Remarks by Faiza Abdul-Wahab: ADL Courage to Care Award
Posted: April 30, 2007
Remarks by Faiza Abdul-Wahab
On the occasion of the presentation of the ADL Courage to Care Award
To her father, Khaled Abdelwahhab (posthumously)
Washington, DC, April 30, 2007 -- I would like to thank Robert Satloff whose courageous work to reveal a lost corner of history brought my father's story to light. It is my fervent hope that his research will re-open a dialogue between Arabs and Jews, who often thanks so differently but share so much. I owe Dr. Satloff my personal gratitude for permitting me to enjoy a beautiful encounter with my father. And my deep thoughts go to Mrs. Annie Boukhris and her family. Her moving personal testimony, delivered just days before she died, made all this possible.
My father was not a talkative man. He inherited from his father, a famous historian, the values of openness and tolerance that are a tradition in his native country, Tunisia. At a wonderful moment in time, in Spain during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Jews and Arabs worked side by side to build powerful bonds in philosophy, sciences and poetry. In medieval Andalusia, Jewish culture thrived. When our common Jewish and Muslim ancestors where expelled from Spain in the 15th century, most found refuge in Tunisia and throughout North Africa, where they shared the same language and the same culture.
Until I heard about Dr. Satloff's book, I had never heard my father's story. As a child, I was never "rocked to sleep" hearing tales of his exploits. I had to wait until the 10th anniversary of my father's death to learn about what he had done. But when I did, it did not surprise me. Despite being born nearly 500 years after the expulsion from Spain, my father was heir to that legacy of tolerance. It was natural that he did what he could to help fellow citizens of Tunisia, when they were threatened by an external danger because of their religion. I doubt my father himself considered it as heroism.
My father is not unique, as Robert Satloff showed in his book. In Arab lands, many ordinary people, including many whose names we will never know, responded to the call of their fellow Jewish citizens in danger. Even if only a minority of Arabs stood arm in arm with the Jews at their hour of peril, this bond must be nourished and remembered. The key is the quality of relationship between Arab and Jew, not just the quantity of Arab rescuers or the number of Jews rescued. What I hope people remember most about my father is not the number of people he saved, but the deep respect he showed for the people he helped. As Mrs. Boukhris said in her testimony, she remembered that when she and her family were being protected on my father's farm, he went so far as to bring a rabbi so they could celebrate Shabbat. This is the measure of respect my father had for the people he helped.
Today, we remember that 60 years ago, many Jews from Arab lands who faced the barbarism of the Nazis grabbed hold of the outstretched hand of their Arab brothers. But that is not enough. Today, as the daughter of Khaled Abdelwahhab, I extend my hands as a sincere and truthful bridge to my Jewish brothers and sisters. Together, we can open space for dialogue and encounter between our peoples.
In a world haunted by war, the message of hope and peace at the heart of today's ceremony should give confidence to all those who still want to dream about what is possible. I realize that some may find my words utopian. But we cannot build the future is we cannot dream today.