Can you really love your enemy?

by Cara Jensen

This is the name of a podcast I listened to recently from the 2013 Greenbelt Festival, given by Sami Awad. He is the executive director of Holy Land Trust, a Palestinian nonprofit organisation that works at both the grassroots and leadership levels in developing nonviolent approaches that aim to end the Israeli occupation and build a future founded on the principles of nonviolence, equality, justice, and peaceful coexistence.

A dear friend forwarded this to me after we were discussing my studies of nonviolence principles and the work towards justice, human rights and equality. It was spot on. What I really liked about his talk, was the steps that he took in his own life to liberate himself from the deep seated hatred and distrust of the Israeli occupiers. He told the audience that he had learned to look within himself to ask what he might do to change his relationship to the enemy, identifying the greater, all encompassing identity as humans beings.

Then he had to let go of the past, honoring it and learning from it, but not letting it control his present. Challenging himself to ask what is factual and what is opinion/generalization and freeing himself from the victim mentality was the next step. Breaking through both sides of those hardened identities is key to not seeing ourselves as a victim. He liberated himself from this mentality by ceasing to judge others and allowing their actions to control his reactions. Seeing the human underneath the actions, not demonizing and dehumanizing them.

Getting to know your enemy’s story was a next step, he doesn’t use this to excuse or condone their actions, but simply as a realization that each of us has experiences that shape how we react to situations. In a conflict, the enemy is the situation not the person. He said that it was only when he visited a concentration camp in Poland that he finally could understand the zeal behind “never again letting this happen” and how it has shaped the current Isreali sentiment. Listing without prejudice, you don’t have to agree, but just hearing the story allows for a development of trust and understanding.

He then spoke about healing the past, reconciliation, forgiveness; the need for healing the traumas of the past and how that is critical for building a future with the enemy that is not just one of compassion or charity, but mutual liberation, freedom and equality. Only by building a new unity of human oneness can the work succeed. Change doesn’t come from the action, or from above – the root of the conflict has to change, amd that he says happens through the spirit of love and compassion. Loving the enemy is a means to achieve goals and we must trust the power of love.

Listening to this has certainly challenged me to identify my “enemies”, or those who would be in conflict with me, and reflect on their story , not to excuse or condone their behavior,or to view them through the lens of judgement, but to see them as fully human, just as I am. I am working towards entering every interaction with a intentional approach of nonviolence, in the way I speak, think and even resist. I am working.

One Comment on “Can you really love your enemy?

  1. Deep reflection on attending to others situations. Thank you for sharing.

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