The Washington Post, Washington, DC. – As Israelis and Palestinians once again trade rocket attacks in a new round of violence, a 10-year-old story is back in the news because of the ability of one of those involved to grasp the awesome power of forgiveness and reconciliation.
On Feb. 18, 2004, a week after his 15th birthday, Yousef Bashir was shot in the back by an Israeli soldier in the front yard of Bashir’s home. The bullet splintered into three fragments, severing nerves near the teenager’s spine.
Today, after months of rehabilitation in an Israeli hospital where he learned to walk again, Bashir describes the episode as “life-changing,” which makes sense, and “a blessing,” which to many is astonishing.
“I feel very thankful to this horrible experience because it spared me from a lot of hatred I would be growing up with toward the Israelis,” he says. “I was shot by one Israeli but saved by many Israeli people.”
Indeed, over the years, Bashir has imagined finding the soldier who shot him that afternoon.
“I forgive the soldier,” he said. “It would be a great privilege for me to meet with the solider. . . . What he did changed my life a great deal, I would say positively more than negatively. But I think it would be life-changing for him if he gets to see me.”
During his recovery, Bashir found his way to the United States with the Seeds of Peace program that links Palestinian, Israeli and American teenagers; attended boarding school in Utah; then college at Northeastern University in Boston, MA.
Now 25, he is studying for his master’s degree in peace, conflict and coexistence at Brandeis University just outside Boston, where students and faculty come from 60 countries on six continents. It is also the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored college or university in the United States.
As The Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus wrote, “I am too realistic — too cynical, perhaps — to think that Yousef’s experience is scalable; anger tends to trump forgiveness. But as rockets fly and parents mourn, as decades of enmity flare anew, his example offers a lesson, both humbling and inspirational, in the all-too-scarce art of reconciliation.”
Read the full column: “Spared from hatred, thanks to a bullet in the back.”