|By A.D. Freudenheim||
14 April 2002
I have the sense that I am becoming a broken record, that what I write to fill this space is all too often focused on the same issue, again and again and again. I continue to write about the mess in the Middle East because it seems so important to me, to who I am as a person, because "my people" - the Jewish people - are involved in the conflict. The repetition of this process, of writing and thinking about this situation so heavily, is starting to get to me, and I definitely feel that what is needed is some sense of overcoming.
I spent much of the week trying to overcome the urge to lose control and burst into tears of stress and frustration over a situation that is so awful, and in many ways so unnecessary. I needed to find an avenue to move myself past the traditional analysis and the standard responses to this political and military situation - and past the personal feelings that go along with it.
As I thought about this all week, I also realized that a sense of overcoming is what is needed for the people involved in the conflict. If either side wants peace - and this is a big "if," because it is entirely unclear that either the Israeli or Palestinian leadership wants peace, and certainly not if it might also entail compromise - then they must figure out a way to move past their entrenched views. They must:
- Overcome the urge for revenge. Revenge solves nothing, produces no benefits except the deaths of more people, and entrenches further the existing negative perceptions of the people on the "other" side. Revenge turns the situation into one where the defining, and inescapable, principle is an-eye-for-an-eye. But there are only so many eyes to go around.
- Overcome the sense of helplessness, and hopelessness. There must be a clear sign that there is a future for the people of Israel, and for the people of the Palestinian state-in-waiting. There must be steps by the leadership on both sides to show an intent for peace, and not a desire for war; there must be a visible emphasis on communicating, and not on taking steps to end all negotiations. Where this is no sense of hope, there can be no peace.
- Overcome tribalism and the sense that there are "sides" in this conflict. Not only the Israelis and the Palestinians, but Jews and Muslims around the world are guilty of perpetuating this sense of tribalism, and there are two steps needed to break free from this. The first step is to reach a point where we can criticize - openly - our own tribe. I cannot speak to Muslim and Arab sensibilities about this except to address what I have seen and read; but what I have seen and read suggests an unwillingness on the part of these communities to take responsibility for their own actions, and to condemn activities that do not further the cause of peace. Arab and Muslim leaders must be willing to recognize, publicly, when the Palestinian leadership has failed in its mission, and they must stop lying to their people about the sins of the "other" side.
Within the American Jewish community, the problem is similar, and quite unfortunate; American Jews need to grow comfortable with the idea that criticizing Israel's actions does not mean calling into question Israel's existence. We must free ourselves from the sense that our tribe can do no wrong, from the equally disturbing trends that prevent us from questioning our own actions - and from the sense that anyone who is not "with" us is simply a traitor to the cause.
- This leads to the second step, and my last point: we must all overcome the sense that one needs to fear for one's life: as a Jew, as a Palestinian or an Arab, and as a human. Eliminating tribalism would lead to the possibility that Arab and Jew might live together, peacefully. Wiping away tribal sensibilities might make it possible for American Jews to play a better role in peacemaking - in supporting efforts aimed specifically at non-violence, rather than supporting an aggressive and violent Israeli government. Pushing away tribal notions could help Arab communities wake up to the idea that supporting Palestinian terrorism is not truly supporting the best interests of the Palestinian people. Anyone who does not believe that violence only begets violence should look at the history of this Intifada - and show me, please, where there is evidence to the contrary.
All of this is a tall and admittedly idealistic order, but there is no reason that Israelis and Palestinians cannot live in peace. What holds them back is only their own sense of fear, and a disbelief that the other side is as human as they are themselves. That is a notion I cannot allow myself to overcome.
Copyright 2002, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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