Hating Israel, hating Palestine or seeking peace

Underneath it all is a deep and abiding mistrust of Israelis by Palestinians and of Palestinians by Israelis.

Private Eden Atias (photo credit: Facebook)
Private Eden Atias
(photo credit: Facebook)
Recently Eden Attias, 19, a new IDF soldier, was stabbed to death while sleeping on a bus from Nazereth to Tel Aviv by Hussein Jawadra, a 16-year-old Palestinian who had never met him but has two cousins in Israel prisons.
That same night a Palestinian home in Sinjil, north of Ramallah, was set on fire in a “price tag” attack that sent five young children to the hospital due to smoke inhalation. Scrawled on the burned-out home were the words: “Regards from Eden, Revenge.”
Balancing the politics of peace with the viewpoints of various Israeli political leaders and their constituencies has created a process of action and reaction that recently involved the government of Israel releasing 26 Palestinian prisoners in deference to the terms of the current peace negotiations and then following that with the announcement of planning for new settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
In response to that action the Palestinian negotiating team resigned and the Israeli prime minister and Palestinian officials traded insults, defining the problem with the peace negotiations alternatively as Palestinian incitement and Israeli unwillingness to stop building.
Underneath it all is a deep and abiding mistrust of Israelis by Palestinians and of Palestinians by Israelis following much more than a generation of warfare including terror, assassination, occupation, armed and unarmed resistance, house demolitions, rocket attacks/responses and vice versa, incarceration, pain and more pain, anger, fear and the loss of hope.
It is the growing disparity between the general belief in peace held by both peoples and the belief that peace is impossible for the foreseeable future that makes the current US-led negotiations so infinitely difficult with so many politicians and pundits on all sides anxiously awaiting the opportunity to document the next action or inaction against or in favor of the peace process as a means to sow public discord.
To limit the ability to derail the talks the Obama administration has smartly negotiated its own agreement by the principals to keep the details private. But the very privacy that places the negotiators in a cone of silence separates the public from the peace process and reinforces the distance that has been created on both sides as a result of the second intifada, the wall, the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, the advancement of Hamas, the continual expansion of the settlement enterprise, all the death and destruction and the relentless delegitimization of the other by both sides.
It is fair to ask if peace is possible in this environment. The answer of increasing numbers of Israelis and Palestinians is a resounding “no.” So Israelis have migrated to the Right and believe in security if not stability, and the iron fist necessary to guarantee it.
Palestinians are increasingly replacing belief in a failed two-state, Oslo-driven land for peace formula with a goal of punishing Israel internationally with a growing BDS campaign, legal challenges and a conviction that time will overwhelm Israel with the democracy of demography.
It doesn’t sound or feel much like a viable path to peace, even though the alternative represents years and maybe decades more of a conflict marked by death, loss, victimization, deep-seated hate and a level of pain that is incalculable to those of us separated by an ocean living largely in a modern world beyond the boundaries of tribal warfare.
To break out of the cage that both sides have worked long and hard to place the other, and unwittingly themselves, into, requires direct action. Israelis have been and are still being taught every day to view Palestinians as the enemy. They are taught by events, in schools and by their lives. Palestinians have been, are being taught every day to view Israelis as the enemy. They are taught by events, in schools and by their lives. It is necessary to create a process to challenge the message, to alter the education and instill a belief that peace is possible. This can only be done by Israelis and Palestinians coming together to meet and get to know each other as human beings in facilitated people- to-people dialogues across the length and breadth of Israel and the Palestinian territories.
This will not be a one-time event that magically plants the seeds of peace in the hearts and minds of Palestinians and Israelis whose memories include the scars of war and death and denial and countless acts of brutality by the enemy.
This cannot begin on January 1 and end on December 31. It is necessary to build a “peoples’ program for peace education” that will be initiated and financed by the international community and formally endorsed by both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to give it the legs to stand and deliver irrespective of the success or failure of the current round of peace negotiations.
There are lots of loaded words like “normalization” that continue to block communication between Israelis and Palestinians who need to talk, to listen, to learn, to understand and to accept each other enough to believe once again in peace and work together to make it so.
The author is president of ICMEP, the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, an NGO based in suburban Philadelphia, and can be reached at [email protected] The words of the author do not represent the policy of ICMEP.