JERUSALEM: We are all accountable for the common reality that we as politicians, fighters, pacifists, activists, observers, media and citizens are creating together in the Palestinian Israeli conflict. This is once again evident in the global mobilization around the flotilla incident — a symptom of our collective engagement in the Middle East situation.
Whatever role we choose, active or passive, we are all co-creating this painful reality. As we do so, the conflict is intensifying and the tragedies on both sides are escalating. Despite the increased involvement of well-meaning people, something is not working in our attempt to make it all better.
Recognizing only one side’s suffering at the hands of the other has generally led to an extreme counter-reaction by the other side. The latter, feeling misjudged and discriminated against, has in turn escalated their own cry of victimhood and their violent response against it. In conflict resolution, the needs and realities of both sides must be acknowledged and addressed. Conflict rarely subsides until this happens. It appears almost impossible for Israelis or Palestinians to relinquish violence when both sides feel that their security needs are not met, that their survival is threatened or when they experience themselves as isolated, unacknowledged or treated unjustly.
It is time to turn the lens inward and explore why our well-intentioned attempts at ameliorating the situation may instead be contributing to the intensification of the conflict, suffering and despair. The underlying causes of the violence have not yet been sufficiently addressed. These causes are not necessarily in the historical facts but in the dualistic and polarizing stories with which we interpret the past and the present and project onto and, in turn, shape our future.
To pull all of us as out of the quagmire, we need to recognize the dangers of perpetuating these partial prisms. We need to cultivate a larger perspective that takes into account both sides’ fears, needs and longings for a safe and prosperous future. It is not essential that both sides do this simultaneously. If one side takes the first step something in the dynamics between the two will necessarily shift.
Two questions may be useful here: A. what are we doing or not doing consciously and unconsciously that is contributing to the escalation of the violence and hatred? B: what could we do differently that can answer the other’s needs for security, justice and hope in a way that will lower the chances of their own acts of violence and oppression?
Hopefully one side will be big enough to take this first step. It will involve moving beyond a self righteous focus on their own group alone and recognizing and investing in the humanity of the other as well. It will also entail self-confrontation in a way that is not paralyzed by guilt, remorse and self-criticism. Instead such a process will use the often uncomfortable insights as a resource for creative, proactive and life enhancing opportunities for all concerned.
Until now Palestinians and Israelis have been unable to resolve their conflict alone. They have turned to the world for support in defending themselves against the "inhuman other". Instead of asking the world for support in justifying one’s own violence by demonizing the other, it would be useful if we all focused on asking for help in searching for constructive and creative pathways through the impasse. Such pathways must focus on reducing fear and retaliation in order to cultivate a sense of opportunity for all concerned. It is when both sides will see hope in a common vision that the energy of violence can be channeled instead into life enhancing activity.
As human beings, whatever strength, justifications and resources we may have, or may want to believe we have, it is useful to recognize our fragility, flaws and our inevitable interdependence with the other. The flotilla incident is just one more sign that neither side can really win with strategies steeped in seeing only a part of the whole picture. It is further tragic evidence that the use of force only ignites more hatred and violence and renders all parties more vulnerable. It demonstrates yet again that no side in an interdependent system can flourish at the expense of the other.
After this incident we may ask ourselves if we directly or inadvertently inflamed the cycle of blame, hatred, violence and trauma or if, instead, we succeeded to contribute to its transformation and to open pathways for truly peace building discourse and action?
Shelley Ostroff, PhD, is a consultant living in Jerusalem. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).