Rawan Osman

What I learned from Yossi Klein Halevi

Whatever you choose to do, do it from a place of love

The Syrian war led millions of Syrians to flee the country, many of whom took refuge in Europe, mostly in Germany where I was living with Adam, my son. Europeans split between sympathizers and those opposing the sudden massive influx of refugees.

The opposition grew significantly after learning that the waves of emigrants were infiltrated by Islamists, some of whom carried out terrorist attacks against civilians in several European cities.

As I was half-Syrian, Adam was bullied at school. He was confused and could not understand the connection. He was Lebanese, his mother paid taxes, and we were a religion-free household. So why should we along with the terrorists go back to Syria?

The answer is simple: under pressure, humans seek a quick fix. The children’s mind retained the essence of what they heard from their parents: If the Syrians cause problems, they should go back to Syria. As if the world could close the lid on the country and pretend it did not exist.

Who could blame children for thinking that denial would solve a problem, when the Syrian foreign minister, Walid el Muallem, responded nonchalantly in 2011 to the European condemnation of the atrocities committed by his regime against civilians, saying that Syria would forget that Europe existed on the map.

In hindsight, I could understand the children and what led them to behave the way they did. But at the time, it was very much troubling to watch my son suffer for something he had nothing to do with.

Initially, I thought that we should move to Canada. Or to New Zealand, where I have friends. But as IS expanded their activity beyond Europe, I was completely frustrated. If there was no way to escape, there was nothing I could do. I felt stuck, like people who throw their hands up in the air, giving up when situations become overwhelmingly difficult.

But there is always something one could do and giving up was never a solution.

Escaping from the Middle East and its problems was not possible. It wasn’t enough to move to a different continent and to stop watching the news. It was part of my existence, and after Adam’s experience, I had to accept that it was part of his. I might have replaced Arabic with German as his mother tongue, but even that could not sever his connection with the Levant. My attitude was, up till that point, like Walid el Muallem’s: detached from reality.

The incident reminded me that I had gotten too comfortable, too selfish. I shared my thoughts with Adam and explained that our connection to the Middle East meant that we have a responsibility. When we left, my priority was his safety and well-being, but since he was safe, it was time for me to remember all those who weren’t. For as long as they suffer, I will never have peace of mind. Especially the children. Regardless of the circumstances that prevented their parents from providing them with a haven, it wasn’t the children’s fault. We have a moral obligation to help them. Why? Asked Adam.

When I was a child, my parents would move us to the pantry during heavy shelling. No matter how hard I covered my ears, I could not stop hearing the bombs, the planes, the screams. Yet, what bothered me the most was my parents’ chattering. They would sip their whisky and sleep whenever it was calm again. The following day, life resumes as if nothing had happened, until it would happen again. I wondered why they weren’t doing anything to stop war.

That same question crosses the mind of children confined to refugee camps or hiding in a bunker in Tel Aviv or used as human shields in Gaza. We owe them to try at least.

My parents were never involved in politics or violence, yet, like many, they were guilty of passivity or indifference. I wanted to break that chain, although, I did not know what exactly I should do. The only thing that was clear is the kernel of the problem: The Syrian Regime and its allies thrive on animosity with Israel. They exploited the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, and without it, these regimes would have no legitimacy as they failed their peoples on every other front not only in Syria, but also in Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and so on.

Not knowing where to start, I looked for inspiration online and found a book called Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor. I read it and contacted the author; Yossi Klein Halevi was reaching out to the other side with an earnest desire for peace without apologizing for his Israeli and Jewish identities. He claimed the right of the Jews to tell their own story in exchange for listening to the other’s story. And that was not for the sake of agreeing with one another, but for the sake of speaking with each other.

Yossi became my first Israeli friend. At the time, I was angry with the Muslims and the ways they wanted to impose on the world. I blamed Islam for the actions of terrorists and thought that the world would be a much better place if we were all atheists. Although he is a religious Jew, Yossi wasn’t offended by my blunt remarks. He would listen patiently to my long monologues over skype, to the point, once his wife thought he was watching Netflix –until I said hello and scared her.

When I asked for his advice, he told me that I needed to determine what I wanted to achieve and that whatever I choose to do, I must work towards it from a place of love, always from a place of love. Then he added: “Try to find the center”.

Which center? Yossi’s advice seemed a little absurd. I was filled with anger, and anger was the natural feeling in my situation. But of course, how could he understand what I was going through?

Except, he knew. He sent a package from Jerusalem. In it were books, one with a dedication for me, another with a dedication for Adam. Mine was titled Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist. Yossi used to be an extremist! A Kahanist?! Oh yes, he knew what anger leads to.

Years went by, with Yossi’s words resonating in my actions and choices. Thanks to him, my understanding of the world evolved. Reality is what we make of it. For instance, religion isn’t guilty of extremism; extremists are. Individuals are responsible for their actions and the consequences they choose to project in the world. Some act for the sake of fighting, others seek harmony.

On page 318 of Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist, Yossi wrote: She said, “That we were particles of light buoyant on waves, and the waves all came from a single source.” That is the center between us all. That is the wisdom Yossi shared with me and what healed me from anger.

My contribution might be a droplet where an ocean is needed but without droplets, an ocean would not exist. Ultimately, a droplet creates a ripple effect. If contaminated, it pollutes, and if charged with love, it heals.

About the Author
Rawan Osman is a Syrian-Lebanese peace activist, currently writing a book about her perception of the Jewish people and Israel before and after leaving the Middle East. Formerly with the PeaceComms Institute, Osman is studying Jewish and Islamic Studies at Heidelberg University, Germany. She is fluent in Arabic, French, English and German. She can be reached at
Related Topics
Related Posts