The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue until the price of not having peace outweighs the price we have continued to pay for the past seven decades.
That price is paid in human lives.
In my mind we crossed that line many years ago, but apparently not enough Israelis and not enough Palestinians have reached that conclusion.
For them, it seems, the heroes are those who pay with their lives in the name of homeland and flag. Their people honor their deaths and memorialize their suffering, while the families are destroyed. Some consume themselves with a burning desire for revenge. They are angry, hurting and scream out to never compromise with the enemy. Others suffer in silence.
They are all victims. We are all victims. Those who paid with their lives are not heroes. There is no heroism in dying or killing in a conflict which should have ended years ago. The only heroes are those who overcome the urge for revenge and reach out to the other side so that no one else will pay the dearest price of all. Two such people are Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin.
Rami’s 13-year-old daughter Smadar was murdered in 1997 by a Palestinian terrorist who blew himself up on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. Bassam’s daughter Abir, was murdered by an Israeli Border Policeman in 2007 at the age of 10 while walking home from school.
These two unlikely partners call each other “brother” and they mean it. Rami and Bassam have dedicated their lives, since the killing of their daughters, to speak out to Israelis and Palestinians, all over the land that they each call their homeland, as shining examples of true peacemaking. Their message, along with that of more than 600 other Israeli and Palestinian families that have joined The Parent’s Circle, a group of bereaved families, is the most compelling message of peace that exists.
Peace agreements are made by politicians and governments, but peace is made by people. If people like Rami and Bassam can make peace and spread their message of peace throughout the land, we all can. In fact, we all must.
(By the way, The Parent’s Circle is the only organization in the world that I know that does not want more members.) Our politicians and governments may continue to fail us, to demonstrate their irresponsibility by not doing everything humanly possible to end this conflict. They may continue to fail us for years to come. Their failure will result in more Israelis and Palestinians losing their lives. As long as the politicians and governments fail to reach peace agreements, the deaths of more Israelis and Palestinians will be inevitable.
We will all continue to be victims of this conflict until we realize that holding on to victimization only serves the continuation of the conflict.
Until we free ourselves from victimization, we will remain passive participants in the insanity of the spreading of fear and hatred, and the legitimation that our politicians and governments need to keep them from reaching the compromises that will eventually be reached. We may lack the leaders needed to make the necessary course change and the majority of us may continue to hold to the belief that while we want peace the other side does not. The majority of Israelis and Palestinians may continue to believe that peace in this land is impossible. But they can all – we can all – become peacemakers.
Haven’t we all paid too high a price already? The despair of many, perhaps most Israelis and Palestinians, is demonstrated by our failure to generate new leaders who understand that peace is always made when enemies begin to cooperate, change their relationships and build partnerships of common cause and interests.
Politicians in conflict thrive on the fostering of animosity and enhancing fear and hatred. Benjamin Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Liberman, Yair Lapid and Isaac Herzog are all cut from the same cloth, perhaps with varying degrees of ability in manipulating the public.
But their messages are all the same: we cannot cooperate with the Palestinians – we must build stronger fences, higher walls, enforce separation and never see any justice on their side. They are no different than the Palestinians who are opposed to cooperating with Israelis. No conflict has ever been brought to a peaceful end by not cooperating across the conflict lines.
It is not easy to take the first step, but it must be taken. There will always be people who will oppose.
Cooperation will not always succeed.
There will be disappointments and frustrations. But as someone who has been doing this for almost four decades, I know that it is possible. I also know that it is inevitable. I do it every day and every day my world become richer, with ever expanding circles of conviction among Israelis and Palestinians who become peacemakers.
This is the most liberating experience that Israelis and Palestinians can experience. This is not fantasy or naiveté. Our conflict is real and the threats imposed on us all by the continued conflict are real. Reaching political agreements between Israel and Palestine is the easy part of making peace. Peacemaking is a long and tedious process. Genuine peacemaking may take one or two generations. But we don’t have to wait until political agreements are reached.
My Passover message is this: take that proactive step of ending the cycle of victimization. Overcome the sense of despair. Liberate yourself from being a passive participant in the continuation of the conflict. Make a difference by taking that step on the other side of the conflict and begin to challenge that person and yourself to move us beyond the conflict.
The author is the founder and co-chairman of IPCRI – Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives.