This summer Israel is blessed with world-class musical performers coming to
entertain hundreds of thousands – Barbra Streisand, Alicia Keys, Depeche Mode
and Pet Shop Boys give us a feeling of belonging to the wider world, to a
culture where music shapes life, to a mega-culture of peaceful coexistence, with
an American twist.
That was also true when the legendary Leonard Cohen
gave a peace concert at a packed National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
of people were holding hands in harmony; Palestinians were introduced to a
cheering crowd. Music has reached our shores, but not peace. We like the
illusion of living in a peace culture, especially in the Tel Aviv bubble;
however we do not. The prevailing culture outside “the neighborhood of the
peaceniks” is a culture of hostility and confrontation.
conflict has placed a heavy burden on our society and our youth. The prevailing
Israeli culture is characterized by a sense of victimization, suspicion,
superiority, anxiety and violence; a culture of conflict. People outside of
conflict zones find it hard to comprehend that there is indeed a culture of
conflict in which the conflict shapes peoples’ beliefs, attitudes and relations.
In our case, the conflict with the Arabs fits into our historical view of Jewish
life: always persecuted and victimized. From the old Egyptians to the Nazis to
the Arabs – every generation has had its archenemy wishing for our destruction;
today it is Iran. We have physically overcome and prevailed, but have not
overcome the trauma of persecution. Most Israelis are still convinced that
behind almost every non-Jew, not to speak of Arabs, lives a latent or blatant
Consequently, we are constantly on the defensive and in a
state of anxiety – “never again.”
The rebirth of Israel, and our
successes in wars and nation-building, also adapt to Jewish mythology as a
We feel aggressed but superior. To Gentiles, we are “a
light unto the nations;” to the Arabs, the Palestinians, we are “legitimate”
occupiers, running the lives and destinies of 3 million people; behind each of
them we see a terrorist.
Inside Israel there also is a lack of equality –
Israeli Arabs are second-class citizens often subjected to racism; African
immigrants are treated even worse, often kept in special prisons.
average Israeli, there is a comfort in these attitudes – we can always blame
someone for our ailments and even our mistakes, and there is no need to build
difficult bridges to other nations and cultures.
That does not mean that
we don’t have a vibrant culture and tremendous cultural expressions appreciated
the world over. Yet the culture that fosters our relationships with the outside
world is confrontational, with an excessive sense of being the eternal victim
and with a mistaken sense of superiority.
As with every culture, this
filters into language – “the whole world is against us,” the pejorative “goyim”
or “Arab labor.” Verbal violence often turns into physical violence. This colors
our view of other people – we lack curiosity for the culture and achievements of
others, unless it serves our economic interests, for example German cars. From
within such a culture of confrontation, we cannot normalize our relationship
with the world. We call on the world and the Arabs to normalize relations with
us; we too have to normalize relations with them. That was the essence of modern
Zionism – to resolve the Jewish predicament, not to sustain it – to get the Jew
out of the ghetto, but also the ghetto out of the Jew.
neighbors are not much better; they are traumatized by conflict and live in a
culture of confrontation.
“Jihad” is a blessing to many, “Jewish” is a
swear word and the occupation is blamed not only for its real costs but also for
every other problem. If we want to live in peace, security and coexistence, we
have to leave behind the “comfort” of the culture of conflict.
Peace is a
culture, not only a political strategy. Political decisions are necessary, but
not sufficient. They must be coupled by a profound transformation of attitudes
and values as well as relationships.
A culture of conflict, as exists
between us and the Palestinians, leads to the dehumanization of the other, the
evil, who barely deserves to live. A peace culture can be brought about by a
change in political circumstances – a peace process – but also by an essential
A peace culture demands first and foremost the
recognition of equality between all human beings. No one has the right to be or
feel superior. Great empires have vanished because of that dangerous trait;
colonial powers have disappeared.
Israelis have to internalize that all
Arabs are equal to us and have equal rights.
This is also true for the
A peace culture demands espousing humanitarian values,
respect for human rights, for mutual dignity for each person’s or nation’s right
to define itself, for the sanctity of life. Above all, it must be a culture of
nonviolence and tolerance despite strong differences and
Furthermore, a peace culture demands the eradication of
artificial boundaries between societies. In moving away from conflict, we must
move toward openness, coexistence and cooperation – to work together for the
common good, to reduce hardships and suffering and to reap new fruits of
Today’s Europe is the best example of such a transformation.
Germans and French are studying and working together, with equality and mutual
respect despite centuries of hatred and wars.
Cultural expressions are a
profound way to create commonality while promoting humanitarian values. Cultural
expression – be it in music, film, theater, literature, etc. – is a global
Great artists, who have the abilities to reach beyond borders
of divides, are rare and important. Many in the young generation will follow
them and their message of peace. The young are creating a new common language –
be it on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. Together they are creating a new culture
of coexistence and they admire the arts. Therefore artists have an essential
role to play if they represent the values of peace and equality and have the
courage to express them.
An outstanding example is Bono of U2.
Irish rock star did more for the African continent than most political leaders;
a rebel who combines music with powerful political messages, be it on peace in
Ireland or fighting poverty in Africa. With his nonprofit organization, he has
helped reduce African debt to the wealthy West and contributed much to the AIDS
Last weekend, he produced a special video, calling on the Iranians
to go out and vote.
For years Bono cooperated with the one and only
Quincy Jones. Known as Q, Jones is a legend of the music world.
from a background of poverty, he rose to fame despite racial
His global success never detached him from acting in favor of
a better world, for peace in the Middle East and for development and education
in Africa. With “We Are the World” he created world solidarity for the famine in
Ethiopia. The best-known performers showed up in Quincy’s music studio, from
Michael Jackson to Lionel Richie. At the studio entrance, there was a sign:
“Leave your ego at the door!” Years later, with the “We Are the Future” concert
in Rome, where I had the privilege to cooperate with him, Quincy established
centers for poor children in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and
In Israeli music, such examples of social engagement and courage
The most outstanding one is Achinoam Nini (Noa) who dedicated
her career in Israel and in the world to peace with our neighbors. She performed
at the November 4 1995 demonstration, at which Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated,
and sang “There Must Be Another Way” at the Eurovision music contest with Mira
Awad. Fighting for another way, she was ready to sacrifice some of her
popularity, unlike most “consensus artists.”
Not only musicians convey a
message of peace. This week, we hosted in Israel, as a guest of the President’s
Conference, world-renowned actor Sharon Stone: a brilliant woman of peace,
dedicated to the fight against the AIDS epidemic, working to contain malaria in
Africa, encouraging gender equality and advocating peace alongside Shimon Peres
and the Dalai Lama. The language of Stone, Nini, Jones and Bono is a language of
peace, of care and of solidarity. It is not enough to admire their performance
and celebrity. Young people especially must follow their message irrespective of
nationality, religion, race or gender; follow in order to belong to a world
where global messages on peace and solidarity count, thereby contributing to a
culture of peace.
The arts, more than politics, become a “bridge over
troubled water” of conflict.
As happened in America after the Vietnam War
in the Sixties.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel showed the way, raising a
loud voice in protest of the war, with a “sound of silence,” calling on people
not to blindly follow their political leaders. A culture of war (Vietnam) turned
into a culture of peace (Woodstock).
In our region too we are in need of
a transformation, with the arts and against the politics, into a culture of
tolerance, respect and peace.The writer is president of the Peres Center
for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords. Barbara
Hurwitz edited this column.