Madiba’s lesson for the Middle East by Yael Mizrahi, Israel

This past month we said goodbye to one of the greatest hero’s of our time, leader, revolutionary, activist, and the list continues on… Nelson Mandela.

imageThis past year, as I found myself catapulted into the world of peacemaking, Madiba’s legacy has come to mean quite a lot to me. Maybe it’s the fact that he was still alive, pushing through his illness, and seemingly immortal. Maybe it’s that I realized if he was able to overcome all the adversity, hate, and difficulties life threw at him, then maybe we could conquer such obstacles in the Middle East.

I understand the worlds sudden fascination and obsession with everything he has ever said or done,or those who denigrate Mandela because he was best friends with Arafat, or chummy with Cuba. However, I believe it’s irrelevant to try and scrutinize his every word or action. Imagine at your death, the world has a record of everything you have ever said, with this day in age– the internet, text messages– no one could possibly remain a saint. And we admire him because of his humanity, not for his perfection.

So I prefer to take his life’s work, and use it as inspiration, by forcing people to remember what he was capable of. Not repeating the pattern of oppression, he knew that revenge and anger could only lead so far. He believed in good– the unbending belief that in each person there is goodness– no matter how much past hurt, or cultural fictions worked against him, he could find that goodness.

What saddens me the most, is the realization of what an anomaly he is in this world. How did he restrain himself from seeking revenge? How did he only serve one term in presidency? How did he supersede the paradigm of the oppressed and the oppressor, to serve side by side with his former enemy, FW de Klerk. (Yes, their relationship was marked by intense mutual resentment. Which excuse me, but no duh, is not surprising. Can you imagine Bibi and Marwan Barghouti, working together side by side, devoid of any acrimony?That’s a dream even I know is impossible.)

I feel we are so embedded in our cultural narratives, we can’t help ourselves but throw vitriolic condemnation at our neighbors, attribute all the blame to the other side. Society puts too much emphasis on fitting the mold, that we fall into the predetermined power structures, of right and wrong, good and bad.

I know his passing has lit a spark in me– something has suddenly changed–I am worried that our future generations, more cynical than even we are today, will feel Nelson Mandela was merely a parable of some sort used to promote understanding and peace.

To keep his legacy alive, I will make a conscious effort. How much longer will we make enemies in our minds, berating people we have never tried to understand? How many times have we refused to offer kindness, to ourselves, to our neighbor, or to some part of society we prefer not to acknowledge. How many more excuses will we cultivate in order to justify the status quo? For how much longer will we allow our anger and resentment to block the way towards reconciliation and forgiveness?

As the new year is approaching, I want to give these words of hope and inspiration for the region– with every day, comes a choice. The choice to perpetuate change, and make an effort, even when it’s not easy, even when you feel the odds are against you. It’s becoming sappy, and I am sorry to go there but I feel we need a little hope in our lives. We have all the power to change the world; the only thing that is standing in our way is our negative beliefs, and self doubt.

Yael Mizrachi,

YaLa young Leaders

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