Apparently they are the worst enemies. They speak of one another in the most horrid and dehumanising epithets. But as it often happens, which was so well described by George Orwell, the enemy without is used to keep control of and power over the population within.
There is no denying there is an asymmetrical situation, an illegal occupation and a history of oppression by the Israeli right wing government on the Palestinians. There is also a history of violent uprisings and attacks by Palestinians which have been used as justification, at least in the eyes of the fearful and those who use fear as a political tool, to continue the repression and retaliate out of all proportion. But ignoring the basic strategies of these apparent enemies misses the opportunity for the international community to try to influence the conflict in a different way.
Each missile from Gaza into Israel is a vote for Natanyaju and his ilk, is a present for the fear-mongers, as long as it doesn’t do a lot of damage. So Israel invests in bomb shelters and Iron Domes (missile defence system). For fear to be an effective vote winner the government has to prove it can defend the population. The left wing parties, the Jewish-Arab alliances, the soldiers who refuse to serve in the occupied territories, the youngsters who go to jail for refusing to do the military service and those working for justice for Palestinians, are presented as traitors and their voices stifled. There is very little knowledge or reporting in the international media about such efforts for peace and reconciliation. Another source of fear-mongering is the “demographic time bomb”. Since the Arab population has a higher birth rate that the Jewish one (save for the ultra orthodox who have nothing much to do apart from praying and raising large families as many of them are financially supported by the state, but liberal Israelis feel rather ambivalent about the restrictive culture of these radical religious groups who often attempt to impose their practices on others) there will be a moment when Jews become a minority. Israel will no longer be the refuge against persecution and holocausts at the root of its creation. Hence the new law to curtail Israeli Arabs rights, which is creating such a degree of outrage worldwide that is becoming rather like shooting oneself in the foot, a source of recruitment for BDS.
Hamas is winning the media war precisely because it appears that when the Israeli bombs drop there are no shelters for the civilians, many combatants take refuge in the tunnels but everyone else, including children are left exposed. Pictures of dead civilians of all ages both in the corporate media and internet outlets reach out into the homes of the whole world. No other conflict has had the level of penetration in the world psyche (and if we are taking about oppression and injustice there is rather a lot to choose from). In spite of the massive demonstrations organised by Hamas, including burning tyres to obscure the view of Israeli snipers near the fence, and sending kites with ignited petrol to burn Israeli crops, there are also demonstrations from the Gaza inhabitants against Hamas. In fact the latest protest (demanding better living conditions and accusing the Hamas leadership of having higher standards of living whilst creating hardship for others, also complaining about intolerance towards dissent) seems to have been interrupted by the retaliatory bombings by Israel after a missile from Gaza destroyed a house in Tel Aviv and hurt seven people. Four Palestinians have been killed in the ensuing escalation and the anti Hamas protests have disappeared. Young nonviolent movements are appearing in Gaza, which just like their Israeli counterparts, go unrecognised by the local and international media. The political split between Hamas and the Palestinians Authority ruling the West Bank (which unlike Hamas is prepared to negotiate a two state solution – perhaps on pre 1967 Green Line border – as it recognises Israel’s right to exist) has only added economic hardship to Gaza.
The Holocaust and the Nakba: post traumatic stress down the generations
Apart from the tangible factors of the conflict (walls, bombs, snipers, settlements, missiles, checkpoints, etc) there are psychological factors in both populations that contribute to making the conflict more intractable. There is recognition now that trauma can be transmitted epigenetically to offspring and the family and cultural memories are strong determinants for many people to feel that their ancestors, who were victims of “the other side” are warning, in the minds of the descendents, of the dangers represented by the enemy and are also demanding that their deaths and loss are avenged.
For the Jewish population it is the Holocaust, not only the 6 million deaths, torture and unspeakable medical experiments but also the experience of many being rejected by countries in Europe and North America when attempting to flee the Nazi extermination.
For the Palestinians it is the Nakba (catastrophe), when hundreds of thousands fled or were expelled from their homes by the 1948 war that followed the creation of the State of Israel (as the Arab countries and local population did not accept the UN resolution) and the Naksa (the setback) during the 1967 Six Day War that resulted in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
The memory of those events play heavily on the psyche of both sides and prevents an empathic, compassionate and humanitarian discussion between those involved. Like most people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) small reminders of the original trauma, or other threats that may be unrelated, trigger catastrophic reliving of the horror as it was experienced, by themselves or their ancestors.
Talking to the wrong people
If we look at the media treatment of the conflict it would appear that only the Israeli ultra right wing and the Palestinian Hamas exist. The most hate-filled protagonists are given the most attention and so they are also the recipients of international financial and practical support.
But there are many thousands on both sides, that have surpassed their deterministic inheritance and their mechanical reactions to the violence and have managed to work together for peace and reconciliation.
Some like Combatants for Peace (whose members are ex militants who participated themselves in the violence and reached a point when they realised the people on the other side were also human beings and deserved the same rights they were asking for themselves.
Some like the families in the Parents Circle -For Reconciliation and Dialogue- had a member(s) of their family killed in the conflict and managed to identify with the grief also felt by the relatives of their dead “enemies”.
Some like the inhabitants of the village of Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salaam (Oasis of Peace) and associated schools grew up together, Jews and Arabs, learning each other’s languages and culture, showing to the world that peaceful coexistence is not only possible but also a thoroughly enriching experience.
Jewish and Palestinian women have marched together, an Israeli association in Jerusalem prevents demolitions of Palestinian houses and helps to rebuild them. The University of Haifa has a number of joint groups like the Jewish Arab Centre developing activities for peace and reconciliation.
The list goes on (see Wikipedia, Arab Israeli Peace projects), many of these initiatives have now chapters in other countries.
These are the people who should be invited to international conferences about the conflict, should be supported by any government claiming a desire to contribute to the peace process, they should be supported financially and emotionally, invited to give talks at Universities everywhere in the world, because they are the only ones that have managed to surpass hatred and the desire for revenge, they have overcome epigenetic, family and cultural deterministic forces, they have found the compassion and contact with what is profoundly human in others. We must listen to them and learn because they carry the kernel, the hope and the miracle of transformation that can make any conflict solvable. They are the living examples of Active Nonviolence.
Finally we are reminded of the Principle of Valid Action from The Look Within, by Silo, which says “It does not matter in which factions events have placed you, what matters is for you to comprehend you have not chosen any faction”.
Nobody chooses the country where they are born, their parents, their historical moment, the education they receive during their formative years as well as their religion, their race, their genes. And yet some people manage to overcome some of the beliefs and prejudices instilled onto them in circumstances beyond their control, but this can only happen when a higher level of consciousness allows them to become aware of their mechanical thoughts, feelings and actions, in order to start intentional and coherent lives.