Coexistence between Israel and the Palestinians is inevitable and, short of
catastrophic developments, the two peoples are doomed or destined to live
between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. They must now decide on the
quality of that coexistence: do they want to live with mutual hatred and fear
while demonizing one another, or do they want to live in peace and amity and
realize the biblical prophecy of making their shared land the Land of Milk and
No peace will ever be forged, let alone endure, unless both sides
understand and appreciate each other’s fears, concerns, hopes and dreams. Only
through direct social contact will they overcome their mutually destructive
perception of each other.
The Palestinians’ perception of the Israelis as
oppressive, uncaring people, determined to deny them basic rights, is anchored
in their day-to-day experiences. As they see it, the continuing
occupation, road blocks, humiliation and usurpation of land further diminishes
any prospect for peaceful cohabitation. The Israelis are viewed as the enemy to
be hated, resisted and undermined. In their view, successive Israeli governments
have offered no reason for them to change their minds and no cause to hope for a
better tomorrow. And with a complacent Israeli public, what prospects are
there for such a change?
Yet what effort have the Palestinians made to reach out
to their Israeli counterparts and try understanding their personal concerns, the
mind-set that continues to feed their inner tribulations and sense of
uncertainty and insecurity?
The Israelis, however, feel no better about the
Palestinians. They see them as violent, unrelenting people who will not settle
for anything less than the utter destruction of Israel, especially when such a
sentiment is on display by radical Palestinian groups such as Hamas, Islamic
Jihad and others. The Israelis’ experiences have given them no reason to trust
the Palestinians, whom they view with ridicule and disdain as backward people
wedded to traditions that prevent them from rising to peoplehood and a better
Yet the Israelis, too, have never fully appreciated the
Palestinians’ plight, the suppression and daily indignities of waking up each
morning subjugated in one’s own homeland.
If coexistence is inevitable,
changes of perception become imperative. Hearing each other’s stories and life
experiences – the creation of human connection – is indispensable to normal
relations. Listening to opposing views, understanding each other’s pain, and
appreciating what the other is experiencing allows for a change of perception.
Being passionate about one cause, as both sides rightfully are, does not
preclude respecting the other’s cause. It is mutuality of respect, not
necessarily an overall agreement, that bridges the gap. Indeed, one need not
change identity, cultural heritage or religion to live in peace, as long as
there is mutual acceptance and respect. The realization that the other is just a
normal human being – with feelings, hopes and aspirations – creates the
connection so desperately needed between these two sides.
Successive Israeli governments and Palestinian authorities have failed miserably for the
past 63 years to advance the cause of peace. They have been engaged in mutual
recrimination instead of facing the inevitable and charting a course to end the
festering conflict that has poisoned three generations of Israelis and
Palestinians. They continue to be suspicious of each other’s sinister
intentions. The Palestinians accuse Israel of having a grand design to
permanently occupy all of the land west of the Jordan River, and the Israelis
accuse the Palestinians of plotting to dismantle Israel in
Regardless of the current political maneuvering and its
consequences, the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians must free
themselves of these embedded prejudices. They must now begin to build ties to
prevent a renewed cycle of violence. How else can trust be built?
and the invisible walls between the two peoples must be torn down, but it takes
determined people to do so. Only the people can mold the present to whatever
future they wish to have. Their governments, which have failed them time
and again by perpetuating mutual fear, will have no choice but to heed to their
call. Peace and reconciliation must first be envisioned by the people, because
it can only come from the people. They must rise and demand change. They alone
can bring an end to the mutual dehumanization and recrimination.
injustices and agonizing human tragedies and losses cannot be settled by acts of
vengeance and retribution, which are the recipe for a continuing cycle of
violence, but by dialogue and identification with each other.
Izzeldin Abuelaish, the Palestinian physician who lost three daughters to
Israeli shells in Gaza, had every reason to feel angry, to hate every Israeli
and seek revenge. But he refused. “Many people,” he said, “expected me to hate.
My answer to them: I shall not hate, let us hope for tomorrow.”
Frankenthal, an Israeli father whose 19-year-old son was kidnapped and then
killed by Hamas, did not seek revenge, either; instead, he established Parent
Circle, an organization of Israeli and Palestinian parents who have lost loved
ones to this senseless violent struggle. “I gradually realized,” he said,
“that the only hope for progress [to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian
struggle] was to recognize the face of the conflict.”
More and more
communities like the Oasis of Peace, Neveh Shalom, must be established, where
Israelis and Arabs choose voluntarily to live side by side. Neveh Shalom
remains the only place where their children live and grow together and foster
relationships on which to build a new future.
Palestinians and Israelis
must learn to overcome decades of mutual fear and lack of trust and together
seek a new horizon. They must defy the present conditions that deepen
their estrangement and begin to connect socially and openly. It is absurd that
Israeli Jews can go nearly everywhere between the Mediterranean and the Jordan
River, while their government deprives the Palestinians of the same privileges.
Every Israeli who wants to live in peace must demand that this discriminatory
law preventing the Palestinians from entering the country be annulled.
Notwithstanding Israel’s national security concerns, which must be considered,
hundreds of thousands of Palestinians could easily receive security clearance
and be allowed to see and mingle with the “enemy,” only to realize that they are
ordinary people who yearn to live in peace.
The same must also be applied
to the Israelis, who should flock to the West Bank the way they used to before
the second intifada and reengage the Palestinian people with whom they must
coexist. As Gene Knudsen Hoffman, a Quaker peace activist, said: “An enemy is
one whose story you have not heard.” If the Israelis do not take matters into
their own hands, who will?
The time has come for the people on both sides to
tear down the shameful fences and walls and demand an end to this consuming
madness. Only the people can begin to reconcile their national narratives and
embrace the inevitability of coexistence, building a promising future for both
The writer is professor of international relations at the Center
for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches international negotiation and
Middle Eastern studies.