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A daughter's unusual revenge

A desire to confront her father's shooter yields a look at how different cultures view an ugly idea.

(Page 2 of 2)

Her father's shooter, Omar Khatib, is in jail for his crime, she learns. So she begins her quest for him to know the Blumenfelds by befriending his family without saying who she is – only that she's a US journalist.

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She avoids pigeonholing her subject. "Revenge is like love: It's one of those things you can describe, but you can't define," she says.

She sees revenge as one end of a spectrum, with justice on the other end. Americans prefer the word justice. There's a big difference between the two, says the Rev. Dr. Joretta Marshall, a dean at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis. "Justice is more about how we create and sustain and nurture relationships that serve the common good, that don't marginalize and destroy others. Revenge has to do with making someone else feel bad because you feel bad."

Often, revenge is not as satisfying as people expect. And it can end up hurting the avenger more than the target. "I think it's something we need to be paying attention to – how we think it's going to help us feel better," says Dr. Marshall.

A focus on revenge may cause people to lose sight of moving toward a more just society. "If revenge is the last word, then we don't have any way to get out of constant [cycles of] hurting," she says.

But some people talk about "constructive" revenge. Professor Bies, who specializes in organizational behavior, says it exists in workplaces. His research suggests that in some cases, revenge curbs abuses of power – as when an employee confronts a superior in a public way about inappropriate actions.

In fact, he says that most stable organizations have a mix of forgiveness and revenge. "You need elements of both, and that's the intriguing thing."

At least one worldwide movement – restorative justice – allows victims and communities to be involved in punishment, to help in reforming the offender.

That's closer to what Blumenfeld was after. She argues that the extreme choices are not always realistic. Turning the other cheek is a tough rule to live by, she says, and an eye for an eye, "feels good for about five minutes until the person pops out your eye, and then all of a sudden you realize the futility of revenge and how it's ultimately self-defeating."

She found a third way: transformation. "What I've learned is that revenge doesn't have to be about destroying your enemy, it can be about transforming your enemy or yourself."

Her friendship with Mr. Khatib's family eventually allowed her to correspond with him. He is educated and knows English, and tells her he has renounced violence. They discuss "constructive revenge" – in which a person's anger is channeled into "building something up rather than lashing out," she wrote.

He and his family learn her true identity in an emotional courtroom scene when she persuades a panel of Israeli judges to let her testify as a witness in favor of his early release. Rather than alienating her from Khatib and his family, her actions draw them closer, and they remain on good terms. In a recent TV interview on ABC, Khatib (still in jail) said Blumenfeld "chose the positive way of getting revenge from me. And she succeeded."

She says she knew she had achieved her goal, and could finally rest, when Khatib wrote to her father that "[Laura] was the mirror that made me see your face as a human person that deserved to be admired and respected."

Her father says he didn't want revenge, other than to live a full life. But she needed more. "I felt really satisfied," she says. "I got revenge, but it was in a way that put an end to the animosity, rather than perpetuate it."