TitleHow can we bring Israel and Palestine closer to one another?

Neither Victims nor Executioners

8 Jun 2010

■ Ramin Jahanbegloo
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Israel’s attack Monday May 31 on a boat traveling in international waters and carrying humanitarian supplies for Gaza killed at least nine people and sparked a series of recriminations around the world. Israeli officials described the boat’s passengers as the aggressors and said the soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces were simply defending themselves. This recent incident is once again a great reminder of why it’s so important to understand that the challenge of peace in that region of the world is actually the challenge of all of us who have been witnessing for the past 60 years a murderous and horrific conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The refusal to kill or to legitimate murder is the starting point to which the Palestinian- Israeli peace process points us. The question to ask here is: Can Israelis or Palestinians imagine each other’s death and their shared responsibility for it? Can they perceive themselves as perpetrators of violence as well as its victims? Can an Israeli father or mother imagine that a Palestinian child is as precious as his own? Can a Palestinian have the same sense of horror, disgust and sorrow when he/she sees the image of Israeli kids blown into pieces by rockets or suicide bombers? Forming an answer to these questions begins with Palestinians and Israelis recognizing their common humanity and shared values beyond a continuous reinvention of their victimhood and beyond a persistent tendency to blame the other. All these are symptoms of an enduring fearfulness and a moral courage to accept one’s wrong doings that serve to perpetuate and deepen the war between the two nations. Fearful men and women cannot conceive any particular goals or goods beyond mere instinct of survival. Fear makes strangers of people who should be friends because one hates what one fears. The fearful person cannot love, desire, or hope. It is perhaps too much to hope that a community, a state or for that matter, even an isolated individual can admit being wrong. But to hope is already a step forward and to do one’s best for the hope is one giant leap forward. There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the clash between Jews and Arabs, between Israelis and Palestinians is a clash between two versions of the same lived experience. There are no good guys and bad guys in this conflict, as most people living outside this region tend too often to conceive it. We are talking about two nations who have been living with their shattered dreams and broken hopes. In a way, dying together, more than living together, has brought Israelis and Palestinians to share the same fate. They are burning in the same fire.

If each side has refused to understand the other, it is because each side has seen itself only as a victim and not as an executioner

So either each nation can run for its own life and let the other nation who cannot run burn to death or both nations can try to fight the flames together. Because, neither Israeli Jews, nor Palestinians can find a national homeland anywhere else. This is why the Israeli – Palestinian conflict is neither a clash of cultures nor a clash of religious traditions, but it is a clash of intolerances and prejudices among two rescued nations who share the same life boat. For too many years an iron wall of hatred, violence and fanaticism has separated the world of Israelis from that of Palestinians. As a result we have traumatized and untrusting peoples on both sides. For much too long, the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world treated Israel as a passing infection that will simply go away if they only scratched it hard enough. Many Israelis, for their part, treated the entire Palestinian issue as no more than a vicious invention of a pan-Arab propaganda machine, aimed at undermining Israel’s legitimacy in order to destroy it.

In terms of violence committed in the region, the major human rights violations are generally perpetuated by the Israeli military and various Palestinian militant groups that claim responsibility for killing civilians. However the peoples of both countries are in broad agreement that it is never justified for an individual person or militaries to target and kill civilians. According to a Gallup Poll in 2007, 52% of Israelis and 62% of Palestinians reject violence and favor nonviolent forms of resistance and negotiation as the best approach to achieving self-determination and security. Is this an idealistic dream? Maybe. But perhaps idealism is the most realistic approach at this time, because nonviolence is the solution most grounded in reality. As we have seen in the past 60 years, violence has not worked and submission to domination has been intolerable. Nonviolence, it would seem, is the only alternative. I challenge anybody to come up with an equivalent strategy, one that assures Israelis their security and Palestinians their state. The key requirement for any peace settlement is that the violence end. This does not mean that we have to be silent in an undignified way in face of the deaths of innocent civilians on both sides. It means that we need to launch a global movement of nonviolent resistance to the violent policies of the state of Israel, but it also means that we need to be critical towards the repeated failure of Palestinian leadership to present a coherent, nonviolent and proactive negotiating position. The path to a workable peace, one with a Palestinian state alongside Israel and both with internationally recognized borders, has long been well known. But a succession of Israeli and Palestinian leaders have been reluctant to take it. Because they have doubted that they have a partner who could deliver them peace. If each side has refused to understand the other, it is because each side has seen itself only as a victim and not as an executioner. A sense of victimization has been accompanied on both sides with a justification and legitimization of violence. But how can we get out of this cycle of violence and how can the two sides reverse direction and start looking towards the future? No realist would believe today there is any brilliant formula or shining piece of paper that will end the Palestinian-Israeli tragedy in our time. This is true, but the 20th century is gone, and the 21st century is a challenging one for and Palestinians.

Roughly speaking Israel is caught in a dilemma. If it does not end occupation and retreat, it will lose both its integrity as a Jewish democratic state and its international legitimacy. But if Israel does end the occupation and withdraw without a peace accord that will be perceived by its neighbors as an act of weakness. To solve this dilemma Israel must pull its act together. It must reform its political system, it must come up with a government of wisdom and common sense. But it must do more than that. It must create a new, relevant narrative which is narrative of tolerance and dialogue. As for the Palestinians, I think they have no way of regaining their rights without the active participation of Israelis in their democratic effort. So we need to criticize the viewpoint of absolute separation between every Palestinian and every Israeli.
If there is a permanent agreement with Palestinians on this issue, Israel will no longer be able to view its Arab citizens as permanently suspect and unofficial enemy agents. In coming decades, Israelis will be confronted with a fundamental question – whether to ensure the peaceful transition towards an egalitarian society in which Palestinians are given the same rights as Jews. However, this does not mean that we have to artificially to engineer solutions. Therefore it means that for one people to realize their dreams, another should not lose everything. It is time for us to underline the renunciation of violence and murder as a moral imperative and an alternative course of action, but for this we need to understand that Palestinians and Israelis are both victims of the same fear, prejudice and intolerance.

Tehran Review
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  1. Mohammad Ferdosi  says:

    با سلام
    من نظرمختصری در حاشیه مقاله آقای دکتر جهانبگلو نوشتم ، ایشان ممکن است بدلیل مشغله های زیاد یا هر علت دیگرمایل نباشند آنرا دنبال و جواب بدهند ، ولی تهران ریو یو میتواند با نشر ان و سایر نظرات خوانندگان خود  این نشریه را پربار و محل برخورد بیشتر آراء کند .
    با تشکر ، محمد فردوسی

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