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Remembering Daniel Pearl: The Challenge of Non-Violence and the Possibilities and Limitations of Forgiveness

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In The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness, Simon Wiesenthal wrote about his experiences as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. He describes a dying Nazi soldier who has asked his forgiveness. Wiesenthal asks the reader of his book, "What would you do?"

Ten years ago, Feb. 21th, Daniel Pearl, a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, was brutally executed by his captors. They viewed him as a "Jewish Zionist" bargaining chip for the freeing of all Pakistani "War on Terror" terror detainees, and the release of a halted U.S. shipment of F-16 fighter jets to the Pakistani government. His captors' message read:

"We give you one more day. If America will not meet our demands we will kill Daniel. Then this cycle will continue and no American journalist could enter Pakistan."

His murder in 2002 occurred five months after Sept. 11, 2001. Tensions between the Arab world, especially the Islamists, Jihadists, and the Unites States were at an all time high. President George W. Bush unleashed retaliatory military action against the Taliban in Afghanistan in October 2001. Pearl was executed four months later.

Since then we have witnessed the "Arab Spring," an escalating confrontation between between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization over the continued occupation of Israel of Palestinian lands, and a failure of negotiations to successfully achieve a "two State solution."

In December 2010, a so-called "Arab awakening" occurred in Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, and Jordan. Millions of people, mostly young people engaged in mostly non-violent disobedience to the long ruling governments in their respective countries. Violence, to the extent that it occurred, was mostly initiated against the non-violent protests of masses of people who for the first the first time, in an organized capacity, were challenging their respective ruling governments. Included within this "Arab Spring", was an escalating confrontation between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization over the continued occupation of Israel of Palestinian lands, and a failure of negotiations to successfully achieve a "two State solution."

Recently, Khader Adnan, a Palestinian, held in an Israeli prison for his alleged affiliation with a violent Islamic Jihadist organization, ended 66 days of his non-violent fast in exchange for an agreement by the Israeli military authorities to release him on or before April 17, 2012.

What does Khader Adnan, 9/11, the Arab Spring, conflict between Israel and Palestine, have to do with remembering Daniel Pearl and non-violence?

Mustafa Barghouthi, a member of the Palestinian Parliament and Secretary of the political party, the Palestinian National Initiative, on Feb. 21, 2012 wrote in the New York Times:

Over the past 64 years, Palestinians have tried armed struggle; we have tried negotiations; and we have tried peace conferences. Yet all we have seen is more Israeli settlements, more loss of lives and resources, and the emergence of a horrifying system of segregation.

Mr., Barghouthi observed that Khader Adnan's "victory" had unified and highlighted the power of non-violent protest. "Indeed, all Palestinians who seek an independent state and an end to Israeli occupation would be wise to avoid violence and embrace the example of peaceful resistance."

More than 50 years earlier Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr reminded us that "non-violent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding... The non-violent resister must often express his protest through non-cooperation... (N)on-cooperation and boycotts are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation."

Barghouti also commented that the non-violent protest of Palestinians is "not intended to delegitimize Israel, as the Israeli government claims. It is, instead, a movement to delegitimize the Israeli occupation of the West Bank." To paraphrase, Dr. King, recent Palestinian non-violent protests are a "means to awaken a sense of moral shame" among Israelis.

Barghouti believes it is also "a movement that could free Palestinians from nearly 45 years of occupation and Israelis from being part of the last colonial-settler system of our time."

Accordingly, the challenge for people of good will is how do we end the cycle of violence in commemoration of the memory of Daniel Pearl? How, if at all, can the "redemption and reconciliation" envisioned by Dr. King be realized?

Ironically, the events of 9/11 may provide us with the "template" that challenges our capacity for non-violence.

There's lots of TV news footage, articles and books to refresh our recollection of the violence, pain and suffering caused by the bombing of the World Trade Center in NYC on Sept 11th, 2001. Few descriptions, however, capture the magnitude of the personal pain experienced and endured by victims of that event better than the book by Edie Lutnick, author of An Unbroken Bond. Ms. Lutnick tells the story about how 658 men and women employees of the company Cantor Fitzgerald, including her younger brother, were killed on that day.

In a foreword to the book, I wrote:

There are some events past and present that challenge or ability to comprehend the magnitude of the human pain and suffering and the destruction associated with them... The terrorists airplane attacks against the World Trade Center... challenge our ability to grasp and comprehend the enormity of t the horror and loss experienced by fellow Americans.

So, it is with the brutal execution of Daniel Pearl.

The cycle of violence in Israel and the Middle East cannot be broken without "redemption and reconciliation. This is the existential moral challenge presented by Simon Wiesenthal in, The Sunflower: On the possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness.

How do we best honor and commemorate the memory of Daniel Pear and the victims of 9/11? By retaliatory vengeance and violence or forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption.

The participants in the Arab Spring and Khader Adnan suggest to us that the next generation in the Middle East, and in Israel and Palestine, particularly, may be asking, if not pleading with us, to support them as they seek a new non-violent way to challenge the real and perceived injustices in their lives. Are we ready "to step of to the plate" and address their aspirations?

Additionally, this is one of the over arching issues confronting participants and members of AIPAC who will assemble in Washington, D.C. next month for their annual policy conference.

Will the conferences participants and leaders of AIPAC have the ability and courage to see beyond the issue of whether or not there should be a pre-emptive strike by Israel against Iran to halt its effort to produce nuclear weapons? Will they also have the capacity to consider the broader implications of what MAY BE new possibilities for their Israelis relatives and friends to yet again assume the risks of achieving a non-violent reconciliation with their Palestinian neighbors?

This unavoidably requires all of us, like Simon Wiesenthal in his The Sunflower to explore and test "possibilities and limits of forgiveness." Today, this may be the most fitting and enduring tribute to the memory of Daniel Pearl on the 10th anniversary of his death.