for extended periods of time while others lost life and limb.

  Wars started and concluded, and finally we saw a ray of hope with a Peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. But that is just a piece of paper, which may have stopped bullets from crossing from one side or the other (and we thank G-d for that, for all concerned) but it did very little to strengthen the fragile peace ties between the two nations.

 Now let us recap how many "gratuitous acts of forgiveness" we, as a community, have shown Egypt since the signing of the Peace treaty with Israel. Great many of us, and of Israelis continue to go and visit Egypt, even though we still see visible signs of discord and hostility, where we can see the posted signs, such as 'We do not cater to Israelis' next to 'No Dogs allowed' that are posted on places of business, and we still hear of television productions on Egyptian TV networks covering such falsehoods about a modern day take on the 'Protocol of the Elders of Zion' and, read about newspaper articles still expounding on 'blood libel' stories.

  The Jewish community in the US alone has developed and nurtured a significant Import/Export volume of business with Egypt; even though we still have not reached any conclusions as to the status of our Torah scrolls and religious artifacts we left behind, and of our synagogues who have been declared as ' Egyptian Antiquities' and are still falling apart, antiquating further unabated. I am sure King Tut and Ramses antiquities are considered a different category of antiquities requiring different types of care than our religious artifacts and synagogues.

 As a Jewish community from Egypt, we long for the day when we can be a bridge of peace between Egypt and Israel, we can encourage more student exchanges, initiate more cultural events, foster more trade and do more of everything that will bring us and the Jewish State closer to the Egypt of old that still remain alive in our consciousness; and even though we have never sat down formally to discuss reconciliation with Egypt; we have, in essence, been advancing forgiveness, ad infinitum, without the benefits of a true reconciliation.

  So what are we seeking, besides not being taken for granted? What proposal do we want to advance to Egypt as a first step for reconciliation? Just 'our forgiveness' with nothing in return? While may be there is something to be gained from notions such as 'live and let live' or 'forgive and forget' or even 'let's move on'; I find that neither logic nor emotions would allow us to accept such a one sided transaction. Because it lacks the necessary discourse about the slights perpetrated and the acknowledgement of such; it is akin to papering over the issues or sweeping them under the rug.

  We have no issue, as a community of Jews from Egypt, with the people of Egypt; but we claim an underlying slight that we need acknowledged. It is simple, we were wronged, and the list of grievances is long. Not only Egypt's government needs to hear it, the people of Egypt need to hear what previous governments did to us, the Jews of Egypt, and to others and hid from them. While not all victims, of the previous governments, were Jews; all Jews were their victims. To combat blind hatred and bigotry, the people of Egypt need to know what happened to 80,000 of us, when now they can count Jews in Egypt on the fingers of a few hands. Because as a colleague of mine posited: 'For Peace we need reconciliation, for reconciliation we need the truth to be told', and I venture to add with reconciliation utmost in mind, also 'acknowledged'.

  Nothing can shake the basic need for the truth to be told before we extend our hands of forgiveness, once more, to Egypt's government. We need a full two way participation for such a reconciliation, and we need to listen to each other to affect a lasting peace and harmony between Egypt, her estranged Jewish community and the Jewish State of Israel.

  We are encouraged to see the current positive signs between Egypt and Israel, and we look forward to stretching ourselves more, as a community, to increase our ties to the people of Egypt; but it also at this juncture up to Egypt's government, as well, to start an honest dialog with us and to let the voice of truth chime among her people; so a true and sincere reconciliation can take place in order to cement a future, based on openness and mutual respect.

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